It is Nala who falls asleep first, leaving Sean to wait a good twenty minutes, for the response to a meaningless question about the color of the underwear she wears to bed, before dozing of himself. How they arrived at that subject is a complete mystery as neither one remembers much of what they were saying after a certain point and neither one of them bothers to check their exchanged messages the following morning.
Corbin is confused when he finds Nala already awake when he arrives in the kitchen the next morning. He is pleasantly surprised to see that she has decided to change her appearance for once. She is wearing a white blouse and blue skirt rather than her normal school blazer. She is also wearing an apron and has her hair pinned out of her eyes by a single beret. There is a smell of smoke in the air and something resembling charcoal sitting on the table. "What are you doing?" he asks with a snort.
"Cooking," she answers begrudgingly.
"Is that for your boyfriend?" he teases her.
"None of your business," she is embarrassed.
"Here." He hands her some money. "Just buy something from the convenience store down the street."
"It's not the same as cooking it myself," she whines.
"He won't know the difference. Besides, he'd be happy with bread crusts if they were from you."
Nala is not one to refuse money when her brother offers it. She knows a normal boyfriend would definitely flatter their girlfriend's cooking regardless of taste but Sean is a different case. Even if they were actually dating, he would be hard to please. He has the attitude of someone who knows they are better than others.
"Do you need a ride to school?" Corbin asks as he starts to button his dress shirt. A knock at the door answers his question. "I guess not." He winks at her.
"Shut up." She goes to answer the door. Sean is waiting with his hand on the back of his neck like always. Nala's face relaxes as she realizes he is just as nervous as she is. During their long conversation the night before, they discussed several embarrassing things including whether or not they would have started dating had their fake encounter in the nurse's office actually happened. They never did come to an agreement though.
"Hey, Sean." Corbin peeks over Nala's shoulder. "Be good to her, okay?" He kisses Nala on the cheek. "I'll teach you how to cook later," he whispers before pushing her out the door with a pat on the butt.
"You two are very close, aren't you?" Sean stares at her suspiciously.
"Are you jealous?" She shoves him playfully.
"Frankly, I'm concerned. Normally two people living alone together would be a red flag on a child services review."
"Oh, you're just like Mr. Thalmus," she is not concerned in the slightest. "My brother and I have been best friends since the day I could talk."
"I just think it's strange that your parents let you stay with him alone," Sean continues to worry. "The fact that he is dating a student is all the more cause for concern."
"Well, it's really none of your business," Nala is becoming annoyed.
"Maybe it is my business." He moves closer to her so all she can see is him.
"Wh-what are you saying?" she starts to stutter.
"Yesterday, you said you wanted more. What does that mean?" he asks.
"That probably did sound weird, didn't it? Sorry, I was being too emotional."
"Don't apologize, explain." He places his hands on her shoulders.
"There you go again, acting so friendly," she mumbles.
"What? Speak up."
"Don't be so nice to me if we're just going to break up!" she snaps.
"You really have…"
"No." She presses a finger to his lips to shut him up. "I'm no different than you. You miss having a girlfriend and I wish I had a boyfriend; that's all."
"Are you asking me out?" he decides to be blunt.
"That's the good thing about this situation; I don't have to." She stands on the tips of her toes to kiss him. "As long as we're playing this game, I may as well enjoy it. Dump me whenever, but until then, let's have fun." She slips past him.
"Hey." He grabs her by the wrist. "Don't think you can just get away with doing that." He is smiling. "You have to take responsibility." He pulls her into a hug.
"If you want to have sex with me, it'll have to wait until after school." She pushes him away. Sean's mouth twists into a frown. Despite the image he has built for himself, he does not take things like sex lightly. If Nala is willing to give it up for a fake boyfriend like him, then he has just lost some respect for her.
"What's wrong? Come on!" she calls to him as she enters a convenience store. "I'll buy you lunch so we can eat together."
"Is that what your brother was talking about when you left?" he pretends to laugh as he follows her into the store, trying not to appear bothered by her prior comment.
At lunch Asia scoots her desk closer to Nala's so they can talk. "So, did you make lunch for your boyfriend?"
"I tried." Nala shows her the convenience store bag.
"You're so cute and innocent," Asia laughs. "I love watching you. It's like a teenage soap opera."
"Thanks, I think. You mentioned something you wanted to talk about. You'll have to hurry if I'm going to catch Sean before he heads to the roof."
"Well, it's not important. You should just get going," Asia has lost her nerve.
"You made me promise I'd force it out of you if I had to," Nala reminds her. "I have some sharpened pencils that will really hurt if I poke you hard enough."
Asia grabs her mouth to stifle laughter. "I really do like you, Nala," she chokes on her words. "I think I made the right choice."
"What choice?" Nala raises an eyebrow.
"If you haven't noticed, I don't talk to many of the girls in class. I don't have anything against them; they're just not my type."
Asia starts to laugh again before Nala can finish her question. "No, I'm straight. That might actually be the problem. Have you heard of the baseball team's ace Ricky?"
"He's a senior, right?" Nala confirms.
"Yeah, he's handsome and cool, isn't he?" Asia stares off dreamily for a moment.
"I don't know what you mean," Nala is confused. "Do you want to ask him out? I can't really help you with that. Maybe Sean knows him."
"That's right; I need to talk to your boyfriend." Asia snaps her fingers. Her statements are choppy and incoherent. "Actually, can you talk to him for me?"
"I don't know if he would like being used as a matchmaker," Nala tries to protest.
"I just need him to go to the bathroom," Asia spouts something strange again.
Nala is just about out of patience with her new friend. "Okay, calm down and start from the beginning," she instructs.
"Alright." Asia takes a large breath. "Last month I asked Ricky out and he said yes."
"Well that's great, I think." Nala can tell something is not right.
"We exchanged cell phone numbers with the promise of contacting each other later. When I called him, I found my number blocked."
"Well that's a dick thing to do." Nala frowns. "What was the point of asking for your number in the first place?" Asia pulls out a yellow cell phone and flips it open to her recent calls. There are at least a dozen different unknown numbers occupying the list. "He gave out your number?" Nala realizes. "To who?"
"He wrote it on the stall door of one of the bathrooms," Asia explains. "All these people think I'm a tramp and I'll sleep with them."
"You need me to ask Sean to get rid of the number," Nala surmises.
"I hope that isn't too much to ask." The normally confident girl appears extremely shy for once.
"Of course not." Nala grabs her hands to convey trust. "He'll help, I promise."
"I knew I liked you." Asia can't help but blush. Nala is extremely innocent after all. "Looks like your boyfriend's here," Asia notices Sean passing by in the hall as usual.
"I'll go talk to him right now." Nala leaps out of her seat. She comes running back a moment later to fetch her convenience store bag which she had forgotten, causing Asia to laugh at her again.
"Hey, Nala, what do you want?" Sean barely acknowledges her.
"What are you talking about, silly? We're going to have lunch together." She holds up the bag.
"Oh, thanks." He takes if from her.
"Hey, I'm coming with you." She chases after him.
"Why?" he seems confused. "Maddie and I are going to eat on the roof together like always." He gestures to his friend.
"But I bought you lunch. I thought we could eat it together," she whines.
"Again, why?" his voice is far too calm. Perhaps he does not wish to lose face in front of his friend.
"You know, it's okay, Sean. I can eat by myself," Madison offers.
"You, don't talk," Sean instructs him. "I'm asking you why I should bother eating lunch with you just because you spent money on it."
"Is that the normal reaction one should have? Shouldn't you be grateful?" she scolds him.
"It's not like you made it yourself from scratch."
"I tried," she admits with a red face.
"Oh," he is taken aback. He can recall the faint smell of smoke wafting from her apartment when he came to pick her up.
"Say, what's going on here?" Mina pokes her head out of the classroom. "Did you two get in a fight? I call dibs on him when you break up."
Nala is in no mood to deal with her and actually moves to slap her. Sean is faster though, grabbing her hand by the wrist. "What kind of couple breaks up over cooking skills?" he asks.
"Is that what's wrong?" Mina asks with a smile. "You should know; I'm a fabulous cook. I brought my own lunch today if you'd like to see."
"Yeah, go get it," Sean shoos her away. Nala glares at him in annoyance. He should know better than to accept an offer from another girl in front of her. He is smiling though. "Run," he orders her while grabbing her hand and dragging her down the hall.
"Wait up!" Madison shouts as he chases after them.
Nala stumbles several times as she tries to keep pace with her tall boyfriend. She is completely out of breath by the time they reach the roof. "What was that?" she asks in-between gasps.
"I don't know. I just felt like leaving her behind." Sean shrugs.
"You're a dick." Madison arrives a moment later. "What if she follows us?"
"I'm sure she can take a hint," Sean brushes off his friend's concern. "Now, let's eat. Cuz I'm starving." He rips open the bag he took from Nala.
Madison sits down on a nearby bench with his back to a chain-link fence at the edge of the roof. His lunch has been purchased from the school store like Sean's normally is. "You're getting bold, Peters," he is impressed with Nala's initiative. "Maybe I should try getting Mina to make me lunch."
"Don't tell me you still like her," Sean groans. "She's a pain."
"Hot girls have that right," Madison chuckles. "Plain girls like Peters have to work much harder."
"I don't feel like I'm working very hard," Nala admits. "Sean just sort of fell in my lap."
"That's what's called rebounding," Madison explains. "He'll get over it soon enough so you better earn as many brownie points as possible while you can. If you've won him over before his rose colored vision fades then he might stay with you."
"You don't sound very confident." She frowns at him.
"Sorry toots, but your boyfriend is extremely popular. All he needs is the right girl to ask him out and he's gone."
"I'm right here, you know." Sean glares at Madison. "Do you really think I'm like that?"
"You were naïve last year, but you're starting to realize your potential. Pretty soon you'll realize why Nina had four boyfriends and why you should have four girlfriends."
"Don't talk about Nina," Sean grumbles.
"Dude, we talk about Nina all the time. Are you embarrassed in front of your rebound girlfriend?"
"Don't talk about Nala that way!" Sean snaps at his friend.
"You don't need to worry about me," Nala quickly interjects. "I understand if you want to have more than one girlfriend. I don't mind being your third or forth choice."
Madison starts to clap while rocking on the bench. "That's the way to make sure he doesn't dump you," he laughs.
Sean however is not pleased. "Why does everyone else get to decide who I date and when? I'm with you right now, no one else." He grabs Nala's hands the same way she grabbed Asia's.
"I forgot, I have a favor to ask you," Nala remembers her friend's request. "Can you remove a phone number from one of the boys' bathrooms for me?"
"What?" Sean is completely confused. "Did someone write your number on the stall door?"
"It's not for me." Nala shakes her head. "Please, I really need this person to believe in me. I'll do anything you want in exchange."
Sean leans down and kisses her, causing Madison to cheer through a mouthful of food. "Stop saying things like that so easily," Sean scolds her. "It's just a matter of taking a permanent marker and scratching out a number. It's not life or death. You don't need to offer me anything in exchange."
Nala's ears turn red as she realizes how seriously she was taking the situation. "Sorry," she mutters. "So you'll help, though, right?" she confirms.
"I'll try, but there are several numbers written in all of the bathrooms. We'll have to go to each floor and hall one by one and mark them all off unless you give me the number so I can compare it."
"I don't really want to do that." Nala lowers her head. "Enough people already have this number that shouldn't."
"Don't worry," Madison interrupts them. "I'll help you mark over all of them. It's better this way. If we only removed one of the numbers, then the person who wrote it can guess what happened and just put it back. This way it looks more random."
"You're going to help?" Nala is skeptical.
"Despite how he acts, he is my best friend," Sean assures her. "He's actually a pretty nice guy."
"I'll get started right away." Madison crumples up the trash from his lunch which he has already consumed. "You two take your time together. Don't worry, Peters. We'll knock this out by tomorrow, I guarantee it." Nala is impressed with his change in attitude but remains suspicious of him.
Sean drags her to the bench so they can eat her convenience store lunch together, leaving the task completely up to his friend, who he seems to trust entirely. Nala does not complain as she is slightly looking forward to spending time alone with Sean.
After track practice, Nala is once again taken aside by the captain. "What happened?" he is furious. "Did you gain weight or something? Didn't I tell you to cut your hair?"
"Sorry, I didn't get the chance yesterday." She adopts a dejected expression. She is beginning to wonder if eating lunch with Sean was a good idea.
"You're gonna be cut from the team if this keeps up," he warns her. "Is that what you want?"
"Why exactly will she be cut from the team?" Trevor interrupts them.
"Go away, Polanski," the captain calls him by his last name.
"I'm serious," Trevor raises his voice. "She is the best female freshman runner so why is she about to get cut? I'm not even forth runner for the boys."
"You don't matter, Polanski. Unlike you, Peters has potential. I'm just trying to help her harvest it."
"Sounds like you're working her into the ground to me," Trevor disagrees.
"Go away," Nala hisses at him. "I don't need you to defend me."
"What, you'd rather have your tall boyfriend back you up?" Trevor snaps at her.
"Why is tall the first thing that comes to mind?" Nala asks while sizing Trevor up. Admittedly he is barely more than an inch taller than her.
"No reason." He looks away while pretending to whistle.
Nala starts to laugh but stops when she notices the captain glaring. "I'm warning you, Peters; either shape up or stop wasting my time. You can be the best or you can just exist like Polanski; there is no in-between."
Nala kicks the ground angrily as the captain stalks off. "Well, he's a jerk," Trevor mutters.
"Shut up, you have it easy," she snaps at him. "You're just a filler player. I actually have to try."
"Don't tell me you're thinking of quitting," Trevor is concerned.
"To be honest, I almost am," she admits. Track is by no means a necessary activity for her. She only chose to join because she had no friends and nothing to do with her pent up energy. Being from the countryside she was already used to strenuous exercise. Over the course of the semester though, she has gotten progressively better. It would be a shame to quit without accomplishing anything.
The only reason she is even considering it is because she now has Sean to occupy her time. Unfortunately she has no idea how long their current situation will persist. She will definitely regret dropping out of track to spend more time with him only to have him leave her behind shortly after. Until she has a positive idea of what the future holds she will continue to juggle everything at once and hope it is not too much to handle.
"Speaking of your tall boyfriend…" Trevor grumbles as Sean walks through the gate to the track field.
"What are you doing here?" the captain stops him immediately.
"Isn't practice over?" Sean glances around stupidly.
"This area is reserved for team members only. Do you enjoy getting Peters in trouble?"
"Hey!" Nala rushes over to them. "He's not bothering anyone."
Several of the other track members all start to whisper behind her though. "How shameless, bringing her boyfriend here to show off."
"Just because he's a little cute."
"How on earth did Peters end up with Sean Baker anyway?"
"I think I should go." Sean backs toward the gate.
"I think that would be best," the captain remains smug. Nala wants to speak out against her teammates but she knows she can't alienate them further. It is nice to have a boy waiting for her after practice but it is also extremely embarrassing. She quickly follows Sean through the gate to escape the prying eyes of the other track members.
"Sorry about that." Sean is already rubbing the back of his neck like usual. "I wasn't thinking. Maybe we should stay away from each other more."
"You're saying this now?" she can't help but laugh. "You're the one who waits for me every day. By the way, what do you do for two hours?"
"I hang out with friends in other sports," he answers with a shrug. "Unlike your stuck up track team, I'm actually allowed to sit in on football practice and soccer club."
"Those are strictly boys' teams," Nala explains while rolling her eyes. "If you were visiting volleyball or softball I bet it'd be a different story."
"I never thought about that," he admits. "Then again, I don't have many friends that are girls. "You're the closest thing to a female friend I have."
"The way you treat me, I'm not surprised," she laughs. "Come on, let's head home."
"You're not going to change?" He gestures to her sweat soaked gym clothes.
"I completely forgot," she groans while tugging on the hem of her shirt to hide her spandex shorts. "Quit looking at me." Her face is bright red now.
"Why?" He runs his hand over her back, sending chills down her spine as her wet shirt touches her skin.
"Don't." She moves away when his hand reaches her waist.
"You let your brother touch your butt," he reminds her while doing just that. "You were only wearing a skirt this morning. I bet you could feel it even more."
"There is a difference between you and my brother," she squeaks as he pinches her through her spandex. Eventually he pulls her into a hug, resting his chin on her head again. "I'm covered in sweat you know," she whimpers as he inhales deeply.
"I like the way you smell," he admits while licking some of the sweat off her forehead.
She is too embarrassed to react and instead stares at him dumbly. "I need to go change!" she finally shouts while breaking free. He looks slightly disappointed but smiles anyway as she disappears into the locker room.
He is still waiting for her when she returns. "Has your hair grown?" he asks when he notices the beret above her left eye.
"Maybe," she admits shyly.
"You're not doing that for me, are you?" he is suspicious.
"What if I am?" she mutters almost inaudibly.
"Thank you, but you know you don't have to, right? If you're in trouble with your coach because of me…"
"The coach doesn't say anything," she cuts him off. "The coach sets up the running meets with other schools and such, while letting the captain look after the team."
"So that annoying guy I just met… he's the one who wants you to cut your hair?"
"Pretty much." She nods.
"Somehow that bothers me," he grumbles as they leave the track field behind.
"It's my problem to deal with," she tries to put his mind at ease. "I'll do something about it on my own."
Sean is glad that she is finally taking initiative but he is also partially sad that she doesn't need him as much anymore. He knows that her reliance on other people is a setback that she needs to overcome, but he had hoped it was different with him. She could rely on him a little more if she wanted, couldn't she?
Nala's mind is preoccupied with what was happening right before she went to get changed. Sean was acting far more intimate than usual. Was he really attracted to the way she looked in her gym clothes? Perhaps he has a fetish. Either way she did not entirely dislike the attention. There is something completely different about being hit on by Sean than by Mr. Thalmus.
"You're awfully quiet," he notices her silence. "Did I go too far?"
"Of course you did." She punches him in the arm softly. "I warned you not to be so nice to me. I really will want to keep you all to myself at this rate."
"I wasn't being nice." He averts his eyes. "I was just letting my desires control my actions."
"Thank you for basically saying I'm desirable, but I'm referring to lunch with Maddie. You pretty much declared us exclusive in front of your best friend."
"Oh. I wasn't thinking about that at all." He winces as the memory returns. "Madison, that's his name by the way, not Maddie. Madison was getting on my nerves. I'm not some player who sleeps around. Whether it's you or someone else, I only date one girl at a time."
"I suppose I should be flattered but it only reinforces the fact that you'd be fine with any girl. It didn't have to be me."
"It didn't have to be you, but it was you!" he raises his voice. "I'm at least glad it wasn't Mina or something. You can stop putting yourself down, Nala. There are a lot of girls out there worse than you."
"Um, okay…" she is still in shock from his out burst. What did he mean? Is he glad it was her and not some other girl? Perhaps he is starting to like her? No, she can't let herself think that. She has made up her mind not to become attached. She does not want to get hurt when this finally ends.
"Well, here we are," he announces as they stop in front of her apartment. "This walk is getting shorter and shorter."
Again Nala refrains from reading into his statement. She would love to believe he enjoys spending time with her enough to extend the distance they walk to her home; however, she keeps in mind that he would be happy to spend time with any girl. He is on the rebound. She is not special to him at all.
"So, I'll see you tomorrow," she mutters shyly, trying out one of the farewells Celli suggested.
"I, I'll call you," he tries a different one. Both of them are staring at each silently now, remembering her third suggestion; kissing. It is not like they haven't done it before, but there was always someone watching then. This time will be just for them; just for personal enjoyment. Can either one of them admit that they enjoy kissing without an excuse?
Nala is the first to take charge, standing on the tips of her toes and closing her eyes in preparation. Sean is again surprised by her initiative but does not complain. He places a hand on the back of her head and brings their lips together. This time he does not stop after simply kissing her though; he spreads her lips and probes her mouth with his tongue, the same way he did the night they went to the karaoke parlor. He can feel her panicking beneath him, contemplating whether or not to struggle. He is relieved when she calms down and relaxes in his arms instead.
Once again, her skin is hot to the touch when they finally break apart. The color has drained from her face and she is gasping for breath. A slight amount of drool is sliding down her chin. She looks helpless and vulnerable. Sean pushes her against the door to her apartment by the shoulders and presses his knee into her crotch underneath her skirt. She moans quietly but does nothing to resist.
He touches his lips to her neck and begins to kiss her burning skin. He can still taste the salt from her sweat. After a while she begins to gyrate her hips, trying to press his knee even further into her crotch. He can hardly believe what is happening. That morning when she first suggested it, he was sure she was joking. If things continue like this, they are going to end up having sex on her front doorstep.
Suddenly Sean becomes aware of his surroundings. They are by no means secluded. In fact, at least three people on the street have stopped to stare at them. Instinctively he grabs for the doorknob to the apartment. He pushes Nala through as the door opens behind her. It slams loudly against the wall in the kitchen. Sean presses Nala up against it again while continuing to kiss and bite her neck.
"Nala, is that you?" the voice of Corbin startles them both. Nala pushes Sean away and shoos him out of the apartment. She has just slammed the door when her brother enters the room. "What was that?" he asks suspiciously. She doesn't answer and instead leans against the door, sliding to the floor. Corbin rushes to check what is wrong as she buries her face in her knees to hide tears. "What? What is it?" he is utterly confused.
Nala is crying too hard to respond. She wouldn't be able to explain it even if she weren't. Exactly what she has been dreading has happened. They went too far this time. She is now completely attached to Sean. She can't even deny it anymore.