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Wake up, smoke a cigarette, grab breakfast from the corner store near his apartment, walk to work, a cigarette when work starts, smoke three cigarettes before lunch at 12, have lunch, a cigarette after lunch, smoke more cigarettes while working until the manager goes home or he gets dragged out for dinner and drinks, leave, buy cigarettes from the store on the way home, walk home, smoke more cigarettes, sleep, rinse and repeat.

Life was routine. Nothing changed. Every day was the same. The same routes, the same habits, the same people. That was why seeing a new face manning the store on his way home surprised Sakurai. It surprised him enough that he found himself speechless when he approached that small window for his usual pack of cigarettes. Instead of the usual friendly elderly man, a younger, sleepy-looking man, probably someone around his own age, sat behind the counter, looking out at him with quite the lack of expression on his face.

The man had soft, delicate features, framed by messy, dyed brown hair, and he stared back at Sakurai with unreadable, dark brown eyes that narrowed when he raised an eyebrow and asked bluntly, “You gonna tell me what you want or what?”

Blinking, he looked away. He did not realise that he was staring. “M-Marlboro Reds.” Why was he stuttering?

A rustle of clothing and a grunt. The man turned away, looking down as he looked for the cigarettes. Sakurai shoved his hand into his pocket. Coins clinked as he fished for change. While he did so, the man stood up muttering a quiet “wait a minute” before disappearing.

Putting the exact amount in the change tray on the small counter, he waited until the man came back. He noticed that he had a lanky frame. Delicate, like his face. Judging from the strange look he was getting though, he was probably staring again.

“Here, Marlboro Reds,” the man muttered, sliding the cigarette pack across the counter.

As Sakurai reached out and took the pack, he felt his hand brushing over the man’s. Startled, he coughed and quickly withdrew his hand, swiping the pack off the counter. As he mumbled a hasty “thanks”, he opened the pack and walked off briskly, inhaling through a fresh cigarette as he headed for home.

Hopefully, the old man would come back tomorrow. The increased heart palpitations he was getting felt rather uncomfortable.