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Bittersweet and Sour; Tagging SansaSaver!
Topic Started: Sep 26 2015, 09:28 PM (905 Views)
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And I am still hungry.
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
((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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"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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"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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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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And I am still hungry.
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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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"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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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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"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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"Scarlett McAfee." Yep, that tasted like a name he could learn to hate. "She's in our year, but I don't think I've ever talked to her. Know anything about her?" Hazel was much more of a social butterfly than Jae, so odds were better that she'd had some kind of experience with Scarlett before. Jae took one final drag from his dwindling cigarette and dropped it to the ground, grinding it out with the heel of his boot. Hazel had already come to his rescue at least once today; who was to say she wouldn't do it again?

Before he could dwell too much on that, though, Hazel went and asked the million dollar question. Or something. Was it really a million dollar question if you weren't getting a prize? Unless of course the prize was Jae himself, which let's face it, was a pretty niche reward.

Then again, that seemed to be exactly what Hazel was angling for.

"Together? Like a... a thing?" Wait, shit, that made it sound bad. Hazel had been "a thing" with a lot of guys, and he knew that was a sore spot for her. "I mean, not- Fuck. You know what, ignore that, it doesn't matter." Jae waved his hands like he could dissipate what he'd just said like his cigarette smoke. "But, uh, yeah. I-I mean, I'd like that." Shit, he was stuttering now. He never stuttered, what was wrong with him? Hazel had most definitely not decided to ask him out because she expected him to turn into a stuttering mess.

...Asked him to the dance. Not asked him out. Different things. He was getting all worked up over nothing.

"Um. Sorry about that, again. I dunno what's wrong with me today, you know, it's just been a long week and-" Goddamn it. Give her a straight answer.

Jae closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Okay, look. I'm making an ass of myself here, but... yeah. I'd like to go with you. That sounds like fun." There. Was that so hard? His heart was still beating fast, but it kind of felt like a good thing. Like a risk that had paid off, even though he hadn't been the one to pop the question in the first place.

"Fair warning though: my parents are going to take, just, all of the pictures. They go nuts when I actually go and do things with people."
"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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"Heh." Jae's laugh was barely more than an exhalation of his remaining tension, but it was a laugh, and it was genuine. "I think my parents are a little better than the paparazzi, at least. They'll make sure all the pictures are decent."

He felt... how did he feel? The pain behind his eye that had been threatening to become a full-blown headache had mostly receded. His heart rate seemed more or less back to normal. His hands weren't shaking anymore, from withdrawal or nerves.

He supposed that he felt good. Just good. Content, maybe. It had been a while since he'd felt that way.

"Thanks," he said, not entirely knowing what he was thanking Hazel for. She deserved his thanks for a lot of things, probably. For giving him a chance again and again, for being someone he could rely on when he needed it. For... all of this, whatever it might turn out to be.

Jae leaned forward for a moment, resting his elbows on his knees. He didn't say anything else for a bit, wanting to just snapshot this moment in his mind and preserve it. He felt good. Things were going to be okay. Whatever had been bothering him, it wasn't forever. He'd needed a good friend - maybe something more, but a good friend above all else - to remind him of that.

He closed his eyes briefly and exhaled once again before looking at Hazel. "We can talk about it later, if you want. We should probably go and actually look at that homework, and I think I'm going to start getting all mushy if I'm allowed to just think about things any longer. I don't think you want to deal with that right now." He gave her a lopsided smile before standing and offering her a hand up.

Even algebra homework didn't loom quite so forbiddingly over his head when he was in good company.

((Min-jae Parker continued in Hell is Other People))
Edited by backslash, Jul 27 2016, 08:35 AM.
"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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