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Lingering Smoke

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At the first sign of an escape, Atsushi sneaked away from cleaning duty in order to fix his nicotine craving. The feeling crept onto him during the last hour of their classes. He bounced his leg and tried hard not to place any attention onto himself. Their teacher's eyes remained sharp for any funny business. Especially, during the weeks before testing season. Gnawing on a pencil to the brim, his friends snickered at his jittery actions. He sneered before placing his gaze onto Sakamoto.

No one ever noticed him missing from the group or cared enough to voice their concern. Half the time, their attention went toward chatting with friends and focusing on finishing their tasks. His friends were assigned onto another group on a different day so they left right after classes ended. He saw their matching grins when the bell dismissed the class. Aiming a laugh at his direction, they hurried away before he snarled insults.

They winked in smugness.

He glared back.

Lucky bastards.

He swore under his breath when he remembered Kenken carried the majority of their stash. Good thing he concealed a stick in his possessions for those rare situations.

Hurrying through the school, he avoided students from his class before they signaled a teacher. Quite easy. No one paid him a second glance. They probably assumed he went to collect cleaning supplies.

Once he made it to their spot, he saw none of his friends. He assumed both of them left to grab some snacks or went to the park. Checking for any wandering people, he slumped against the wall and slid down. Opening the extra flap in his jacket, he snatched out his cigarette and lighter. Placing the cig in between his teeth, he lit it up. Inhaling the tobacco, he closed his eyes with a huge smile.

His craving subsided into nothing. Nothing but bliss coursed through him. He hated depending on such this vice but he couldn't help himself.

A familiar voice interrupted his thoughts. "Ah! Look Maeda-san is over here! I told you he ran off from cleaning duty."

Fuck.

The next one almost had him choking. "I see."

Fuck!

Atsushi cringed. Someone found him. Worse, two people found him. He was so screwed. Sakamoto being one of the two people made this more humiliating. Mortification grasped him when he connected eyes with Sakamoto.

He didn't acknowledge Kubota.

Dropping his cigarette onto the ground, he snuffed it out with the bottom of his shoe. He applied pressure on the same spot in order to believe it disappeared from their presence. He kept his foot over it in order to hide it. His heart thundered in his chest. He avoided staring at Sakamoto but felt his gaze hot on his frame. Cursing his cowardice, he peeked from the corner of his eyes.

Sakamoto showed no emotion in his face. His well sculpted face stayed lax but something in those eyes told him otherwise. A chill went through his spine from the intensity.

"It's not good to smoke so much." Atsushi blinked in surprise when he realized Kubota stood beside Sakamoto. Kubota shrunk from his glare. "Ha, ha, then again, it's not my decision to judge someone who smokes. My dad drinks a beer when he comes home from work. Everyone has something for relaxation at the end of the day. Not that I have my own vice or anything."

Sakamoto pushed up his glasses, his words flowed from his lips. Blunt and to the point. "I find the smell and the practice rather revolting."

Atsushi tore his gaze away from Kubota and turned his attention onto Sakamoto. Struck in surprise at the blatant response from Sakamoto, he uttered out. "Oh...so you don't like people who smoke? At all?"

Sakamoto shook his head, he set down the trashcan onto the ground, tired of holding it in his arms. "I find health the utmost importance for a good long life. A balanced diet and exercise help prolong it as well. Smoking tobacco brings toxins into the lungs and builds up disease. Avoidable diseases. I'd rather prevent any attacks to my body and for consideration on surrounding people."

"I-I see."

Kubota noticed Atsushi's dejected form from hearing Sakamoto's words. He drummed his fingers on his forearm, curious on this discovery. Keeping silent, he watched them both continue on talking. Sakamoto explained the dangers of smoking. Listing everything through counting his fingers. Atsushi listened.

Atsushi's slumped form and less than strong tone burned into his mind.


During their tutoring session in the library, Kubota and Sakamoto settled in a quiet space in the corner of the building. Far away from the current loud conversations in the main area. Sakamoto finished explaining their current assignment from their math block and voiced his tips for remembering the formulas. Soaking in the information, Kubota wrote down the notes in the corners. Once Sakamoto found him capable, he turned his attention onto his own work, leaving Kubota to his own thoughts.

Kubota continued on replaying the scene back in the school. Tapping his pencil on his math assignment, he read the problem again and again. The solution for the problem didn't register in his mind despite the fact he wrote it on his notebook. Peeking from the corner of his eyes, he watched Sakamoto in diligent silence. Writing his thoughts of solving their homework on his paper. He scribbled without stopping. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Sakamoto's interest in expressing his dislike of cigarettes surprised him. More so, the intended person he expressed those feelings onto in particular. Atsushi Maeda provided no fight and seemed downtrodden at the revelation. The delinquent who sneered at authority and other students, caved under one sentence from Sakamoto. His reactions revealed plenty of information.

He remembered seeing Sakamoto and Atsushi speaking to one another in passing. It lasted a few sentences before Atsushi wandered back to his friends. His friends patted Atsushi's back. Both showed encouraging and supporting smiles before teasing him about the whole ordeal.

He'd do the same for Sakamoto.

Support him.

Tease him.

Everything a support friend did whenever the crush of their best friend neared them.

He coughed, lowering his voice, he inquired with carefulness. "Sakamoto-kun?"

"Yes?"

"Do you really care about people who smoke?" Sakamoto stopped writing on his current homework assignment. "The last time we went to the arcade, there was a group of guys smoking near the entrance. You didn't tell them anything and walked inside the place. What makes Maeda-san different from them?"

Sakamoto fiddled with the pencil in between his fingers. "It was more of a suggestion than anything else. He's a classmate and needs to inform himself on such vital information. Better to prevent sickness at his young age than to regret it when he's older."

Kubota chuckled. "Sakamoto-kun, you don't give out suggestions without good reason."

Sakamoto turned his gaze onto Kubota, his pencil gripped in between his nimble fingers. "What are you trying to say?"

Kubota winked. "Nothing at all. It's good that you care about your friend so much Sakamoto-kun. It's a nice change. Next time, please introduce him to me properly." He watched Sakamoto's eyes widen and his pencil fall onto the table.


Atsushi bounced his knee and concentrated on the sprouting weeds growing on the side of the school. Emphasis on tried. He focused on anything to gain his attention. A ladybug crawled onto the leaf. Ants marched down the pavement. The birds chirped on the neighboring trees surrounding the back fences of their meeting area.

His thoughts wandered back onto smoking.

Two days passed since he lit one up. He craved a cigarette. Damn his sudden urge in wanting to impress Sakamoto. None of his other crushes affected him to such a huge extent. In fact, he cared little about their opinions on his smoking habit. This one changed him. Not too much. More than enough that he questioned his own behavior and current lifestyle.

Atsushi licked his cracked and dry lips with his wet tongue. He thought on other methods to satisfy his cravings but nothing surfaced in his mind. Smoking lowered his stress better than other alternatives.

Sitting beside him, Mario focused on his phone while taking sips of his juice. None the wiser on his friend's internal battle.

"I'm back!" Kenken skidded to a stop, his hands deep in his pockets. "Did you guys grab me something from the cafeteria?" Mario handed him a wrapped bread and he grinned. "Thanks! It's the right flavor too. Anyway, I'm stocked up for the week. I'm feeling generous for the moment. I'll let you guys have one." He took out the carton and Mario grabbed one, giving him a thanks.

Atsushi gulped, he shook his head, releasing the breath he held to control his urge. "Nah, I'm good."

"You don't want to smoke. Why?" Kenken waved his box of cigarettes in front of Atsushi's face. "You complained about not having a smoke last time we saw each other. Half of our lunchtime was spent listening to your speech. What the hell happened?"

"That was yesterday, today is a different day. I don't want to smoke." Atsushi scooted away. Sakamoto's disapproving words floated into his thoughts, convincing him not to snatch one and lighting it up. "Don't offer me anymore cigs."

Mario continued on texting with one hand and his lit cigarette in the other. "Sakamoto said something didn't he?"

"No!"

Kenken pocketed his cigs with a large grin. "I see. Your little crush doesn't like kissing an ash tray. I understand. My last girlfriend hated smoking too. I suffered months without having a smoke until I figured out to wash out my mouth. Mouthwash does wonders on masking the taste. You got to do what you gotta do to get that ass."

"Shut up!" Atsushi snapped. "He has nothing to do with my decision and don't talk about him like that!"

Kenken put up his hands as a sign of surrender. "Alright, alright, I won't talk about your beloved Sakamoto in such a way again. Sheesh chill out man."

"Good!" Atsushi snapped. "Any ideas on how to kick this habit?"

Mario shrugged his shoulders. "Try smoking less?"

"Sakamoto will definitely know!" Atsushi reached underneath his beanie and rubbed his hair. "I don't know what to do!"


Sakamoto commented during their shared break at work. "I have to admit I hold...a different emotion for Maeda-san."

"Oh?" Came an amused smile from Kubota, sipped his iced tea before he continued. "It's great that you realize it. I have to say, he used to scare me a little bit. He hangs out with those group of delinquents but not all of them are so bad." He remembered Hayabusa and his actions in the aftermath of his hair disaster.

Both came into their own brand of an understanding. Going as far as hanging out during his free time from work and studying. He admitted to thinking the worst the first time Hayabusa invited him out somewhere. To his visible relief, Hayabusa treated him at a ramen joint and paid for the whole meal.

Sakamoto swirled his drink before taking a sip. "They're not intimidating."

Kubota sighed. "You don't get intimidated from anything or anyone."

"That's not factual."

"Don't try to placate me Sakamoto-kun." Kubota wagged his finger. "You're always cool and collected."

Sakamoto relented. "I'll let you think so but, it won't stop me from thinking otherwise."

"Kubota-san! Break time is over!" Their manager exclaimed from beyond the door. "Sakamoto-san, you have five minutes left!"

"On it!" Kubota stood up and disposed of his plastic cup. "So...when are you asking him out? From what I hear, going to a ramen joint is a good start." Sakamoto hesitated in responding. "Good thing Maeda-san likes you or else he might go after someone else."

Sakamoto tilted his head. "You're certain of his feelings?"

"I can tell from watching you two interact. He's smitten." Kubota informed him. "Why do you think he took it hard when you chastised him for smoking?"


Atsushi and Sakamoto bumped into each other on their way to class.

No bumping into each other but close enough. They stopped in their tracks the moment they connected eyes.

Atsushi woke up late due to setting his alarm on the wrong time. He returned home after hanging out with his friends and paid little attention to the buttons of the alarm clock. His mother chased him out on her way out to work. She woke up late as well but he kept his mouth shut before he commented on it. He just made it before the gates closed.

Sakamoto tested the limits of running past the gates. In a way, he found the exercise entertaining and exhilarating. He hid the urge to snicker of the audacity shown on the teacher's face whenever he saw him coming. His stint in a gymnastics program paid off in the stunts he pulled in school. He thanked his father for signing him up for the extracurricular class.

"Hey Sakamoto." Atsushi gawked in surprise, he never expected to see Sakamoto hurrying to class. "You're out of class?"

"Not exactly. I take the scenic route to school and found myself distracted." Sakamoto leaned in close to Atsushi's neck and sniffed. "You don't have the clinging smell of smoke." He noticed Atsushi's cheeks warmed into a blushing red tint. "Much better."

Atsushi's eyes widened at Sakamoto's forwardness. "Thanks!" Processing the pleasant comments, he tried not to dance in glee when Sakamoto complimented the fresh smell of his uniform. "I have to admit this to you. Uh...it's sort of hard pushing away the habit but I know the benefits."

"I'm sure your determination will win through in the end. Although, it's understandable that one has to ease through their cravings. There's nothing wrong with cutting back until you're ready to do away with the habit." Sakamoto leaned back and straightened up.

Atsushi let out the breath he contained inside of him. "I kind of figured...Mario told me cutting off would drive me nuts. I have to wean off of it apparently."

Sakamoto pushed his glasses up with his fingers. "We should hurry along into class. Lateness is not something we can afford on our records."

Holding back the comment on not caring about being late, Atsushi nodded. "I guess." It would surprise their homeroom teacher that he walked through the door without a late slip.

"Before we leave," Sakamoto gulped and ignored his rapid beating heart. He remembered Kubota's words which fueled him to finish his sentence. "I'd like to invite you to dinner. This weekend."

Atsushi repeated. "Dinner?"

"Yes," Sakamoto tipped his head up and down. "Unless, my invitation is too forward and unwelcome."

"N-Not at all!" Atsushi grinned. "Tell me the place and I'll be there."

"I'll inform you of the details after classes are over." Sakamoto started walking down the hall.

"Sakamoto!" Atsushi exclaimed, he hunched at the loudness of his voice. Sakamoto turned to him, his eyebrow raised. "This is...a date? Right?"

Sakamoto responded without missing a beat. "Yes." The late bell rang as Sakamoto checked his watch. "Ah, it seems we're late."

Atsushi stalked toward Sakamoto and hooked an arm around his shoulders. "The teacher won't care. C'mon, you can back me up and get me out of detention. We can't plan anything if I'm stuck in this place."

Sakamoto smiled light, small enough that Atsushi thought he hallucinated. "I'll inform the teacher we helped a faculty member move materials to another class."

"That's the spirit!"

The end.