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Hazel grimaced as Jae alluded to the actual purpose of their meeting, not wanting their catch-up to be cut short by a stream of formulae and equatorial problems. She wouldn’t mind doing so too much – it was still spending time with Jae, and the work involved wasn’t too much of a mental drain – but switching from idle conversation to a Mathematics tutorial was hardly desirable.

“Ah, people. I get it,” she said, tracing her finger around the rim of her glass, not wanting to pry unprovoked but ensure her sympathy for his situation was clear. “And yeah, this’ll be tough – but at least we’re not doing it at the last minute.”

She gave a half-smile, hoping it’d catch on; optimism wasn’t Hazel‘s strong suit, but she figured Jae could use a spoonful of it in his life at the moment. She’d had her fair share of rough weeks in the past, and hated the idea of one of her friends – because that’s all they were, and that’s all she wanted right now because she couldn’t want anything else, no matter how much her heart yearned for it – enduring one.

“Thanks! I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. And if I make it in, I’ll be sure to get you a ticket. That’s if you wanna come, of course.”

She didn’t have the greatest of faith in herself for the audition – she had the lines down-pat, but had found staging her monologue a little harder than she’d expected. The idea of coming across as awkward to the directors was one she utterly dreaded, but she didn’t want to throw all of her issues on Jae too, especially when they were undeniably impossible to compare. So acting positive about it was the least she could do, at least until she’d cheered Jae up some – which, as she considered the words of his vent, he definitely needed.

“Mmm. Can't help you on the whole work front, but you could always come over afterwards?" Mid-way through her sentence, Hazel began to realise the potential implications of her words, only letting them sink in once the final syllable had passed through her lips. The intention had been entirely innocent, but she knew that her reputation still held some weight, and she wouldn’t blame Jae for making an assumption. She stumbled over her next few words, the point she’d been trying to convey lost beneath a wave of burgeoning embarrassment. But before her pause stretched out even further and damned her even more, she managed to regain her composure and her voice.

“Like, I’m front of house on Saturday, and post-work rant sessions are much better with someone else to lend a sympathetic ear. And... with Mrs. Libermann, things’ll work out. She knows you’re a good student, and we all forget things sometimes. It’s human nature, after all.”

For a moment, Hazel had thought as though she’d covered all the bases, provided all the comfort she could think to give Jae, something that’d slipped past her throughout their whole conversation suddenly caught her eye. The unsteady manner in which he held his glass, the waver in his voice...

“Jae, you’re shaking...” As much as she tried to mask it, Hazel couldn’t help but let the sudden trepidation behind her words seep into their delivery, flying from her mouth with no time to consider them. “Can I get you anything?”
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