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Bittersweet and Sour; Tagging SansaSaver!
Topic Started: Sep 26 2015, 09:28 PM (970 Views)
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((Min-jae Parker continued from Black Kingdom, Red Kingdom))

Jae had run out of cigarettes yesterday.

This was something of an issue, because he couldn't buy them himself, and he hadn't been able to catch anyone he knew who could reasonably be expected to lend him any, so it was pretty much a toss-up between whether he'd be able to get his hands on some before or after he started getting really cranky. There was a little bit of worry in the back of his mind too, the thought that he probably shouldn't be smoking so much that withdrawal was even an issue since he didn't have a guaranteed steady supply. He'd been smoking more frequently throughout the school year, telling himself he'd be able to cut down again when it was all over with and he could really relax. Sometimes he thought his parents definitely smelled the smoke on him, even though he was careful about it, but they hadn't said anything yet.

He wanted one right now, honestly, but the want hadn't turned into a full-blown nicotine craving just yet. He tried to distract himself by fiddling with his phone, scrolling through his contact list and debating sending a text to the newest addition to it. His finger hovered over the name Hazel Jung as he glanced up for probably the tenth time at the sign of the restaurant he was standing outside. Seemed like half the restaurants in Kingman were run by or employed people that Jae knew in some way. He had to wonder how they all stayed in business.

This one at least looked decent from the outside, if unassuming other than the elaborately-painted sign that proclaimed it was the Treehouse Restaurant and Bar. Another Cheryl's knockoff, most likely, but eh. He thought that he'd heard good things about the dessert at one point or another, so he was willing to give that a chance at least.

Jae finally tapped Hazel's name and wrote out a quick text, clinking his tongue stud against his teeth to try and take his mind off the fact that there wasn't a cigarette in his mouth.

Hey it's Jae.
You said to come to the Treehouse restaurant right?
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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((Hazel Jung continued from Hot Problems))

Hey sweetie, that’s right. Just coming now xx

Without looking, Hazel hit the ‘send’ button on her phone screen and eased herself out of the cushy leather seat she’d been situated in for the last quarter hour. She knew it screamed of over-preparation, but something in her just wouldn’t let her precede Min-jae’s arrival by less than fifteen minutes. It’d given her time to calm down, at least – the hummingbirds of mild anxiety and nerves that’d been flitting through her having become thankfully subdued during her wait. The butterflies were still there, but that was to be expected after all. Was there ever a time when they weren’t?

She opened the camera application on her iPhone to give herself a final once over, but immediately regretted her decision as a bundle of flaws she hadn’t known were there flooded into her vision. After a half-second’s worth of self-criticism, however, Hazel shook her head and slammed her phone down onto the tabletop, inwardly chiding herself as she did so. No. She was being silly. This was a study date, nothing more, and what about that promise she’d made to herself? Sure, Min-jae seemed different from all the others, but that was exactly how she’d felt about Jacob and Isaac and all the other boys. She knew she couldn’t help having a crush, but she could control how she reacted to it. And letting herself fall head-over-heels so easily and back into that familiar spiral of dependence and self-loathing was not a path she wanted to take.

Hazel slung her handbag over her shoulder and slipped her phone into the back pocket of her jeans, before edging herself out of the booth she’d reserved for herself and Min-jae. After allowing herself a thirty second pause to ensure her breathing was nice and even and the first words out of her mouth wouldn’t be a shaky, incomprehensible mess, she confidently strode towards the entranceway, finally ready.

Her face instantly lit up at the sight of the boy before her as she stood in the doorway of the restaurant, the butterflies of just moments before subdued – but not fully vanished.

“Hey Jae,” she offered him a bright smile, and leaned in to brush her lips gently across his cheek. “How’ve you been?”
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"Sweetie"...?

Jae only had a few moments to mull over all the implications there before Hazel appeared in the entryway, beaming at him. "Hey..." He had to lean down a bit for her to kiss his cheek. Was his face warm? It felt warm. Was that weird?

"It's been a long week," he admitted in response to her greeting. "It's over now, though." He let Hazel lead the way back to the booth, dropping his backpack into the seat and sliding in next to it. The Treehouse had a cheerful, cozy feel to it, with inviting chandelier-style lights and a muted color scheme of navy and taupe. Right now, with hardly any customers present, it was mostly quiet and relaxed. Pretty nice, all things considered. He'd have to consider coming by for an actual meal sometime.

Jae took a minute to lean back in his seat and close his eyes. Right. Don't be weird here. No bitching about cigarette cravings. Wait, did Hazel even know that he smoked, or care? Jae's brow furrowed as he briefly considered how to bring that up.

Dammit, did just talking to girls always have to be such a minefield?

"Anyway," he said, shoving all the little irritations and worries away for the moment and opening his eyes to focus on Hazel again, "how are you?" Couldn't hurt to kill a few more minutes before the algebra they were here to do reared its ugly head.
Edited by backslash, Nov 1 2015, 07:34 PM.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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“A long week, huh? Well, I won’t press you to tell me anything, but I’m here for you if you wanna talk or if I can help, okay?”

Inwardly, Hazel couldn’t help but realise just how much she was sounding like her mother when she spoke. Eu-ji’s parenting style had always been to reassure her daughter that she was there for her, but never to force a response out unless it was clearly necessary. It worked for the most part, and Hazel couldn’t help but apply the same reasoning to her friends – especially to those she was closest to. She really did hope that whatever had dragged down Jae’s mood was minor, but knew at the same time that trying to desperately wrangle a clear-cut answer out of him would likely have the opposite of her intended effect.

“And… I’ve been good,” Hazel replied to his final query, adjusting her seat so as to sit more comfortably. “Not too much has been going on. Studying, work, etc. I’ve got a track meet next Saturday, which should be exciting, though, and an audition tomorrow for The Laramie Project at the local theatre. So if that pans out well then hopefully I’ll actually have something interesting to talk about.”

She refilled her glass from the half-empty pitcher of water situated on the table, and took a long sip from it, smiling as the cool liquid trickled down her parched throat. Despite the refreshing breeze wafting into the room from the air conditioner affixed to the wall above the duo, the heat of the day was still somewhat getting to her. She figured much of that was likely due to how covered up she was, and although being overheated would be a good excuse to remove a layer or two, Hazel had decided early on that her clothing for this date – study date – ought to be fairly conservative. She didn’t want to seem like too much of a try hard, wanted things to go slowly, wanted herself to be perfectly happy if this whole rendezvous ended up with them remaining purely friends with nary of spark of romance between them.

After finished her water, Hazel picked up the spare glass she’d prepared just in case and offered to Jae, along with the pitcher.

“Water?”
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"Just... people." Jae lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug, hoping that Hazel got the gist of what he meant. People were exhausting, and current circumstances weren't helping. "It's not that important, though. I'm just tired." He looked at his backpack and the barely-visible spine of his algebra textbook through the mesh pocket and frowned. "Gonna be more tired by the time we're done here, though."

"Good luck with your audition." He was pretty sure he'd heard of The Laramie Project in some form or another before now, but hell if he could remember what it was about. It wasn't like a musical or any of those more fantasy-oriented shows that seemed popular in the drama club though, he was pretty sure. "And yeah, water would be great." He took the glass and pitcher, frowning again at how his hand shook ever so slightly as he poured.

(A side-effect of wanting a smoke, or just nerves? Both?)

Jae gratefully took a gulp of water and set the glass down with a clink. Better. He probably ought to stay more hydrated in general. "But yeah, besides having to work Saturday night, I'm probably just going to lay around this weekend. I need a fucking break. I love Mrs. Libermann and everything, but she's been on my case to finish my triptych for the expo soon and there were... setbacks with that. She's probably also mad because I missed the last art club meeting." And okay, that one had actually been his fault; he'd just forgotten about it, sue him.

He paused to take a breath before he really started rambling. He tried to tuck his bangs behind his ear, but they kept escaping and falling in his face, distracting him from really gathering his thoughts.

"I dunno, things are just crazy lately. You know how it is."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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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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Well shit.

Things had been going well up to this point, right? He'd been ready to say that he was totally down for going to see Hazel's play, he was trying not to read too much into an invitation to hang out after work - getting to bitch about lousy customers to someone who would actually listen was appealing, regardless of what else did or didn't happen, and he wasn't entirely sure if he felt that way about Hazel anyway - and then this.

"I'm fine." The words were out of his mouth almost before he thought them, even though it was clearly not true. "I mean, I'm just tired." Jae took another deep breath, but all of the very visible attempts to relax himself were probably not doing much to convince Hazel. Fuck, why couldn't he just have had more self control in the past few days so he didn't run out of smokes? He'd underestimated how used to it he was getting.

He balled one of his hands into a fist and focused on the feeling of his nails digging into his palm to try and bring himself out of the slippery, dangerous feeling of losing control of a situation. If he let this thing with Hazel (whatever it turned out to be) go to shit just because he'd let things slip just this one time, he'd never stop being furious with himself.

The pause in conversation had stretched out too far past natural to be anything but awkward now, but Jae doubted that Hazel was going to let him just leave things there. "Look, don't... don't think badly of me, okay? I think I've been smoking too much lately." He lowered his voice for the last part; there was hardly anyone besides the two of them in the Treehouse right now, but the possibility his smoking habit getting back to his parents was one thing that Jae absolutely allowed himself to be paranoid about in light of all the hell he'd catch for it.

"It's fine, though. I'll be fine. I don't feel bad, really, just... jittery. I'm mostly just tired, like I said." He glanced back at Hazel to try and gauge her reaction. He thought that she looked more worried than mad or upset, but he couldn't be sure until she said something.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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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.”
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Relief so strong that it was almost a physical sensation washed over Jae. Praise be to Hazel Jung, Jae's lady and savior, who was not mad (or worse, disappointed) but instead had exactly what he needed. The corners of his mouth twitched into a lopsided smile when she called him sweet, too; she had to be one of maybe three people tops who thought so, but it was still nice to hear.

"That would be fantastic if you have some, actually." He moved to rub a hand over his face, caught himself before he smudged his makeup all over, and instead pressed his knuckles to his forehead in the spot over his left eye where a headache was forming. "I don't usually get like this, I just... lost track of stuff, I guess." He was tempted to reach over and squeeze her hand in gratitude, but that might be taking things too far for just a borrowed cigarette.

Jae had never completely gotten over the surprise he'd felt when he realized that Hazel actually liked him, in a friendly way or otherwise. Not in an "I can't believe a girl like you would notice me" kind of way, but a "This doesn't completely jive with what I thought of you before" way. Before they'd gotten to know each other, he'd assumed that Hazel was sort of stuck-up, running around with those other Korean girls like she did (and he'd had more than enough of Korean girls looking down on him for being half-white, thanks) and the Anti-Bullying Committee, and all the rumors about her and whoever the boy of the week was this time. But she didn't get on his case for his social skills or lack thereof, and she listened, and there were the things like the hidden pack of cigarettes in the break room that put a few spots of tarnish on that spotless, self-righteous image that he'd had of her.

He liked it.

"If you go get the Lucky Strikes, we could go out back for a few minutes, talk some more?" Jae needed that cigarette like nothing else, and anything that delayed homework for a few more minutes was a good thing. And it wasn't like he was in unpleasant company or anything, either.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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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?”
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"Yeah." Jae pushed himself up from the table and followed Hazel out the back, leaving their belongings at the table. He wasn't worried about anything getting stolen while they were outside; there were few enough people around that anyone with intent to cause trouble would be seen, he kept his wallet in his pocket, and if anybody wanted to steal his math textbook of all things, Jae could care less.

"You're a doll," he said sincerely as he took the cigarette and lighter from Hazel and lit up. He took a deep drag and held it, closing his eyes for a moment so that he could just soak in the moment and feel some of his tension ease. Maybe this hell of a week could really be over now, since having a withdrawal episode in the middle of a kind-of-sort-of date was about as close to rock bottom as you could get. Jae exhaled slowly, taking care not to blow smoke towards Hazel.

"Fuck, that's good." And that sentence was just close enough to something an addict would say, a stereotypical absurd response to your drug of choice, that he had to laugh at himself a little. Better to laugh right now than to overthink that. "Thank you. Really. This probably isn't how you were thinking things would go when you invited me over." Jae ran his free hand through his hair, tucking his bangs behind his ear so that they weren't in his way. Nothing worse than singed hair. He offered the lighter back to Hazel, unsure if she intended to have a cigarette as well now that he'd gotten his fix.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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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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Hazel apparently had more restraint than Jae did when it came to smoking, if her reaction was any indication. Seemed likely that it really was just a once in a while thing for her. "You okay?" Jae reached out to place a hand on her shoulder, then realized that she might not want to be touched and pulled back at the last moment. It felt wrong to just let it drop so he stayed in the awkward position of his hand hovering over her shoulder but not really touching, fingers just brushing the material of her shirt.

Touching other people was not something he did frequently. For one thing, a lot of his interactions with classmates were less than friendly and Jae had never been inclined towards physical fighting. Verbal sparring, yes. Actual fistfights, no. He was under no illusions about his prowess in that area. He rarely had any kind of affectionate contact with people his age either, as a result of point A. Hazel kissing him when he showed up at the restaurant was probably the first time in a few weeks that anybody other than his parents had touched him in any meaningful way. It was a weird thing to suddenly be aware of.

Still unsure whether it would be appropriate to touch Hazel or leave her alone, Jae hesitated a moment longer before slowly and awkwardly letting his hand drop. Small, indecisive movements let the back of his hand brush against her hair before he pulled it back. Her hair was soft. That was a normal thing to notice, right? It probably smelled good too, but he wasn't about to test that out. His social skills might be lacking, but he wasn't a complete wacko.

"Uh. Sorry. But, yeah, you doing alright there?" He absently tapped some ash from his cigarette, avoiding the lit end. He was starting to wonder if Hazel had some kind of ulterior motive for asking him to hang out besides homework, based on how accommodating she'd been. Couldn't hurt to try and be accommodating back, for once.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Wheezing harshly in a hurried attempt to release the smog clutching at her chest and reintroduce oxygen into her lungs proved to be an uncomfortable, but ultimately fruitful endeavour. Hazel’s hand rubbed against her throat, soothing it as the other ran across her eyes to clear her vision; now blurred from the dashing of tears that’d arisen during her hacking fit. As she inhaled deeply and offered Jae a weak smile, she realised she could at least take comfort in the fact that she’d chosen to forgo contacts today; making the situation just that tiniest bit easier to manage.

“I’m fine,” she managed, voice still roughened from her cough. “Looks like I won’t be playing any moody, cigarette smokers standing on abandoned street corners anytime soon, though.”

Not wanting his attention to be too preoccupied by her disruptive fit, Hazel’s mind raced as she tried to conjure up another topic to distract from her maladies. She preferred to keep the whole ‘damsel’ thing to the stage – she’d played enough of them in her time, and was in no mood to have life reflect art right now.

As she remained in thought, Hazel noticed Jae’s hand, still half-hovering by her shoulder, and her smile widened just a bit more. It was one of those cute little quirks, that awkwardness that made him so undeniably human that she liked about Jae. Too long she’d been chasing flawless, undeniable perfection – both in boys and in herself, and she was just beginning to realise that it was one’s flaws, their moments where everything was genuine and true, were what made them perfect.

It was then that the idea struck her – not too deeply, not enough for her to really consider where it might lead the conversation to – but for now, she knew it’d have to do.

“Are you excited for the dance? Sadie Hawkins, I mean.”
Version Seven:
Tristan O’Hara
Dorothea Rodriguez
Ariana Simpson


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Who is this sassy lost child
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"Sadie- oh, yeah. That's a thing." Jae rubbed the back of his neck, deciding that if Hazel wanted to ignore her little episode, he'd let it go. "I haven't really thought about whether I'm going. I guess I probably will, to keep an eye on Henry."

Jae took another drag off his cigarette so he could disguise his sigh of irritation and apprehension as just another exhale. "He's got a date with somebody who's never talked to him before and it sounds like a disaster." Just who it would be a disaster for was still up in the air, but if Jae's immediate suspicions came true and this turned out to be some prank for Scarlett McAfee and her friends to giggle over how she'd asked Henry out and he'd totally bought it, well. Jae's actions, whatever they turned out to be, would be one hundred percent justified in that case.

People thought that they could fuck with Henry and get away with it because he'd usually just let them off the hook. It was Jae's job as his best friend to remind them that no they fucking couldn't. He didn't know Scarlett McAfee from a hole in the ground, and she wasn't getting the benefit of the doubt just because Henry had taken the time to list off all her apparent good qualities to him. Henry tended to see the good in people, to a fault. Case in point: Jae was his best friend.

...This train of thought was making him angry. Jae closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose. Held the breath, counted backwards from ten. Basic as shit anger management, but it was surprisingly effective at getting his pulse back down to normal when there wasn't somebody there egging him on.

There was Hazel there, though, and he owed her an answer that didn't just consist of him grumbling and scowling about all the potential trouble Henry could be getting into.

"Sorry, that was kind of... I just don't know, her, you know, and Henry's... Henry." Jae made a vague gesture with his free hand and brought the cigarette to his lips again with the other. Deep breath, exhale.

"Sorry. Are you going, though? We could hang out there if you are." And he was at least 20% less likely to start an ill-advised fight if someone reliable was there to reign him in.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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