They say that secrecy can kill a man. Or at least my father used to.
"Your mother hates it when I smoke," he told me. We sat in the hanger on a bench he made from scratch. A cigarette hung loosely between his lips. He would wink at me, shoving the pack into his pocket. "Don't tell her." I nodded like a good boy, and helped him like I always had. He died a few months later. The cancer ravaged his seemingly indestructable body, but I always knew the secrecy had something to do with it.
It was my turn, now; the cigarette hung from my lips.
Only a few minutes had passed since the time I arrived, my back pressed against the cold brick of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. He told me he would be there no later than sundown. I told him I would wait. We had a secret between us, in the hallway of his apartment, and tangled in the sheets of my bed. I honestly believed that secret would one day kill me.
His face appeared amid the crowd of people just moments later . Even behind that damned high collar of his, anyone would recognize him. I never knew why he felt the need to hide behind it, though. Or maybe it was just a ruse to scare people. But no one noticed. I'm sure we weren't the only ones with something to keep quiet. The woman who brushed passed him from behind was probably having an affair. It was obvious the way she hung from the younger man's arm. She had a good twenty years on him. And the lanky fella standing in the doorway who worked at the restaurant. I could have sworn I'd seen him once in the newspaper about a serial raping. None of that mattered, at any rate.
It was always something, meeting with him. He plucked the cigarette from my lips having stopped just inches away. My mother did the same thing when she caught her husband trying to get away with it. But this time my mind was focused on something else.
"Where to?" he asked. The cigarette fell from his hand. He'd crushed it.
I took one last longing glance at the crumpled white stick, and pushed myself upright. "Just walk," I told him, taking the lead.
We cruised down the sidewalk for quite a ways, another fifteen blocks or so, and ended up in front of the hotel I had been eyeing ever since the city was rebuilt. It wasn't exactly the Ritz, but they were damn well trying their hardest. White stucco walls stood out from rusted grey metal, lined with a neat golden trim; the doorway, which we did not hesitate to pass through, sat in an arc. He trailed behind me at a respectable distance. I could see the man behind the counter flash a glance though it looked like he was trying not to. Was it that obvious?
We reached the room on the second level in no time, and rushed inside with even less. Before I could shut the door he had taken a handful of my jacket, and pulled me against him with little effort.
"Do you think they'll find out?"
How little faith he had accumulated over all those years.
I turned my gaze somewhere off in the distance. They sky burned a bright orange, and the grey, feathery clouds streaked randomly about. It made me laugh, the way he worried so much. I didn't think of him to be that way, always seeming so certain.
I never did answer him either. Probably because I couldn't, or simply didn't want to. That didn't matter much anyway. For now it would be kept a secret, we would be kept secret.
And maybe, just maybe tradition wouldn't uphold after all.
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