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“It’s algood,” Hazel replied, smiling as Jae handed the lighter back to her. “Helping a friend is much more important to me than any silly old Math homework.”

She contemplated for a moment whether she’d also partake in a cigarette; it had been awhile since her last one, and with her upcoming audition she could use the brief surge of relaxation. This audition would be her last one for awhile, unless some new show suddenly popped up out of nowhere, and the thought of going that long without doing some performance outside of school was a distressing one. There were many great things about Kingman, but acting opportunities weren’t one of them. She couldn’t wait to be in a bigger city, where there wouldn’t be multiple months between auditions, even if the chances of her securing a role would greatly diminish.

Hazel pulled another cigarette out of the packet and quickly set it aflame, inhaling deeply as the bitter taste tightened her throat and a plume of acrid smoke gently plumed around her. As she exhaled and felt the knot in her chest release and a wave of relief wash over her, she offered Jae another smile and readjusted her lean against the wall. She was feeling quite content, even if the circumstances that had led to their situation weren’t the most ideal.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had the opportunity to just unwind like this with a friend, especially not without it being planned in advance. The fact that they’d spontaneously abandoned their homework in favour of sneaking a couple cigarettes behind the back of her mother’s restaurant made the whole situation feel much more genuine and less forced. It wasn’t something she was used to with her typical group of friends; deep and meaningfuls were very rarely on the agenda whenever they hung out together. She sometimes wondered why she put up with them, when so many of their actions clashed with her worldview, but they’d been with her for longer than she could remember and letting go of them would be a painful experience for which she wasn’t at all ready. She just had to keep on hoping that graduation and college would maybe help them consider that Koreans weren’t the only decent people in the world.

She attempted another burst from her cigarette, idly lifting it to her lips and intaking a heavy drag. Her first puff might’ve been tolerable, but her second proved to be an altogether different experience; tears crinkled at the edge of her vision and her throat tore with a mighty burn as she hacked out a cough and tried to regain her breath despite the cloud of smoke caught in her lungs.

In hindsight, Hazel realised that maybe she wasn’t quite as used to them as she remembered.
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