Cigarettes cost half a penny each, and are pretty easy to lift, for a guy with nimble fingers, but that's not Racetrack's style.
Kloppman doesn't like cigarettes, and scowls disapprovingly when he catches boys smoking, and has been known to deliver long winded lectures, so most boys only buy a few cigarettes at a time, and smoke them before getting home at night. Not Race, though. Race rolls his own, every night, right before curfew.
Race's cigarettes aren't as smooth and even as everyone else's, and sometimes the tobacco sticks out the end. Sometimes he rolls them too tight, and it's hard to get air through them. People realized that slowly, through a few years, and now no one begs cigarettes off Race any more, people barely ever want to share them. Some guys say that's why Race does it, but Jack isn't so sure.
Race has an evening ritual, which Jack sometimes hangs around to watch. Fifteen minutes before Kloppman closes the doors for the night, Race steps outside. He sits on the stoop with his rolling paper and tin of tobacco, rolls a cigarette, and smokes it; then he makes another and pockets it to smoke the next morning. He hides his supplies under his mattress; some of the other guys have noticed, but they'll never rat out one of their own, so Kloppman's none the wiser.
Jack remembers the first time he watched Race roll a cigarette; he was twelve and Race was thirteen. No one would have guessed Race was the older of the two; no one would now, either. Race is destined to live and die with a baby face. He was thirteen, and bought the tin of tobacco and papers, and sat on the stoop and concentrated. Jack watched in fascination as Racetrack carefully measured out the right amount, and rolled it up; it all fell apart a moment later and Race ended up with bits of tobacco on his tongue when he went to shut the paper.
He scowled when Jack laughed at him. But he was thirteen, then.
Now Racetrack is seventeen, and Jack is sixteen. Jack doesn't step outside to watch Racetrack every night, and when he does, they almost never talk.
Race is skilled at rolling cigarettes, now. He learned to do it pretty quickly, practiced until he could roll a cigarette in his sleep. Then, last year, he got bored, and started trying to roll them one handed. Jack got a good laugh over that, too.
But tonight, he's sitting at Race's side. Race holds the paper in one hand, and without even measuring the tobacco—he hasn't had to do that in years—he drops it on the paper. He eases the paper around with his thumb; Jack can see the slight black trail left on it, from the ink that's rubbed off on Race's hand all day. His fingers move carefully, smoothly, keeping the paper steady as it forms a tube.
Race hoists it to his lips to lick. Jack swallows, watching Race's tongue swipe it quickly, then Race licks his lips. He smoothes the paper together with his thumb, and Jack is fascinated by the slight, subtle movement. There's tobacco sticking out of the ends of the cigarette; Race uses the thumbnail of his other hand to snip it off.
"You got pretty good at that," Jack says. "Doin' it one handed, now."
Race raises an eyebrow. "You know a lot about doin' things with one hand, Cowboy?"
Jack laughs, not minding the joke at his expense. He fumbles in his pocket for a moment, and finds a match. He hands it to Race, who strikes it against the stone stoop. Race lifts the cigarette to his lips, parting them slightly, then lights the cigarette and waves the match out. He drops it on the ground at their feet; Jack moves to step on it, make sure it's out. Then he watches Race smoke.
Race takes a long drag, and exhales. Jack watches the smoke until it's gone, and holds out his hand wordlessly. Race shrugs and hands him the cigarette, leans back on the stoop, and looks up at the sky.
"You sell okay today?" Race asks, just making conversation.
Jack makes a noncommittal noise and puts the cigarette to his lips. It's moist, from Race's lips. They aren't chapped any more, like they were all winter. Jack noticed that earlier, when Race was laughing at one of his own jokes. His mouth opened wide, and Jack saw his lips are red and soft, and his teeth are crooked.
His head clears a little with the deep breath when he smokes. He glances over at Race, who's now propped up on his elbows. "You gonna give that back or what?"
Jack hands the cigarette back to Race, and says, "Sure, sorry," as he exhales smoke. "So you think it's gonna rain tomorrow?"
"Prolly," Race says, between breaths. "It's spring, an' all."
"Maybe we'll get a storm."
"Maybe." Race glances over at Jack, takes another drag, and as he lets it out, he offers Jack the cigarette.
Race's cigarettes now are much smoother than they used to be. Race let Jack try to roll his own once, about a year ago. Even though Jack remembered that first one Race rolled, he figured it couldn't be too hard, but when he went to pick up the paper to begin to roll, the whole thing spilled. He looked up at Race, expecting mockery. That's what Race does, after all; he's always there with a joke. It used to make Jack really mad, when Race would make fun of him, but now it's become kind of a reassuring tradition. Like watching Race roll his cigarettes at night.
Racetrack didn't crack a joke, though, just a smile. He took the cover off the tin again, and passed it back to Jack. He ignored the wasted tobacco and put his hand over Jack's, showed him how to do it. Jack remembers his hand was warm and callused.
Jack hands the cigarette back to Race and says, "Can you show me how to roll one?"
"You seen me do it a million times," Race says.
"Okay, Jack." Race stashes the cigarette between his lips and opens the tin. Jack isn't sure if it's the same old one or not, though it is a little battered. Race keeps his papers inside, and pulls one out. He smoothes it on the ground and sets the tin down, pauses to hold the cigarette while he exhales, then looks over at Jack.
Jack reaches over to take some of the tobacco, but pauses. "How much, Race?"
Race reaches out with his thumb and two fingers and picks up a hearty pinch. "'Bout that much," he says out of the side of his mouth, without taking out the cigarette. He drops it again, and Jack echoes his movement.
"Now ya spread it out. It don't matter if it sticks out the ends, just get it in the middle," Race instructs. Jack looks up at him; he's taken the cigarette out of his mouth and is gesturing lazily with it as he speaks. Jack finds himself wishing Race would do what he did a year ago, and wrap his hand around Jack's, but doesn't say so. Instead, he puts the tobacco on the paper. It's not as neat as when Race did it, even with one hand. But Jack figures it'll do.
"Picking it up is the hard part," Race says. "You want the glue side away from you, and your thumbs gotta be on the other side to roll with. Don't drop it."
"Don't make me nervous or nothin', though," Jack mumbles, reaching for the paper. Race makes an amused noise in the back of his throat, and Jack glances at him. Race is smiling.
Maneuvering the paper is hard, but Jack manages not to drop it or spill it.
"Now you use your thumbs, see?" Race says, demonstrating in the air, sort of slowly moving his thumb up and towards the rest of his fingers. Jack tries to mimic that with the paper, though it doesn't work too well. At first the paper doesn't really roll over, just up, and ends up bent in a U-shape, and he has to backtrack and do it again. This time it bends properly, though, and he manages to make it into a tube.
"Now you just…" Race takes the cigarette from his mouth and fixes a gaze on Jack. "Lick it," he finishes, his voice kind of low.
Jack feels a blush creeping up his neck and cheeks, and doesn't want to think about why. He looks at the cigarette and slowly licks the glue, then folds it over. He tries to do the same thing Race did with his fingernails to even off the ends, but it doesn't work. Instead, tobacco falls out. He looks at it critically. "Didn't turn out so good."
"I'd smoke it," Race says evenly. He holds out his cigarette to the end, using the one to light the other. Jack nods a little and takes a drag.
"It's okay, I guess," Jack says, after exhaling. "Yours was better, though."
"Practice makes perfect, Cowboy. I been doin' it a few years." Race fixes a gaze on Jack for a few seconds. Jack feels like he's being measured, and he isn't sure how. It's hard to tell what's going through Race's mind, sometimes.
"I know," Jack says, when he can't stare back at Race anymore. "Why do you roll 'em yourself, Race? They ain't that expensive."
"Guess I like to 'cause I'm good with my hands."
"Yeah, I noticed that," Jack says. He looks at Race's hand. Race is holding the cigarette between two fingers; his fingers are a little short and stubby, the nails are uneven and have dirt underneath. But Jack finds them fascinating.
Race puts the cigarette back between his lips and reaches out towards Jack tentatively, traces his thumb across Jack's cheekbone and down to his chin. Jack reaches up to take the cigarette out of his mouth so he can say something, but he can't think of any words, and instead of the cigarette, his hand catches Race's. For just a second, he feels the calluses on Race's fingers, the craggy lines of fingerprints in dry skin. Race's hand is warm. That warmth spreads across Jack's face and down his body, until he doesn't know if he's blushing or what.
Race pulls his hand away abruptly and takes a very long drag on his cigarette. Jack does the same thing, and they don't look at each other. Race finishes his cigarette and drops it on the ground, stomps it out. Jack takes another drag. They don't speak.
But Jack does watch as Race reaches for another piece of rolling paper and begins to make a cigarette for tomorrow. When Race finishes, he pockets it, but doesn't move. Instead, not saying anything, he reaches over and holds out his hand, gesturing impatiently.
Jack surrenders his cigarette and lets Race smoke it for a second. "Yours was better," Jack says.
Race exhales thoughtfully. "Yeah, it was," he agrees, and hands the cigarette back to Jack. "You just need practice."
"Yeah. You could come try again tomorrow night, if you want."
Jack smiles around the cigarette. "Maybe I will," he says. Race waits for him to be done smoking before getting up, and they walk inside together.