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The slightest sensation of butterflies began in Hazel’s stomach as she noticed the hint of a smile on Jae’s face, inwardly cringing as she felt a warm flush wash over her own. She was glad blushes didn’t show up too strongly against her tanned skin, grateful she could avoid the embarrassment that would’ve otherwise arisen. She was even more glad that he’d accepted her offer of a cigarette, breathing a sigh of relief that the risk-ladenly forward nature of her question hadn’t pushed him away.

“That sounds perfect.” She slowly slid out of the booth and lightly brushed her hand over his shoulder as she started to move away. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

She swept through the swinging doors that led into the break room and strode towards the bag she perpetually kept in there, filled with objects with which to entertain herself whenever business was lacking. After unzipping it, her fingers dove straight towards the bottom, searching for the quasi-familiar cardboard packet she kept tucked away beneath a book of Sudoku and a few packets of chewing gum. Withdrawing the box (along with an emerald green lighter), she stowed them into her back pocket and left just as quickly, not wanting to linger when she had such pleasant company waiting for her.

As she passed back into the main dining area and returned to where Jae remained seated, Hazel took a moment to reflect on what had drawn her to him in the first place. He was artistic - the works she’d seen him produce were astounding in their quality. He was interesting - she could have an actual quality conversation with him, never had to worry about awkward silences or the pool of topics drying up. He was cute, in a way she’d never found any boy before. But in other ways - the biggest way in her eyes - it was almost impossible to describe. There was just something there, pulling her towards him. She’d built back her defences so much since that day she’d overheard her friends in the library, heard them call her a slut so matter-of-factly, like it was such an inherent part of her as a person. She hadn’t let anybody in since then, but Jae made her feel that maybe, just maybe, she could.

Shaking herself out of her introspection, she pressed her hands against his shoulders and offered him a warm smile.

“Back! Shall we go?”
Version Seven:
Tristan O’Hara
Dorothea Rodriguez
Ariana Simpson

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