"We tried to be better, but we aren't. I don't think anyone could last more than a week here if they weren't willing to do bad things." - Alba Reyes

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Scarlett McAfee was almost a complete non-entity to Hazel, but answering to Jae’s inquiry about her with a Mariah Carey-esque “I don’t know her” would be entirely unhelpful and not a route she was keen to take. However, given what she knew about Scarlett’s questionable music tastes, maybe emulating the pop diva would be an appropriate response – were this not a serious discussion over the dangerous nature of Jae’s best friend’s date. Instead, she wracked her brain for the handful of facts she could pull out about the fellow senior.

“I don’t know much about her personality,” she replied, recalling their brief interactions as pleasant, but nowhere near a good enough gauge of her psyche. “She takes tap at the same place I do dance, and I know she listens to like, 2000s music, but that sums it up, really.”

The Scarlett Dilemma found itself overshadowed somewhat by Jae’s reply to her invitation to Sadie Hawkins. As Jae stammered over his words, the ball of nerves twisting within her chest threatened to plummet violently down to the very pit of her stomach. Regrets were already beginning to worm their way in, accelerated by Jae’s reference to them going as ‘a thing’. There were plenty of boys in the past who’d thought of her as just that, and such unpleasant memories weren’t exactly welcome when her brain was already overwhelmed by the precarious position she’d placed her friendship in.

Then Jae found himself articulate once more, and the harried half-sentences and seconds of anxiety all paid off when he said the magic words. It wasn’t a poetic declaration, but there was more thought and genuineness in it than she’d been given in past instances of her and another boy going out. Too often they’d woo her as best they could, and once she’d let herself get in too deep then all that romantic façade would fade away and what they’d wanted from the start would make itself known.

In a way, it almost felt like the situations had been reversed – she was doing the asking, helping Jae out when he needed it. It was an uncomfortable thought, and she briefly entertained the notion of being wholly honest with him – spilling out her feelings and telling him that friendship was great but in an ideal world it wouldn’t just be friendship – making sure that all the cards were on the table, with no room for doubt from either party.

But she was frightened, and her asking Jae seemed to drain so much from him when he was already under stress; going further would just be selfish. And for now, being able to go to the school dance with the best possible date? That would be enough.

Hazel hadn’t realised that she’d clasped her hands together in her moment of panic. It wasn’t until she let her body unwind that she noticed her fingernails were digging sharply into her skin, leaving deep grooves in their wake. She found herself struggling to manage a reply to Jae’s agreement, almost audibly sighing in relief when he forewarned her about his parents’ penchant for photography.

“I’m one hundred percent down for all the pictures,” Hazel said, running her fingers through her hair in an attempt to return to a cool demeanour. “I like to think of it as practice for the paparazzi.” She finished, hoping the joke landed in the right spot to break the lingering tension she could feel winding around them.
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