“She didn’t like that I said, ‘We’re better as friends.’” Dennis revealed, pulling the cigarette smoke into his mouth.
He didn’t typically blow smoke; he preferred letting it seep out of his orifices slowly between drags. He was staring at the street, watching the occasional car drive by fast, too fast in his opinion. He flicked the ash of his cig towards the ground and inadvertently hit his friend Tremaine’s hospital gown. Their eyes fixated on the road. Dennis noticed what happened through his peripheral vision and apologized the best way he knew how.
“My bad," he said.
Tremaine quickly brushed it off, revealing his fresh Jordan 13s and no socks. He turned
back toward the street, watching the cars, he replied, “You’re good.”
Dennis brought the cigarette back to his lips.
They both were silent as several cars passed by. Dennis waited for them to clear, a habit
they built growing up near a major road. Meaningful conversations could quickly turn into shouting matches, and given the circumstances, shouting was not an option.
He continued, “She said it’s like I’m shoe shopping.”
“What?” Tremaine looked away from the street and at Dennis, hoping to register what he heard.
Dennis answered, “I got one foot in… y’know? Trying to see if it fits.”
Tremaine chuckled and nodded. As a sneaker aficionado, he appreciated her metaphor.
Before turning back to the street, Tremaine glanced at the cigarette and quickly turned away
from the smoke as it swirled around Dennis’s face. Dennis took note.
“You sure it’s okay I smoke?” He asked.
“Yeah, bro, it’s cool. What’d she say next?” 
“That I’m being ‘insensitive’.” Dennis looked at Tremaine incredulously.
Tremaine shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. 
Dennis took another drag and tried to blow smoke in the opposite direction to where
Tremaine stood. Changing his modus operandi caused him to cough. Tremaine closed his
eyes and took a deep breath, hoping to catch a hit of nicotine. His mouth was watering; his
appetite had been raised. It was more than just the smoke for him. It was a beautiful spring day,
the type of day Marylanders looked forward to when winter broke. When they were kids,
Tremaine and Dennis would hit the basketball courts in Sligo Creek when the weather was nice.
The temperature would match the mood on the court. Too hot, and a hard foul could lead to
someone getting shot, but cooler heads would prevail on a day like this. After the game, the two
would smoke weed, and if they didn’t have weed, a cigarette.
“Let me get a pull.” Tremaine held out two elongated fingers. His hands were dry,
reflected by the ashy look of his skin. Dennis noticed that Tremaine was trembling.
With the cigarette hanging off his lip, he looked at Tremaine with his head tilted up so his
chin pointed at his friend. He squinted to prevent the smoke from drying his eyes. Dennis blew
smoke out the corner of his mouth.
Tremaine was silent. He was never one to speak much, but since being diagnosed with
emphysema, his words were far and few. Dennis almost always did most of the talking, but it felt like Tremaine's choice; the last few weeks have been different. So, now more than ever, Dennis knew
when Tremaine spoke, it was bond.
“Aiight,” Dennis muttered through the smoke, placing the cigarette between Tremaine’s fingers.
“How many now?” Tremaine asked in a whispered voice, preparing
himself to smoke the cigarette. It was only half a cigarette, but it was his first in weeks. A sense
of calm washed over him as he placed the butt between his lips. He thought to himself, 
better than nothing.
“What?” Dennis asked.
Tremaine ignored the question, knowing Dennis would catch up.
“Five.” Dennis lit another cigarette.
“Five girls in the zone?” Tremaine asked skeptically.
"They're the homies."
"How many you gas up?"
"She one of ‘em?"
Tremaine nodded. His observation was sinking in as he flicked the cigarette butt into the
street. He gave Dennis a subtle gesture, indicating he needed to go back. Dennis read the
message and stood up. The chill from the cars whizzing by gave him goosebumps despite
wearing his newly fresh Sherpa-lined sweatpants.
"I mean, listen, she’s just not the right one," Dennis affirmed.
"Why you say that?" Tremaine questioned.
They turned the corner, walking under a modern glass awning of a gorgeous new
LEED-accredited facility.
Dennis looked up at the cancer clinic sign, threw the cigarette on the floor, and stamped it
out at the door, leaving the last ember of coal ash to whither under his shoe.
He muttered, "This is bullshit."

Several people in the facility greeted Tremaine. A couple of standouts for Dennis were a 60-year-old man named Henry from Uganda, who shouted, “7 o’clock! It’s seven! 
My wife will kill me if you don’t come over.”
Tremaine mouthed, I got you and bowed his head while walking backward.
"Watch out," a woman playfully said as Tremaine walked into her.
Tremaine gave her a smile. While walking between the pair, she turned for another look,
shaking her head, and then smiled.
Dennis chuckled, "I saw that bro."
"What?" Tremaine feigned innocence.
He was fighting to catch his breath; walking was taking its toll.
"Nothing. Anyway, you asked why. It’s the way she spazzes at every little thing," Dennis continued.
"Like Soul 4 Real?" Tremaine asked playfully.
Dennis chuckled because, at that moment, he realized why Tremaine's word was bond.
He could hit the nail on the head, whether it was a heart-to-heart or a simple joke.
"Like Soul 4 Real," Dennis chuckled, "seriously fam, it's the microaggressions, the
constant bickering about what she wants for dinner, oh and my after-dinner routine…"
Tremaine began patting his hospital gown; Dennis could see he was searching but
continued his tirade. Tremaine found a toothpick, looking at it as if it were a consolation prize,
and placed it between his lips. He interrupted Dennis mid-sentence, “Let me see your phone."
Without thinking, a sign of complete trust, he handed his phone to Tremaine, who was mindlessly nodding in agreement. Dennis' speech was muffled to the point where
Tremaine felt like a kid in an old Peanuts cartoon.
"You gotta unlock it," Tremaine sputtered through labored breathing.
Dennis’ voice crept back into the right frequency and bled through the muffles.
"Then she called my mom! My mom fam! …Oh, my bad."
The newly purchased iPhone was, for that moment, a boomerang as it returned to Tremaine's hands.
Tremaine scrolled through the phone, then handed it back as Dennis finished his thought.
"For real, man, does any of this sound right to you?" Dennis griped.
Tremaine took a deep breath. The clinic air was stale, dry, and cold as it entered his throat.
He answered the question with the heat of his words pushing through his diaphragm. In the cold
environment, it was providing much-needed moisture as he said,
"Yeah, sounds like you’re in a relationship."

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