With a heaved, frustrated sigh accompanying it, a book is slammed against the curb. August grimaces at it, throwing his head in his hands. He’s been assigned to read the book for his APLIT class, but its easily becoming one of the worst things he’s read. It’s boring, and worse, he has an essay on it due Thursday.
Distantly, his tongue tingles for something else— strawberry and sweet, light and moist. He pauses in the position, hesitates, then reaches for his pocket— and startles when a coat is thrown around his back.
“Looked cold,” is all he gets in greeting. “Why’d you slam that book? Greiner's assignments getting too much?” There’s teasing, but underneath, the same suppressed stressed tone to his voice.
“Bullshit book,” August grumbles. His fingers twirl in his pocket, feathery touching the thing he wants the most.
“Yeah, I know. Used Sparknotes.”
“Good idea,” says August, flashing him a smile.
Jevhaan nods, lights a cigarette, and pops it into his mouth. There’s distinct practiced ease to his movements; when he looks to August, a line in his forehead— most likely from stress— evens out. He breathes in and out deeply, smiles around the cig.
August wrinkles his nose. “Smoking isn’t good,” he says.
Jevhaan blinks and says, “Don’t you smoke?”
“No,” says August.
Jevhaan stares at him for a good two minutes then blows out the last ring of smoke and throws the cigarette on the ground. Stepping on it, the smoke smothers. “No— no. Yes, you do. Either I’ve finally lost it or you’re lying.”
August rolls his eyes like his friend has lost his mind. “I don’t smoke,” he says, then reaches into his pocket and waves a small device. “Different.”
Jevhaan blinks rather dumbfoundedly. “That’s smoking.”
“Dude. Are you mad? Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not,” says August. “It’s water vapor— no tobacco.”
Jevhaan reaches out and snatches the black stick, shaking his head. “It has nicotine,” he says. “Jesus, August, you can’t go around thinking it’s not harmful.”
“You smoke too,” August argues, growing heated. “I mean— c’mon, dude. You can’t go telling me what shit I can and can’t do.”
“Yeah,” says Jevhaan, “but you can’t do this stuff without knowing what you’re doing first. It’s harmful, A, you can’t just assume it’s a better alternative because that’s what they say it is.”
“It’s fake,” says Jevhaan, jaw flexing. “You think the companies trying to sell this to you are going to say ‘oh, yeah, benefits of this include lung disease’? Seriously?”
“It’s water vapor,” August argues, “And why the hell are you lecturing me about this? You literally smoke.”
A silence sinks in. Jevhaan’s expression filters into something akin to hurt and irritation, August’s irked.
“I’m not going to get addicted,” August adds, a seemingly measly argument.
Jevhaan stares at him for a few long moments then composes himself. “I’m addicted, August, you think I want this? I smoked cause I thought it was cool and shit but I can’t stop. I can’t. So for god’s sake, read an article on this because you’ll ruin your lungs— and not just your lungs, Jesus, you’ll ruin your brain, your drive, your ability to function normally without it—”
He falls into a coughing fit.
“Okay,” says August. He looks away at the sheer frustration— desperation, really— on his friend’s face, opts to kick a loose rock on the ground. It disappears into the water drain. “I’ll… I’ll research. I didn’t realize, uh.” He licks his lips, looking back up almost nervously. “Yeah. I’ll just.”
Jevhaan’s fingers tremble where they’re clutched on his chest. “Yeah,” he says with a distinct raspiness. Had the gravel in his throat always been there? “It’s not worth it, August. Just. Listen to me for that much. You need to know what exactly you’re doing.”
“Yeah,” is all August can say. “It’s not.” He stops, hesitates a moment. “How do you know all this?”
“The ads,” says Jevhaan mildly, taking back the semblance of humor he always has. “They’re everywhere. I mean— yeah, they’re annoying and stupid, but they’re there for a reason. So many people have no idea that vape can be as addictive as cigarettes; you can’t really stop people from doing what they want. You can smoke. Go ahead, it’s your choice. But know the risks. It’s not fair to let kids go around vaping without ever telling the results. And that’s what the companies do.”
“I didn’t,” August says numbly. “Just thought it was water vapor or something.”
Jevhaan laughs dryly. “Yeah. I can’t stop you from doing what you want, but at least I can enlighten you on the subject— speaking of which, did you do the Griener’s essay yet?”
August looks down at the curb mildly. “No. Haven’t been able to finish the book.” His tongue tingles again for the strawberry taste he’s come to appreciate. He blinks. “Hey. Want to stop by at Walmart with me? I want some strawberry gum.”
“Vaguely specific,” says Jevhaan, but he smiles. “Yeah. Let’s go.”