Louis had said, “Smokes ruin you for runnin’,” and it marked the singular occasion Scout ever paid a lick of attention to his third-oldest brother’s advice. That said, Louis was still Louis was still Louis: a massive dickhead, a pox upon the earth, and he had used Scout’s toothbrush that morning too. Asshole. So when Tom Stubbs sidled up next to him at ball practice later and said, “I nabbed my big sister’s cigs, y’want one after?” of course Scout had said yes.
Tom gave him a grin, that sort of slow, conspiratory grin boys give one another when they’re in on something. Then coach bellowed his name and he was off, leaving fourteen-and-a-half Scout steadfastly ignoring his brother’s advice.
Forty-five minutes later, under the bleachers, he and five or six other Little Leaguers watched as Tom picked out a skinny cylinder from a crumpled box. Up close it was smaller than he had thought, and more delicate.
“Like this,” Tom said, and stuck the cigarette in his mouth before lighting it. Scout followed suit, the paper smooth against his sun-chapped lips. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling. He rolled it between his teeth for a second before taking the proffered lighter. The rim of the cigarette glowed a neon orange when he held the flame to it, and the thrill of doing something he wasn’t supposed to be rushed through him.
He took a drag, and—then he was coughing like he’d taken in a breath of campfire smoke, throat burning with something dark and acrid. It was so powerful he had to grab onto one of the bleacher support bars overhead to keep from keeling over entirely. The cigarette was smouldering in the dirt three feet away.
All his friends watched as he hacked his lungs apart, and then the giggles started. It swept through them all like a flood, until by the time Scout was finally able to stand up straight again, wiping spit off the corners of his mouth, they were all laughing their heads off.
He caught Tom’s eye, and glared at him, and Tom practically shoved his fist in his mouth to shut up. He looked so stupid that Scout couldn’t help himself: suddenly he was laughing, too. That started them all up anew, and just like that everything was fine.
(When he saw Louis that night before supper, instead of ignoring him or insulting his face, he gave him a friendly punch in the arm and told him his hair looked stupid. It was an improvement, probably.)