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Hazel’s gradually mounting concern for Jae threatened to wholly bubble over as she observed the unmistakable waver in his voice and his attempts to conceal the shaking in his hands. She found herself mimicking his act of balling his fingers into a fist to restrain herself from leaping to aid him, lest she worsen the situation or misread it completely. Instead, she forced herself to sit and listen to his explanation of why he was feeling this way, and his pleas for her not to think differently of him for it. Her heart truly went out to him, especially with his fears of her opinion of him being irreversibly altered. There’d been many moments where she’d found herself crying in her mother’s arms about her problems with boys or school and praying she wouldn’t think poorly of her for it, and she hated the thought of making someone else feel that way.

“Oh Jae,” she started; making sure every word that passed through her lips was carefully measured and thought out. “And I could never think badly of you. You’re sweet, and kind, and I’ve never had any reason to feel otherwise.”

She almost reached out to clasp his hands in hers, but found herself hesitating at the last moment. She didn’t want to scare him with any sudden physical contact, especially with her reputation, and so decided that she’d wait awhile longer to gauge whether it’d be an appropriate action. As she pondered on what to say next, her thoughts turned to what seemed to be causing him the most duress: smoking – or, more specifically, his overdoing of it.

Hazel’s own commitment with smoking was intermittent at best; she’d done so a few times, mostly in social situations, but never to the point where she could imagine developing a dependency on it. She could empathise with Jae, though; whenever she was under duress she would find herself reaching for her usual stress alleviators – her iPod or running shoes – even more than she usually did.

“Look, I get it. Life isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows and all that at the moment, so I can’t blame you for wanting to smoke.” She continued to choose her words carefully, fearful her next sentence might be overstepping the mark but simultaneously not wishing to stretch things out unnecessarily and subject him to more discomfort. “And I also know enough to figure that you’re having withdrawals. In which case, I usually keep a pack of Lucky Strikes in the break room just in case, so if you need one... I can go get them for you.”
Version Seven:
Tristan O’Hara
Dorothea Rodriguez
Ariana Simpson

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