"Hey, are you coming back up with us?"
I stared at the sidewalk for a brief moment before I responded.
I could feel their tension as they hung in those few seconds; their eagerness mounting as they waited for my answer.
"No," I said.
"I'm going to stay out here and finish this."
"All right. We'll see you upstairs."
They entered the stairwell, and as the door slowly began to drift shut, I found a spot next to the building and sat down on the concrete.
Slowly, I take in a breath - listening to the familiar crackle - and hold it for a time.
I wait for that first twinge of threatening discomfort to dance across my mind.
I wait...and wait...and wait.
Finally, I exhale, watching as the smoke billows out and away from me.
I will need another hour for the alcohol to wear off.
One more hour, and then I will be fit to drive home when the time comes.
I take in another breath.
Again, I hold it until my lungs begin to ache.
As I exhale once more, I hear footsteps approaching from just outside of my peripheral.
The clamor emanating from each impact of the sharply heeled footwear against the concrete pathway betrays the gender of the approaching pedestrians almost immediately, but I glance to my left anyway.
Two women of about my age make haste along the sidewalk, each of them wearing a short black dress and carrying a white, plastic grocery bag containing various beverage ingredients.
They were attractive, although in a very contrived way.
I relocated my gaze back to the anterior and took another breath.
Holding my respiratory muscles still, I closed my eyes and surveyed my surroundings.
I smelled the humid summer air; felt its presence beginning to condense upon my face.
I listened through the relentless clicking of the womens' shoes to the sound of the insects calling from the safety of the surrounding flora.
I focused on the distant, yet very distinct sound of vehicular tires peeling across the pavement of nearby asphalt roads.
I waited quietly for each new and fascinating waveform to surface from the aural static of the busy evening, until a soft, concerned voice suddenly interrupted my brief moment of concentration.
"Are you okay?"
I looked up to find that both of the previously approaching women were looking down at me.
One of them was bent towards me slightly at the waist, presumably the one who had spoken.
"Yeah." I replied, adjusting my posture slightly to better represent that of a conscious, aware individual.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yes. I'm fine. Thank you."
"You just look super contemplative..."
I wanted to say more; wanted to carry on the conversation.
But something stopped me.
"Okay...well, have a good night." she said, after a moment's hesitation.
I nodded and waved slightly as they continued on into the building.
As I once again listened to the sound of the door slowly swinging shut, the searing heat from my rapidly extinguishing kretek stole from me my euphoric focus and brought to my attention the more immediate realities of the situation.
I took in one last breath; made one last effort to absorb whatever information my senses would allow me before quietly standing up, brushing off the backs of my garments, and making my way back up to the party.