"Nala, do we have to go through this every morning?" Corbin taps his foot impatiently in front of her door. Truthfully she has been ready for over an hour, having woken up early after a night filled with strange dreams about Sean and Mr. Thalmus. She is sitting on the floor, leaning against her door with her face pressed to her knees, thinking about Sean and for some reason, his lips. They were softer than hers, which is embarrassing enough on its own.
"Nala, I'm serious." Corbin opens the door, causing her to fall out of her room on her back. "Ah, so you are up," he grumbles. "I'm going to stop driving you if you keep this up."
"You're one to talk after ditching me for a girl yesterday," she reminds him.
"Am I not allowed to have a life outside of you and school?" He frowns at her.
"That depends, is it really separate from school?" she asks smugly.
"What are you insinuating?" His eyes narrow as he helps her to her feet.
"Is the girl you're seeing a student at school," she rephrases her question.
"I don't think that's any of your business." He is glaring now. After the trouble she went through to help him win over their parents and how difficult it has been to raise her, they know better than to fight with each other seriously. This is a different matter though. Corbin could be in serious trouble if Mr. Thalmus's accusations are true.
"The fact that you refuse to answer is proof enough." She shakes her head disappointedly. "What am I going to do with this flirt of an older brother?"
"I'm not fooling around this time. I'm dead serious about this girl," he loses his temper. For him to yell, she knows he must be telling the truth. This is not one of his normal flings. He has actually fallen for a high school girl and is stressing over the fact.
"I'm sorry. I wish I could help you."
"It's not your fault and it's not your place," he assures her. "All I can ask is that you pretend you don't know anything if someone asks you."
She knows he is right. He is the one who chose to do something forbidden. Intervening will only cause trouble for her as well. It is not her problem. "We promised to share everything when we moved out together," she mutters as she heads for the door.
"I'm sorry but this really has nothing to do with you."
"I'll be heading to school on my own," she informs him. She does not want to be in an enclosed space with him at the moment. She is sure she will say something she will regret. Corbin doesn't try to stop her. He knows that he is being unfair. She is only worrying for him and yet he is being so cold.
"Sean!" Nala falls backwards as soon as she opens the door to the apartment. "What are you doing here?"
"Sean? Who is Sean?" Corbin rushes to help her up. Sean is faster though, lifting Nala by her arm and setting her on her feet again.
"Um, thanks," she mutters shyly.
"Nala, who is this?" Corbin is glaring at the boy who is not much shorter than him.
"You don't have any room to complain," Nala sputters quickly.
"Complain about what?" Corbin doesn't understand.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Peters. I'm your sister's boyfriend." Sean shakes his hand.
"What?" Corbin's eyes shoot open. It is obvious he never even considered the possibility of his younger sister finding someone to date. "Seriously?" He blinks at Sean stupidly. "Is someone like you really okay with something like that?"
"Hey, you just gestured to all of me!" Nala is furious. "What's so bad about me?"
Sean can't keep himself form laughing at the spectacle of fighting siblings. He only stops when Nala punches him in the ribs. "I'm so sorry about her." Corbin grabs Nala under the arms to keep from attacking him further.
"It's my fault." Sean forces a smile while trying to keep from keeling over. "Sorry about that, sweetie." He pecks Nala on the cheek, causing Corbin to release her.
"Well… I guess I can forgive you." She blushes feverishly.
"My god, I've never seen Nala like this," Corbin remains bewildered. "How did you tame this wild animal?"
"I'll admit that she has her rough patches but she's really a nice girl," Sean insists. Nala can't tell if he is being serious or if he is trying to make excuses as to why they are supposedly dating.
"I thought I was the only one who noticed," Corbin seems to believe him though. He rubs his cheek against his sister's face affectionately. "She used to be so sweet and cute. It's the way she was raised, you know. For a countryside farm girl she's actually pretty feminine. I can't believe she's gone and gotten herself a boyfriend. Now she's not just mine anymore," he pretends to pout.
"Get off, you're creeping him out." Nala shoves him away. "Why are you here, Sean?"
"What, I can't decide I want to walk my girlfriend to school?" He smiles cheerily.
Again she feels both drained and exhilarated at the same time. "I thought walking home yesterday was it," she mutters while pressing her fingers together shyly.
"We should walk together every day," Sean spouts. "If your brother isn't too broken up about it that is."
"By all means. This is the first time she has ever brought a boy home. I feel like a proud parent. Let me take a picture of you two." He whips out his cell phone.
"No, no pictures." Nala covers her face.
"Just one," Corbin assures her. "He came all this way. The least you can do is walk with him today, can't you?"
"But, but…" she stutters while glancing up at Sean as he drapes an arm around her shoulder for the picture.
Corbin leans in to whisper in her ear for a moment. "I'm really happy right now, Nala," he surprises her. "I've been worried about you for some time. It's great that you got a guy to go out with you but that isn't the end. A relationship is like a crop. You need to water it and take care of it. If you don't give him something in exchange for his efforts, he's going to leave you for someone else."
"Wh-what are you expecting me to give him?" Her face turns red.
"For now, your time," he remains serious. "I don't know how far he lives from here but it's possible you just tripled his commute to school. If you don't at least give him as much time in return he won't ever make this effort again."
"I know that." She frowns. She would definitely be happy if a real boyfriend came to pick her up but this is a fake relationship. Even if she puts in the proper time and effort, they are still going to break up in the end.
Sean and Nala end up walking to school together after letting Corbin take several pictures of them. He seems genuinely happy that his sister has found someone to be with. After receiving several surprised stares, from fellow students, upon arriving on campus, the pair heads in separate directions for morning lessons. Once again Nala has trouble concentrating as thoughts of Sean fill her head. She is still thinking about him at lunch time.
She is shaken from her own little world by the sound of desks scrapping the floor as several of her classmates stand to leave the room. Mina's group however heads straight for her. "You're rather tricky, aren't you?" Mina's best friend Trina slams her palms down on Nala's desk.
"I don't know what you mean," she plays dumb. She can guess what they are upset about.
"Do you know how many girls want to date Sean?" Trina continues. "We all agreed that Mina was the only one of us who stood a chance. We put all our hope in her."
"Are you serious?" Nala almost laughs. "You all like him? Wouldn't that make you all rivals?"
"It's only brought us closer." Trina crosses her arms proudly.
"You're a bunch of idiots. Mina's the only one gaining anything from your little alliance. Believe me, when the time comes, you'll all hate her for it."
All of the girls behind Trina fall silent. "Hey, are you going to listen to her over me?" she tries to rally them again. "She's the one who stole Sean to begin with."
"How am I any different than Mina?" Nala asks. "Why is she allowed to date him and not me?" She has no idea why she is defending her right to date Sean despite the fact that they aren't really dating at all. Perhaps she feels like she is protecting him from unwanted attention the same way he protected her.
Again Trina has trouble keeping the support of her friends. "If it matters so much, why don't you just ask him yourself?" the girl sitting next to Nala interrupts them to point out that Madison and Sean are once again passing by the classroom on their way to the roof.
Mina, who had remained in her seat instead of badgering Nala like her friends, sprints into the hall, startling both second years. "Whoa, slow down." Madison grabs her shoulders to stop her. "Who lit a fire under your butt?"
"Sean, we need to talk." She brushes past Madison.
"Fine, you're not my type anyway," Madison grumbles while stalking past the room.
"Why her?" Mina points at Nala who is staring out into the hall along with the rest of the class.
"Why not?" he mumbles while rubbing the back of his neck.
"Seriously. She's just a nobody from the countryside. I'm better than her, aren't I? You can trade up, right?"
"How do I put this…? Insulting my current girlfriend is not the best place to start if you want me to like you," he mumbles while averting his eyes. He seems to want to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
"I don't get it. You can't be serious about a girl like her. You must be dating her just for a joke or something."
"Is that true?" the girl in the desk next to Nala asks. "Is this some kind of prank?"
"Well…" Nala considers letting everyone think so. It would be an easy way to end their current predicament.
Before she can answer though, Sean enters the classroom, startling everyone into silence. He stops beside Nala's desk and leans down, kissing her on the side of the mouth. She stares at him with wide eyes, unsure what to say or do. "There. Is that good enough for you?" Sean shouts at Mina who has been stunned into silence. She slowly saunters back to her seat while gripping the sides of her head.
"Good enough for me," the girl next to Nala answers with a cheerful grin. This is the most Nala has ever heard her talk. She seems to be interested in the current situation of the class without being a fan of Sean's. If that is so, she may be Nala's only source of solace in the hostile class from now on.
"Come on, Maddie." Sean turns to look at his friend only to find him already gone. He must be upset at how uninterested in him Mina was. "Wait for me, jerk," Sean grumbles as he exits the room, leaving Nala with a dumbstruck expression on her face. She is positive he just used her to reject Mina. She can't blame him because it is exactly what they did with Mr. Thalmus but it still bothers her. He should not kiss her so readily. She is already getting used to it.
"You're such a tease!" Nala insults Sean immediately when he comes to meet her after track.
"Trouble in paradise already?" Trevor is leaving the field at that moment as well.
"Quit stalking my girlfriend." Sean makes a face at him.
"I was not." Trevor storms off.
"Seriously, you need to stop that," Nala scolds Sean.
"What, you don't want to date that guy, do you?" Sean snickers.
"No, but at this rate I won't be able to date anyone but you," she complains.
"Don't worry, if that happens, I'll take responsibility."
"And how will you do that?" She crosses her arms skeptically.
"Like this." He tries to kiss her again but she dodges him skillfully.
"I'm wise to your tricks now. Why do you keep doing that?"
"There are several reasons." He shrugs.
"Let's start with why you kissed me in class today. I'm a target of practically all of the freshmen girls now."
"Yeah, I feel bad about that." He lowers his head apologetically. "I really needed your help though. That Mina chick is crazy."
"Isn't she?" Nala laughs. "Apparently all of her friends voted her the most likely to win you over."
"Not a chance," he starts to laugh as well. "They could have at least let me choose for myself. It's like they don't see me as a person. I'm just an accessory to them."
"I'm starting to understand you better now," Nala admits.
"So I'm not the stuck up popular kid you thought I was?" he asks hopefully.
"You're still full of yourself," she assures him. "I just realize how much of a hassle being you can be."
"It's a hassle for you too. We're still dating," he reminds her.
"Yeah, now it's going to be twice as hard to break up with you," she pretends to be angry again.
"Why? Have you fallen for me?"
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't like getting kissed, but I'm serious. If we act this close, then we'll have to pretend to be twice as distraught when we break up," she explains.
"I didn't think of that." He strokes his chin in thought. Wait, you like kissing me?" he backtracks.
"Who wouldn't?" she spouts. "You're the cutest guy in school. It's every girls dream to kiss someone like you. I'm not going to pretend I'm not lucky." She covers her mouth quickly as she realizes what she has just admitted.
"Thanks, I think." He doesn't know if she meant to compliment him or not.
"What about you?" she asks shyly. "Do you hate kissing me?"
"Do I have to answer that?" He rubs the back of his neck again. It seems to be a nervous habit of his.
"Please," she pretends to pout.
"Why am I weak to cute things," he sighs while touching her outturned lip. "I've been without a girlfriend since the end of last year. It's been a while for me and I really missed the simple things like holding hands and kissing," he explains. "I might just be using you as a substitute but it made me happy."
"What made you happy?" she asks innocently.
"Don't make me say it," he grumbles.
"Say what?" she continues to play dumb.
"I enjoyed kissing you!" he shouts louder than he intended.
"There, now we're even." She claps happily.
"You're so vindictive…" he starts to complain but is cut off by Nala covering his lips with hers. He closes his eyes for a moment to enjoy it before suddenly panicking. "Wha-what are you doing?" he demands.
"Since you like it so much, I thought I'd give you a free one," she giggles.
"Don't do something like that so carelessly. I could really fall for you." He presses his hand to his chest to calm his beating heart.
"Like that's gonna happen," she disagrees. "Don't confuse attraction for affection. You just miss your girlfriend, remember?"
"I don't miss her at all," he spits angrily. "Don't bring her up again."
"Someone's touchy." She rolls her eyes.
"Let's just start walking." He grabs her hand like the day before, but keeps his gaze focused straight ahead, refusing to look at her. She is slightly annoyed by his behavior but does not say anything.
"Short hair is essential for track." Nala stomps her foot angrily.
"I'm just saying, you might look cuter if you let it grow a little," Sean argues. They are waiting for the light to change at the nearest crosswalk to her house. After several pained minutes of silence on their way to the Peters' apartment, Nala had resorted to talking about track practice in which the captain had suggested she cut her hair again as it is starting to grow.
"Why do you care if I look cute?" She holds her nose in the air pompously.
"Even if it's fake, people still think you're my girlfriend. It would make sense if you changed your hairstyle to suit my taste," he informs her.
"Oh, so you like girls with hair like Mina's?" she accuses him.
"Why'd you have to bring her up?" he groans as they start to cross the street, still hand in hand.
"Face it, she's your ideal type," Nala snickers. "It's no wonder all the girls thought you'd like her."
"They have no idea what's going on in my head." He changes his frown to a smile.
"Really? Then what's your ideal girl like?" Nala asks smugly.
"There are a few things I prefer, like long hair but all of that is superficial and interchangeable. Even you could grow out your hair or stay out of the sun to make your skin paler."
"I'm not doing either of those things for you." She sticks out her tongue at him.
"I don't plan on having you do anything that interferes with track," he assures her. "Besides, I said it before, didn't I? I'm more interested in first impressions. Mina and I spoke at a mixer once and apparently I impressed her."
"She must have just stared at your face the whole time. Anything you said probably sounded like cotton candy to her," Nala surmises.
"Well, she didn't do the same for me," Sean complains. "I didn't even commit a single thing she said to memory. I barely remember her face or what she wore."
"What about me?" Nala asks jokingly.
"You made an impression all right," he laughs. "It's partially that teacher's fault though. A scene like that is just too amusing to ignore."
"It wasn't amusing for me," Nala whines. "I was really scared."
"And I could tell. That's why I helped you," he explains.
"Thank you. I can't think of how to make it up to you."
"You can start by helping me avoid Mina's advances," he suggests, half joking half serious.
"First I need to make sure her groupies don't kill me," Nala moans as she unlocks her front door. The sight before her causes her to stop in her tracks though.
"What? What is it?" Sean is curious. He takes a step inside, peering over her shoulder. Lying on his back on the couch is Nala's older brother, completely naked. Writhing in pleasure on top of him is a younger girl with her eyes closed, also naked. Sean pulls Nala out of the building and closes the door again. "What was that?" he asks rhetorically.
"I'm going to kill him," Nala growls while opening the door again, this time making sure it slams against the wall.
"Oh god!" Corbin grabs his girlfriend's breasts to hide them from Nala.
"Hello, brother." She stomps into the house. "I'm glad to see you made it home alright."
"Oh dear." The girl climbs off of Corbin's lap quickly. Nala stalks past the couch to her brother's bedroom and retrieves a sheet from his bed for them to cover up with. "Um, hello. My name is Celli," the girl tries to introduce herself.
"Don't care," Nala brushes her off. "You're not the first girl I've walked in on my brother screwing."
"Nala!" Corbin shouts at her.
"It's okay." Celli touches his hand to calm him down. "She has every right to be angry. I'm extremely sorry about this."
"So is this the student you've been sneaking around with?" Nala asks bluntly while sitting down in the reclining chair opposite the couch.
"I'm a student at Mr. Peters's school, yes," Celli admits.
"Do you know how much trouble you've gotten my brother into?" Nala starts to scold her.
"Um, Nala?" Sean pokes his head into the apartment again. "Don't you think you should let them get dressed before you interrogate them?"
"You can go home now, Sean," she shoos him out.
"Wait," Corbin stops him. "We don't want to be rude. You came all this way after all." He grabs his pants from the floor and slides them back on under the sheet. Celli starts to re-don her clothing as well.
"This has nothing to do with Sean," Nala argues.
"If you two are going to be dating, then I would like to have a word with him," Corbin is adamant. "It seems you have a lot of questions for Celli as well."
"I don't want to discuss your latest booty call in front of him," Nala whines.
"I don't mind," Sean assures her.
"Well I mind," she snaps. "How can I show this embarrassing situation to the most popular guy in school?"
"Huh? You're the most popular guy at school?" Corbin is surprised. "Nala, how did you manage to snag him?"
"I wouldn't go that far." Sean blushes while rubbing the back of neck like always.
"I didn't snag anyone," Nala groans. "I just want him to leave. Can you please just go home, Sean," she is practically begging.
Corbin can tell how upset she is. "Wait." He pulls out his wallet and hands her some money. "You two can go eat somewhere together, my treat."
"Are you bribing me to leave so you can finish?" She narrows her eyes.
"I feel bad about this, Nala." He ruffles her hair. "You finally brought a boy over and this is what I end up showing him. You wanted to spend time together, right? You can go on a date or something."
"That's not…" Nala tries to argue but Sean grabs her by the hand and pulls her out of the apartment again.
"Thank you, Mr. Peters." He waves to Corbin.
"What did you do that for?" she whines. "He's just trying to avoid the topic of dating a student."
"He thinks you were inviting me over," Sean whispers. "He thinks he ruined our plans or something."
"Well, I can just explain that he didn't." She tries to open the door again but he drags her further away.
"He's really happy for some reason," Sean mumbles.
"Because he thinks his pathetic sister has finally done something right." She looks down at her feet pitifully. "Of course he's happy. Look at the situation. How can he not be proud after seeing me with a guy like you? It's going to kill him when we break up."
"Let's give him tonight to be happy then," Sean insists.
Nala continues to stare at her feet. "Only for tonight," she finally agrees. "I think my heart will break if I have to give you back after anything else."
Sean stares at her with wide eyes as they walk away from the apartment. Did he just hear her right? Is she falling for him? No, that's not it. She knows they are not really dating and she doesn't want to go through the motions. He can slightly agree with her point of view. This fake relationship is bringing up memories of his ex-girlfriend. The longer they keep it up, the more it will hurt when it's over.
Sean and Nala choose a small family restaurant several blocks away from her apartment to eat at. They spend the first half of their meal exchanging meaningless conversation or remaining completely silent. It is obvious Nala is trying to keep from enjoying herself too much.
"Sean?" a voice from the table next to theirs startles them. Someone seems to recognize Sean. "It is you." The boy stands up to approach them. "Who's this cutie with you?"
"Ahem," the girl next to Sean's apparent friend clears her throat.
"Not as cute as you, darling," he quickly backtracks. "In fact, she's rather plain," he realizes. "What happened to that beauty you were dating last year?"
"Don't mention Nina." Sean grits his teeth.
"Nina? Your girlfriend's name sounds like mine," Nala realizes.
"It's your imagination. Besides, she's my ex-girlfriend. You're my current girlfriend."
"Are you serious?" his friend is disappointed. "Man is she your rebound? You do know that half the girls in the school are dying for a date with you. What did this girl do to deserve first place?"
"For starters, I'm paying." Nala holds up the money Corbin gave her. For some reason she feels the need to defend her position as Sean's girlfriend despite the fact that it is fake.
"Wow, you bought a date with him." The boy pretends to clap. "You should have told me you were a gigolo now, Sean. I know some cougars who would pay a lot to be with you." As he talks he waves his arms around pointlessly. Eventually he tips Nala's drink over onto her lap, probably on purpose. "Oops, sorry."
Nala sits perfectly still, letting the ice water seep into her skirt. She has not had a chance to change since school and is still in her uniform. Having grown up on a farm she normally wears pants or dresses. Sean is also uncharacteristically quiet. His friend continues to laugh as Sean pulls out his cell phone. He opens his contact list and deletes one of the names; Seamus.
"Hey, what'd you do that for?" his friend is annoyed. "Come on, it was just a joke. Here, I'll put it back." He takes Sean's phone and reenters his contact information. "Alright, I get it. I'm sorry. She's not that bad looking."
Sean promptly deletes his name from his phone again without a word. "God damn it, man. What do you want from me? Are you really serious about this chick? Are you on a proper date right now? How about an upgrade? I've got tickets to a karaoke parlor downtown. They're good past midnight. We were just about to head over." He gestures to his girlfriend and four other people still sitting at his table. "Are you coming or what?"
Sean looks to Nala for an answer. "I don't know," she sputters. "They're your friends."
"I'm pretty sure I just stopped being his friend." Sean holds up his cell phone.
"You didn't have to do that." Nala grabs it from him and hands it to the annoying boy so he can put his information back again. "I really don't care. This is about what I expected."
"Why are you always settling?" Sean raises his voice. "Why is it so hard to believe you're my girlfriend?"
Nala glares at him angrily. He of all people should know why. They aren't actually dating because it is actually impossible. He is only making things more difficult on her by forcing other people to accept their fake relationship. He seems to enjoy flaunting it around. Perhaps he really is rebounding from Nina or whatever her name was. At the very least, he seems to miss having a girlfriend to talk to. She is not doing a good job as a substitute though. After what he has already done for her, she owes it to him to at least try.
"We'll go," she accepts his friend's offer.
"Are you sure?" Sean is skeptical."
"I said we'd go and I meant it!" She yanks him onto his feet. "Lead the way, Seamus." She managed to glimpse the annoying boy's name on Sean's phone at some point.
"You heard her." Seamus claps his hands at his other friends. Slowly they all clatter to their feet.
After arriving at the karaoke parlor, Sean decides to sing first, leaving Nala alone in a corner by herself as she is not friends with anyone else there. "Are you lonely?" Seamus's girlfriend comes to sit next to her.
"Um, hello. My name is Nala Peters," she introduces herself stiffly.
"I'm Rain." She smiles back at Nala. "I'm a second year so I'm sure we've never met before."
"Are there any other freshmen in this group?" Nala looks around.
"Well I'm here because I'm dating Seamus. Sorry about him. I know he's a jerk, but he's my jerk. Seamus is friends with Todd and Brad, the two average looking guys over there trying to hit on Lily and Paten. Have you met Paten? She has the whole British accent and everything. She says Zed instead of Z."
Nala stares at the two other girls present. Paten must be the dark haired girl with pigtails. Lily looks shy with glasses and chocolate brown hair. "Paten and Lily are my friends who tagged along for fun," the golden haired girl in front of her explains. "They are in the same class as me so they're also second years. I think you might be the only freshman here. Leave it to Sean to go with a younger girl."
"Is that so surprising?" Nala is suddenly reminded of her brother and Celli.
"Not normally but it has a deeper meaning with Sean. I bet all the freshmen girls love him, don't they?"
"Sort of." Nala nods. She is feeling more and more inadequate by the second. "What about you? Do second years like him as well?"
"Even if they did, no one would admit to it. Sean is not as great of a person as you think. Last year he was dating a senior girl named Nina. Did you know?"
"I heard her name for the first time at the restaurant," she admits. "I didn't know she was a senior."
"Well, unlike you, everyone respected her position as Sean's girlfriend. Sorry, I don't mean to be rude. It's just… you're obviously an athlete. You give off a less feminine glow. Sean usually goes for the girly types."
"I know." Nala sinks into the soft cushions of the booth. She is torn between wondering why she's not good enough and remembering that she isn't really dating Sean at all.
"Anyway, Nina was very popular. She got a lot of attention from boys. Before Sean came along she used to date three of them at a time. No one cared because a third of her attention was still quite meaningful. Sean was different though. He thought he could stand on her level so he demanded her full attention. She broke up with all of her boyfriends to be with him."
"Sounds like some sort of arrangement," Nala mumbles.
"It basically was, until…" Rain's voice trails off.
"Until what?" Nala is far too interested by now.
"Until Sean fell in love with her."
"Oh." Nala's heart sinks in her chest. Why does hearing this bother her so much? Even if she were dating Sean for real, he and Nina are over, aren't they?
"Yeah, I guess you're surprised," Rain sighs. "After that fiasco no one who went to school here last year is willing to go out with Sean."
"Wait, I think I missed a step," Nala stops her. "What happened after he fell for her?"
"Isn't it obvious? They broke up."
"What, why? Didn't they both like each other?"
"You sure are naïve," Rain covers her mouth to stifle laughter. "Nina doesn't fall in love. Sean was an accessory to her. They never even slept together. I guess that's something good for you, right?"
"I, I wasn't even thinking along those lines." Nala blushes.
"It's part of why Sean acts the way he does now. He doesn't trust girls anymore. I'm surprised you two are even dating. Maybe he thinks he won't get hurt again if he lowers his standards. Sorry, I didn't mean to suggest…"
"It's fine," Nala cuts her off. She knows Rain is not inherently mean; it's just amusing to mock a younger plainer girl. At least she realizes she will not be able to continue talking to Nala this way if she doesn't mix in an apology with her insults every once in a while. "Is that all?" Nala is not convinced the story is over. "Sean's problems seem deeper than just getting dumped and avoided by all the girls in his own grade."
"Well, there is one more reason but not even I know what it is. It happened over the summer. For that you'll have to talk to him."
"I don't really want to." Nala sinks even lower. Rain looks at her with a pitying expression. In her eyes Nala is not even worthy of someone like Sean. She has no right to ask him what happened over the summer, yet she still told her to. Maybe she wants to watch the poor girl get in trouble with her so-called boyfriend. Maybe she actually wants to help her stand on equal ground with him. She doesn't even understand herself.
"Rain, it's your turn to sing." Seamus drags his girlfriend away, leaving Nala by herself again. She starts to pluck at the threads in the cushioned booth to occupy herself as she watches the couple perform a duet.
Sean is now talking to one of the other boys, apparently Todd. Brad has been shot down by both Paten and Lily, leaving him no one to flirt with except Nala. She can tell what is on his mind the moment he makes a beeline for her. Her normal reaction would be to avoid the encounter at all cost, but she is feeling different.
The reason she has accepted the situation with Sean so easily is do to the fact that it makes turning boys like Trevor down easier. It had not occurred to her that the desire to acquire a boyfriend and the fear of actually talking to boys were in conflict. She naïvely assumed the perfect boy would someday approach her out of the blue and therefore has turned down every boy whom she considers not to be her type. If she is ever going to break the cycle, she has to at least start talking to boys properly.
"Hey there, I'm Brad, what's your name?" Brad jumps right into introductions while taking Rain's seat.
"Nala," she answers quickly, trying to show confidence.
"Fun place, right?" Brad proceeds to make small talk.
"I've never been to a karaoke parlor before," Nala admits.
"First time, eh? How is it? Are you going to sing?"
"I don't think so," she only answers one of his three questions. "My voice is not very good."
"It can't be helped. There are things you are good at and things you're not. You're an athlete after all," Brad is rather understanding.
"What about you?" Nala does not want to keep talking about herself.
"I like to sing, but that doesn't mean I'm good at it." Brad runs a hand through his hair nonchalantly. It is longer and darker than Sean's. A pair of sunglasses on his forehead keeps it out of his eyes.
"Are you an athlete then?" Nala asks while sizing him up.
"Checking me out, eh?" he huffs proudly. "I'm not out of shape but I'm not in any sports at school. I run errands at my brother's garage. We play basketball behind the storeroom sometimes. You're on the track team, right?"
"How do you know?" she is taken aback.
"You spend enough time outside, it shows," he answers with a shrug. "I don't particularly hate girls with drive."
"Is that you're way of trying to cheer me up?" she doesn't take it as a compliment.
"I'm just trying to have a good time. If you're not interested, I'll move along."
"I see." She nods slowly.
"Well?" he is slightly impatient.
"Well what?" she is confused.
"Are you interested or not?"
"Oh, I'm supposed to answer that," she realizes. "You're rather bold, aren't you?"
"I have to be, don't I? Your boyfriend's right over there."
"My what?" Nala has completely forgotten about Sean. "Oh, don't mind him."
"That's what I wanted to hear." Brad leans in closer, kissing the side of her neck.
"Well then," Nala gasps. She has never let anyone do something like that before.
"Are you a virgin?" Brad raises an eyebrow.
"Is it that obvious?" She lowers her head shamefully.
"Hey, don't be sad. I don't particularly hate girls like you."
"There you go again," she grumbles. "You're not complimenting me. In fact, it feels like you're saying most guys should hate me."
"Maybe they should," he is getting fed up as well. "You're what we call a tease."
"Is every girl that rejects you a tease?" She frowns.
"Every girl that doesn't make it clear within the first minute," he explains. He leans toward her again while placing a hand on her hip.
Everything she was thinking about a moment ago has disappeared. She has no idea why she ever wanted to try getting to know a boy. "Sean, I'm leaving!" she calls across the room to her fake boyfriend.
"What, already?" he is disappointed. "You were the one that wanted to come here."
"I don't like your friends." She pushes Brad off of her.
"He's not my friend, he's one of Seamus's buddies," Sean passes the blame while making his way through the room to Nala. As he passes Brad he shoves him into the table on purpose.
"What's your problem?" he grumbles while rolling underneath it and hopping up on the other side.
"You're my problem," Sean snaps at him before turning his attention back to Nala. "Why do you get hit on so much?"
"Why do you care?" She stomps toward the exit.
"I'm responsible for you right now." He quickly follows her.
"I never asked for your help." She turns around to glare at him.
"Yes you did. Well, your eyes did. They were begging me to do something about that annoying teacher."
"And what are my eyes telling you now?" she demands.
"You're upset about something," he mumbles.
"You're psychic," she spouts sarcastically while pushing through the door.
He remains in tow behind her. "I can't tell, but you might be lonely," he tries again. "Maybe you thought you could make friends if you came here."
"I did make a friend," she informs him. "Rain finds me very amusing."
"I don't want to burst your bubble, but she's probably just making fun of you."
"I know," she raises her voice, "I know that already. I'm not stupid. This is how I make friends, okay? It's the only way I can." He doesn't respond. Instead he just stares at her pityingly.
"Don't do that. Please don't do that." Her eyes start to water. "I've always been like this. You've only known me for a day. Don't look down on my way of life."
"I can't help it. I've never met someone so miserable. Why are you like this? Why do you do the things you do?"
"Because I'm nobody," she raises her voice again. "I have no purpose without someone else. Without my brother I wouldn't even be here. I need him. He needs me. I enjoy being needed by people. It gives me a purpose."
"So that's it, is it?" He is finally starting to understand her. "You only do things because of other people. You feel happy when Rain teases you."
"A little," she mumbles.
"What about Brad? What about what he needs you for?"
"That's different." Her face turns red. "I wasn't really going to…"
"Then don't lead him on." Sean is madder than she has ever seen him before. "I kept asking myself why no one could believe we were dating, and I couldn't figure it out until now. You're incapable of holding a proper relationship with another person. You're hollow inside. You're empty."
"So what?" she screams at him. By now they are far enough away from the karaoke parlor that no one can hear them. "I've always been like this. I don't know how to change."
"I'll help you." He offers her his hand.
"Why?" she is suspicious.
"I looked your brother in the face and I lied to him. I feel bad enough as it is."
"You say it's my fault but you're really no different." She smiles slyly. "You just need a substitute girlfriend, right?"
His eyes suddenly flare angrily. He grabs her by the shoulders and presses her against a nearby brick wall. Her eyes widen as he presses his lips to hers. Soon his tongue has forced its way into her mouth. She goes limp in his arms rather than struggling. As soon as he lets go she gasps for breath. "That's what I would be doing if I was desperate for a girlfriend!" he shouts at her.
"I, I get it. I understand." She sinks down to the ground. "I take it back, so please don't do that again." She is trembling.
Looking down at her, she seems even more pitiful now. He shouldn't have done that. "Look, I'm sorry." He tries to help her to her feet. He expects her to resist or shy away but she does neither. Her skin is hot to the touch and her face is redder than ever. "Are you… turned on?" he realizes what is wrong with her.
She nods while looking down to avoid his eyes. "It's your fault," she mutters.
"Yes, it's my fault." He agrees. He is sure that in this moment she would let him take advantage of her if he tried. Her pitiful expression makes her look frail. With slightly longer hair she would be his ideal girl. If he stays in this situation much longer he might do something he will regret. "Let's get you home." He drags her down the street by the hand. She simply nods again, refusing to even look at him.