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I knew it was him even before I saw his crouched figure.

I came upon a vague silhouette of a male high school student, squatting beside a few bushes that grew off to the side of the asphalted sidewalk. He wore the same uniform as me. It was midday and so I deduced he was skipping classes, just like me. A wisp of smoke wafted up into the air above his head and dissipated before it hit my nostrils.

You didn't have to second-guess what Yuri Karamov was doing. He was coughing in that tell-tale way of new smokers. The sound bounced off the concrete walls of the tunnel. They reached my ears before I had set eyes on him.

His profile was extended to me as I approached him. Although the tunnel reverberated the echoes of my footsteps, he didn't glance my way until I was close enough to feel the heat from the smoke he blew out of his mouth.

He looked up at my towering figure.

- Konstantin? He hid the cigarette out of sight, and smile up at me sheepishly. He sounded cheery, even slightly apologetic.

I raised an eyebrow at him.

Yuri Karamov had cut his hair into a buzz cut some years back and had kept it in that style ever since. It pronounced the angles of his face; his sharp jawline and prominent cheekbones, and thick eyebrows—one of which was slashed through by a precise cut. Over the years his face had shed some of its baby fat and what stared back at me now was the face of a sixteen year old young man.

I contemplated my next move. I knew I should have ignored him and gotten along with my business, but something about the look on his face made me reconsider.

I shook my head at him.

- You're doing it wrong, I said.

His eyebrows drew together in response. I squatted comfortably beside him, despite it being the first time I had spoken to him since we graduated middle school.

I motioned for him to pass me the cigarette. Hesitantly, he did. His eyes widening in surprise when I placed it to my lips.

- Wait—

I took a small inhalation of the toxic stick. The smoke burnt its way down to my lungs. I blew it out through the side of my mouth. Yuri's expression was suspended in disbelief.

- Where did you—

- You need to hold against your reflex to cough, I said, cutting him off.

- Fill your mouth first, and then slowly guide it down. It's easier in the beginning if you don't pull on it all at once.

I demonstrated one more time. -Do it in steps, I said while exhaling. I had to take my own advice and stifle the urge to cough as I pushed every last trace of toxic air out of my lungs. My eyes watered. I handed the cigarette back to him, and fisted my hands, aware that they had started to shake.

His blue gaze scorched the side of my face as I got up.

- You know...this, Yuri said, holding the cigarette up to me, - I'm not serious. I don't actually plan on finishing it.

As if to prove his intent to me, he put out the flaming stick on the ground beside his feet.

- I was just bored.

I held his gaze. - I don't really care, I said.

- Whether you smoke it or not. Whether you're skipping class or not. Just...don't tell any of the professors you saw me when they catch you.

I heard Yuri get up at the same time I turned my back to him and started to walk away. Two long strides, and I felt his presence stand in the shadows of my heels.

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