Leo took a puff from his cigarette and blew it out into the frigid night air. He didn't even like smoking. It was a habit, though he wasn't too keen on giving it up either. The cloud billowed out around his face and into the night sky, lingering in his hair and making his eyes water.
It tasted bad. Like he was inhaling ashes and exchanging it for his air, oxygen in his lungs, swirling in his body, for the sweet seconds of exhilaration as he expelled it from his chest. People told him it was the nicotine high after taking a deep drag, but it felt more like a protest, a vehement will to live that his body was happy--ecstatic to be rid of the smoke and to be alive.
He coughed a smoker's cough, a phlegmy rattle that he hocked away with the last nub of his cigarette. He peered over his shoulder into the little family diner he had stopped by on his road trip and saw the warm lights reflected on the patrons and the glass. Did he look as warm when he was in there? Did he look as alive as all those families stacking pancakes and slicing eggs into thirds?
There was the waitress, running from table to table, hair falling from her bun to shape her face. There was an old man in a trucker's cap and khakis drinking his umpteenth cup of coffee and reading over last week's newspaper. The chef behind the counter sweating up a storm and throwing out plate after steaming plate and another patron waiting at the register and kids ambling by the capsule machines.
Leo looked back at his beat up car, still steaming in the cool air and asking if this would be a longer break or if they could hole up in a motel somewhere if only for a day. He kicked the front tire and put another cigarette on his lip.
It was getting hot in the diner anyway, he didn't want to have to go back into the din and cloying warmth anytime soon.
He leaned against his passenger door and stretched his aching muscles. Too long behind the wheel, not enough rest stops.
"I hear ya," he muttered to his car. "More breaks would be nice."
The first star popped into existence and twinkled at him happily. Leo stared at it.
"Go away," to the star.
As if hearing his words, another one decided to dot the encompassing blackness with its friend. Leo sighed and lit his cigarette.
Took another deep, painful drag.