I had walked to the balcony to smoke a cigarette by myself, now that it is a crime to light one almost everywhere. I could hear the noise of the party behind me, muffled by the glass door. The night was pleasant outside the apartment.
I didn't move when I heard the door opening and closing again. If it was Louise, she'd touch me, grab me, complain about the cigarette and forbid me to kiss her, maybe going back; or maybe, wanting to be daring, let me kiss her, until she got to her limit, quite quickly, never realizing that she is not as daring as she thinks she is. I was comfortable, lying over my arms on the balcony, the cigarette barely held between my fingers. I heard a lighter failing, then again and again. I turned around, offering mine.
“Piece of shit,” he said, throwing his cheap lighter on the street, eighty feet below. I watched it fall, with disinterest. The other guy thanked, lighting his cigarette and handling my lighter back. I recognized him. It was that movie star. Louise almost had a thing when she saw him enter the party. “Look!” she said, pulling my shirt. I looked, and then asked, “what?” “It's him,” she whispered to me. I didn't give a damn about him, except that apparently he could get my girl if he just asked her, so just mumbled “yeah” and went back to my conversation, but she watched him all night long.
“You should buy a decent one,” I said, playing with mine with my thumb. “Never failed.”
“Care to bet a finger?” He laughed, and I smiled at the reference. “Too much late night TV,” he said, in a sort of apology. I was going to say something about old TV series, but refrained myself. I pocketed the lighter. We stood there, smoking, without saying a word, but comfortable. I finished my cigarette, but I didn't want to leave.
“Well, I should get back to my girl,” I said, asking for a reason not to.
“Yeah,” he said. “So should I.”
The conversation took a very slow pace, as if we were in a farm, in the middle of nowhere, discussing if it was going to rain tomorrow.
“Perhaps our girls are talking to each other,” he added.
“Wondering where we are?”
“Or something like that.”
We continued to watch the night.
“Good party,” he said. “I'm just a bit tired.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Kind of... I don't know. Artificial.”
“Well, like all parties of this sort.”
“Like all. Good balcony, though.”
“Yes. Nobody bothering.”
“About the smoke.”
“About the smoke,” he agreed. He took his pack out of his pocket. “Have another. I don't know if you like these, they're light. I'm supposed to be trying to quit.”
“Is it working?”
I grabbed one, and lighted it.
“May I see it again?” I handled him my lighter. He rotated it in his hands, while he answered my question. “The hell it is. I'm smoking an extra half-pack a day. At least I found this brand, which is the least light of the lights.”
“Switch the cigarettes in the pack,” I suggested. “She won't notice.”
He regarded me. “Good idea. I might try it. I should have thought of it.”
“If she finds, though...”
“Yeah, don't even think about it. Cool lighter. Very nice.”
I held it in my hand. “I had it all my life. Brings lots of memories.”
“Cool. I always bought these cheap things, and I'm always cursing them. I'll buy one tomorrow.” He added, almost to himself, “she'll be pissed.”
His cigarette was over, and he threw the butt away with a flip of his fingers. He didn't move, though.
“Women,” I said.
“Women,” he said.
We didn't share another word until my cigarette was over. We waited just a moment longer, knowing that we had to go back in. Then we started to move for the door, which he opened.
“Let's go,” he said. “The break is over.”
We left the party together, by coincidence. We waited for the elevator, Louise elbowing me to tell me that it was him. His girlfriend kept complaining and complaining, and he gazed at me, finding my eyes, as if saying: “See?”
We rode the elevator like that. Her girlfriend complaining, he pretending to listen, and sharing a couple of conspiratory glances with me, Louise pretending to be completely uninterested, but watching them through the reflection on the mirror.
When we separated, Louise elbowed me sharply, and I shouted: “Hey!”
“What? Do you think I did not see you looking at her? All the way down?”
Then it was my turn to pretend to listen.