Nala skips school for the rest of the week, leaving her brother to turn Sean away every morning when he comes to pick her up. Corbin does not need to be extremely perceptive to realize what has happened as he notices the hickey on Nala's neck almost immediately. He refrains from saying anything to Sean every time he sees him in the morning but his cold demeanor is apparent.
On Monday, Nala informs her brother that she is finally ready to return to school when he finds her in the kitchen that morning. She is once again trying to make food to bring with her to school. Corbin is overcome with relief at the sight of her bouncing around the kitchen excitedly in her apron. He had feared that something had gone horribly wrong between her and Sean; however, that can't be the case if she is still trying to impress him with her nonexistent cooking skill.
Corbin watches her struggle for almost an hour with a smile on his face before finally intervening. "I told you I'd teach you to cook later," he reminds her. "Why don't I make something for you to take with you? You can tell Sean you made it yourself."
"He'll know I'm lying," she whines.
"Well he'll die if he eats any of this." Corbin dumps her charcoal creations into the wastebasket. "Is he coming to pick you up today?"
"I don't know," she mutters shyly. "I haven't been answering any of his txts or calls."
"Ooh, I feel sorry for Sean." Corbin winces. "Are you sure you two are even still together?"
"Why do you ask?" she is confused.
"He hasn't seen you in a week and you haven't been in communication. He might have moved on."
"You're making fun of me," she realizes.
"I know I'd be annoyed if Celli did that to me," he continues.
"I can't help it. I'm not good at this."
"You seem pretty good to me." He pokes her neck where the hickey used to be. "If I were Dad, I'd have spanked your butt, you know."
"You have no room to talk after what I walked in on last week," she reminds him.
"Which is why I'm letting things run their course, but I'm worried about you, baby. If you really care about this guy, you can't treat him like this."
"I haven't decided if I care about him yet," she lies.
"It's not a decision; it just happens," he informs her. "You already care about him."
"And maybe I want to stop caring about him before I get hurt," she reveals more than she planned to.
The look on Corbin's face suggests he is starting to understand. "Are you his only girlfriend?" he asks suspiciously.
"Why would you ask that?"
"You seem to be under the impression that things are not going to progress well. Are you holding back because he is not serious about you?"
"We already told you, didn't we; he just broke up with a serious girlfriend when we met."
"Don't underestimate the rebound," Corbin scolds her. "I'm Celli's rebound, remember?"
"You were also Sally's rebound and she dumped you after a week," she reminds him, "and after that, Tierney was your rebound and she was crazy."
"Point taken," he grumbles while turning down the temperature on the stove so her current batch of cooking food will not burn like the rest. Nala sits down at the table to watch as he salvages enough of her mess to make lunch for two.
As she is packing the food into two separate plastic containers, there is a knock at the door. As usual Corbin goes to answer it. "Ah, Sean," he makes sure Nala can hear who it is. "I don't know if she's coming to school today. Why don't you ask her?" He lets Sean in.
Nala almost drops her lunch boxes when she turns around to find Sean standing behind her. He quickly catches them before they hit the floor though. "Um, hello, Nala." He hands them back to her cautiously.
"Good morning, Sean," she makes a strange gulping sound.
"How are you feeling?"
"How am I feeling?" she repeats slowly. "Oh, because I was sick last week," she realizes why he is asking. "Yeah, I feel fine now. I must have just gone overboard at track."
"Have you gotten any of my messages?"
"Um, I was too sick to even open my eyes," she lies. "I can go through them right now if you like."
"Well, it's not like I said anything important," he doesn't want to trouble her. "We'll just catch up on the way to school. Is that for me?" He gestures to one of the plastic containers. "Did you make it yourself?"
"Sort of," she mutters more to herself than him.
"Have fun you two, and don't do anything I wouldn't." Corbin waves them off as they leave the apartment. Both of their faces turn red as they recall their last encounter where they almost did exactly what they caught Corbin and Celli doing.
After walking in silence for a while, Sean is the first to speak. "Are you really okay? Aren't you mad about last week?"
"Why would I be mad?" she pretends to be oblivious.
"I think I may have definitely gone too far this time. You didn't like that, did you?"
"If I didn't like it, I wouldn't have let you," she raises her voice. "Don't do something you're going to have to apologize for later."
"Am I to assume we are okay? We're not fighting are we?" he is still concerned.
"I said we weren't. Quit acting so timid. Where is your cool side?" she is slightly annoyed.
"I'm not as cool as everyone says I am. I'm just me." He rubs the back of his neck as usual.
"You should be more aware of yourself," she sighs. "You have an effect on people and it's not always good."
"Are you saying I affect you?" he asks jokingly.
"Of course you do. Are you stupid? Have you noticed how I act around you? Do I make lunch for any other boy? You sure are thick."
"Well, we only just met," he reminds her. "I've never seen how you acted before we started playing this game."
"Right; game," she is not so convinced anymore.
"Should we end this soon?" he suggests. "It's been more than a week like we promised."
"You can end it whenever you want. All you have to do is walk away. I can't guarantee I'll let you," she adds in a lower voice.
He can hear her perfectly well but he decides to give her the chance to change her mind. "What did you say?" he pretends to have misheard.
"Nothing," she takes the bait, prolonging their game once more. Both of them fall silent as they realize the trap they have put themselves in. This game will persist until one of them breaks the rules, either asking the other out for real or officially dumping them. The pair seems equally afraid of the consequences of both choices.
Morning lessons for Nala are the same as always with the addition of a scolding from each subject teacher for having missed three days in a row last week. At lunch again she is seated next to Asia, who seems to be ignoring her. "Um, are you mad at me?" Nala taps her on the shoulder.
"Of course I'm mad," she answers without tearing her eyes away from her yellow cell phone, which she has been tapping away on for the duration of the past lesson, much to the teacher's annoyance.
"What's got you so interested over there?" Nala leans over her shoulder to peek at the screen. What she sees is extremely familiar, a question asking Asia what color underwear she is wearing. "That's not Sean, is it?" Nala's eyes bulge.
"Why? Did he ask you something like that? What did you answer?"
"I was in bed already. I didn't want to tell him…"
"Tell him what? That you go to bed naked?" Asia teases her.
"Not completely naked." Her face turns red. "I wear a nightshirt."
"Country girls really are bold," Asia pretends to be shocked.
"Shut up. What do you wear to bed?"
"A nightgown, what else?"
"Any underwear?" Nala pries.
"No," Asia admits. "Now, how should I answer this?"
"What, you're going to respond? Isn't that another creep who saw your number on the bathroom stall?" Nala is worried.
"Exactly. He was pretty honest about it though." Asia scrolls back to the beginning of their conversation, which is kept in the memory of her phone. The first message identifies the sender as a random passerby who noticed the number and wanted to know what kind of person ends up with their number on a bathroom stall door.
"Doesn't that mean your number's still there?" Nala asks.
"No, he says it's been marked over by someone," Asia answers. "He says he's lucky he saw it first."
"This guy's pretty weird. Maybe you shouldn't talk to him anymore," Nala suggests.
"I ignored him at first, but he's pretty persistent… and funny," she adds after a moment. "He says he can't believe a nice girl like me ended up with my number on the wall. Naïve, isn't he? Almost all numbers on that wall were put there for revenge. Who actually calls them expecting a date?"
"Apparently he does," Nala remains wary of the mysterious messenger.
"He may ask questions like the color of my underwear, but he's only joking. He lightens the mood by acting like a jerk. It's actually kind of sweet," Asia continues to defend her mystery friend while typing out a response claiming her underwear is black lace. Nala is suddenly overcome by the desire to check. "Hey." Asia swats her hand as she tries to lift the hem of her black skirt. "Do you really believe that?"
"I was thinking it might suit your dark image." Nala gestures to her outfit as a whole.
"I'm not that dark, am I?" Asia is suddenly self conscious. "I was going for a confident image, not depressing."
"Black inspires confidence when worn nonchalantly," Nala explains. "You wear it diligently, like an emo or goth." Asia grabs her earrings instinctively. "No, don't do that. I'm sorry," Nala apologizes quickly. "I wasn't being too serious. I was joking. You should know better than to take fashion advice from a hick like me."
"There you go again, putting yourself down," Asia sighs disappointedly. "Making yourself look pitiful only gets you so far. Plus it attracts creepy people with fetishes for that sort of thing."
Nala is quickly reminded of Mr. Thalmus, who she has done her best to avoid recently. "Am I really so easy to read?" Nala twiddles her thumbs sadly.
"Well, you're just innocent." Asia lifts up the hem of Nala's skirt, revealing her black spandex shorts. "As expected of a track team member." She shakes her head.
"Don't do that." Nala pushes her skirt back down. "What's wrong with wearing spandex? I've never liked the idea of basically showing off my panties to anyone behind me when I bend over or walk up the stairs."
"But you take the fun out of a question like this." Asia holds up her phone again.
Nala watches as she types out a message telling the mystery person that her friend only wears spandex. "Hey!" She tries to grab the phone but Asia moves her hand while sending it. "He doesn't need to know that." The phone lights up in response almost immediately, annoying Nala even more.
"He says you must be in sports of some kind," Asia laughs. "Right on the money, isn't he?"
"You really like this guy, don't you?" Nala asks suspiciously.
"I'm heartbroken after what Ricky did. Excuse me for trying to find something good to come out of all of this."
"Just don't delude yourself. He could be a greasy creep who doesn't shower and peeks in the girls' locker room."
"Or he could be as handsome as your boyfriend or that guy who always walks next to him," Asia remains optimistic. "Why are they always together? Is it possible they are secretly in a relationship?"
"No!" Nala feels the need to defend Sean's reputation. "I can attest that Sean is definitely interested in girls."
"Oh, I see." Asia smirks at her. "How far have you gone?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Nala averts her eyes.
"Now's not the time to play innocent, country girl. Have you guys done it yet?"
"Done what?" Nala refuses to admit anything.
"You're so boring," Asia gives a fake yawn while typing on her phone again. This time she tells her mystery pen pal that her friend just lost her virginity. Nala's chair clatters to the floor behind her as she lunges at Asia, trying to grab her phone again. It is too late though. "I wonder if he thinks you're a tramp," she snickers.
"Say, Asia, we're friends right?" Nala turns out a trembling lip. "You shouldn't do that to your friends, should you?"
"Will you relax? It's not like he knows who we are," Asia sees no problem with her behavior. Nala calms down as she accepts her friend's excuse. "So, are you feeling better?"
"Better?" Nala is caught off guard. She completely forgot she was supposed to be sick. "Oh yeah, I'm feeling much better. I don't know what was wrong with me."
"Well good, because you didn't even respond to a single one of the txts I sent you," Asia reveals the source of her bad mood.
"Oh, sorry." Nala lowers her head apologetically. "Sean was messaging me constantly so I just turned my phone off."
"Boys can get clingy." Asia nods in agreement. "Have you seen him yet today?"
"He and I were going to have lunch together again, I think."
"Ooh, that's going to annoy Mina and Trina to no end," Asia laughs.
"Are they still causing problems?" Nala rolls her eyes disappointedly.
"Have you noticed what they placed on your desk?" Asia directs her attention to a vase with a single rose standing in it.
"What is this?" Nala is confused. "I'm not dead. They didn't have to turn my desk into a memorial."
"It's there way of saying you're gonna die," Asia surmises. "How are you going to respond to the challenge?"
"For starters, I'm going to eat lunch with my boyfriend and laugh at them." Nala dashes out into the hall where Sean and Madison have just arrived. "I've been waiting for you." Nala holds up her boxed lunches with a smile. Sean gives a simple nod in response. He seems not to want to say much to her when Madison is around. Perhaps he is worried about his reputation.
The tall spiky haired blonde is paying no attention though as his nose is buried in his crimson cased phone. It is the type with a full keyboard when turned sideways. Nala is slightly jealous as her silver one requires her to press the keys up to three times before finding the right symbol to use. It was the cheapest phone she could find when Corbin and she started their joint plan.
It was a requirement of their parents that she be contactable at all times. They had planned to call her nightly but that quickly fell apart when they discovered the price of calling from another country. Now they act as if they do not even have children most of the time. It has become normal to them the same way it has become normal for Corbin and Nala to live alone. They can hardly remember being a family anymore.
"Who are you txting?" Sean is annoyed by his friend's reclusive behavior.
"It's none of your business who I'm txting. You just have fun with your girlfriend and I'll be doing my own thing."
"He doesn't like me very much, does he?" Nala feels dejected.
"I like you just fine, Peters," Madison responds without taking his eyes off of his phone. "I'm perfectly aware of your position and my position in relation to Sean. I'm not stupid enough to assume that he is going to stop being my friend just because you are here. Eventually he may choose to stop eating lunch with one of us in order to spend more time with the other. If it's me then that just proves he found the right girl this time and I'll be happy for him."
"See? This is what he's like. I told you he wasn't all bad," Sean partially praises his friend.
"I still don't like him." Nala cringes.
"And I don't like you," Madison retorts. "Anyone who skips three days of school without telling their boyfriend anything is asking to be hated."
"How do you know any of that?" Nala is curious.
"I'm the one who had to listen to this guy complain that his precious girlfriend was ignoring him."
"Precious?" Nala turns toward Sean.
"I didn't use that exact word." He is already blushing. "I was worried about you. What was I supposed to think when you wouldn't even return my calls?"
"Figure it out." She puffs out her chest pompously. She still feels that everything that happened last week was his fault. She hasn't figured out how she plans to make him take responsibility yet though.
"So, are we going to the roof or what?" Sean glances at the stairs longingly.
"Why don't we eat in the classroom today?" Nala suggests. "Why are you two always alone?"
"That's why." Sean points at the group gathering around Mina's desk, whispering about the two handsome boys in the hall.
"I don't mind." Madison waves to Mina who turns away in a huff. "You could feel a little more grateful for what you have." Madison glares at Sean.
"All I have is Nala." He wraps his arms around her from behind, causing the girls in the class to squeal and scream.
"Um, thank you," Nala laughs nervously. Normally she would complain but her entire reasoning behind inviting them into her classroom is to get back at Mina and Trina for the flowers on her desk.
Sean's gaze follows Nala's until he spots the vase as well. "Who put that there?" He looks around in search of guilty expressions. All eyes in the room fall on Mina and Trina.
"Yikes." Madison winces sympathetically. "They went from most popular to thoroughly hated rather quickly."
"My idea." Asia raises her hand. "These fine young ladies have figured out that Sean won't like them if they are mean to Nala."
"So you do know his name." Nala places her hands on her hips. "All this time you've been calling him my boyfriend instead of using his name."
"Well, he is your boyfriend, isn't he?"
"Um…" Nala can't answer with a straight face.
"I just don't like sounding like one of his fan girls calling him by his first name and all. It's the same with his friend who calls you Peters."
"Who is this chick? I think I like her," Madison is impressed with Asia.
"You're cute, but I've got my eye on someone else at the moment." Asia returns her attention to her phone.
"Same here." He flips open his as well.
"What a perfect match," Sean grumbles. "If their noses weren't buried in their stupid phones they could just go out with each other."
Nala is not listening to his complaints as she has already shifted her attention to the food she brought. The desk in front of hers is empty as its owner went to the cafeteria for lunch. Sean sits down in it backwards, resting his elbows on Nala's desk. Madison glances around for a moment before seating himself next to Asia.
Nala watches Sean's expression as he takes a bite of her food. He chews it for a long time before swallowing. "Well?" she asks hopefully.
"Not bad." He shrugs. "Better than I thought it'd be." Nala wants to complain but his intuition is pretty much correct. The only reason he is not eating charcoal right now is because her brother took over preparing it halfway.
"No way, I refuse to believe it," Mina's voice interrupts their meal. She marches across the room and grabs a piece of food from Sean's lunch box. "It can't be any good; not from her." After tasting it a smile spreads across her face. "This is mediocre at best. If you want some real food then you should try what I brought." She returns to her desk to retrieve her lunch.
"Hey, you should feed him," Asia whispers to Nala.
"No way, I can't do that," she is embarrassed.
"You wanted to show off in front of Mina, right? This is your chance."
Sean leans over the back of his chair and opens his mouth in preparation. Nala uses her fork to feed him something small just as Mina returns. She drops her lunchbox with a loud clatter, startling everyone in the room into silence. "What, what is the meaning of this?" she demands. Sean responds by taking the fork from Nala and feeding her the next bite. "Stop that!" Mina shouts at them. "How can you be so indecent in the middle of class?"
"And yet you're the one causing a disturbance," Asia interjects.
"What?" Mina glances around. All of her friends sink into their seats, refusing to make eye contact with her.
"Sit down," Trina hisses from her corner. "You're embarrassing yourself."
"But I…" Mina is at a loss. She has no idea what happened to all the support she had last week. Sean takes the rose out of the vase on Nala's desk and hands it to her. She quickly gathers her spilled food before returning to her seat with tears in her eyes. She is finally starting to accept that she has lost. None of her friends move to comfort her this time though.
"That was strange," Nala mutters.
"That was pitiful," Sean corrects her.
"That was annoying," Madison disagrees.
"That was amusing," Asia gets the last word.
"Where were we?" Sean picks up the fork again and resumes feeding Nala, much to her embarrassment. No one else in the classroom says anything though. Madison and Asia are far too absorbed in their phones and everyone else is reluctant to be treated like Mina. For once the entire class is quiet.
"This is your final warning. If you don't cut your hair by tomorrow, I am personally banning you from participating at our next track meet," the captain is positively furious with Nala at track practice.
"I was sick," she complains. "Who goes to the salon with a fever?"
"I don't care if you shave your head with a razor!" he has no sympathy for her.
As soon as he has left Nala alone, Trevor arrives with the intention of cheering her up. "It's not like cutting your hair will increase your speed all that much. I think he just gets off telling people what to do."
"Did I ask for your opinion?" Nala has become confident enough to openly express herself somewhat.
"Jeez, someone's in a bad mood. Why did you skip practice last week anyway? Were you off making out with your boyfriend?"
"Half the girls on the team have long hair and boyfriends. Why are you and the captain always breathing down my neck?" Nala snaps.
"It's because you are you," Trevor answers vaguely. "We only care because we like you. We don't give a damn about those other girls."
"Well, I never asked you to care. I have the right to make my own choices."
"You are bad at making choices, so you need to listen to us," he practically insults her.
"I'm not surprised you're single." She shakes her head.
"What's happened to you? You never would have talked to me like this before," he is surprised. "That Baker kid is a bad influence on you."
"You really think you know what's best for me, don't you?" Nala sighs.
"Isn't it obvious?" he seems confused by her lack of understanding. "I'm the best option for you. Why can't you see that?"
"Every guy thinks they're the best. The good thing about Sean is that it's actually true. You're just conceited."
"I'm not saying I'm better than that show off. I'll admit he's pretty popular but I'm talking about you and me. We are far more compatible. People like us need to stick together."
"You don't think I can do better," she accuses him. "Well, I've already proved you wrong, haven't I?" She seems to have forgotten that she is not really dating Sean. Luckily Trevor is none the wiser. He is once again too angry to continue talking with her and instead enters the locker room to change.
As soon as he is out of sight she starts to hyperventilate. She has never spoken her mind so freely before. It is both exhilarating and terrifying. Somehow she is sure it will come back to haunt her. She should have kept her mouth shut like usual.
After changing in the girls' locker room, Nala leaves the track field. As is his ritual, Sean is waiting for her with a smile. "You look upset about something," he can see right through her.
"I really have to cut my hair now," she informs him.
"Is it that important?" he is skeptical.
"Apparently it's mandatory." She shrugs. "I'm sorry. I know how much you like long hair."
"I like your hair." He grabs a fistful of her locks, darkened by sweat, and brings them up to his face so he can smell them.
"Ew, what are you doing?" She shivers.
"Saying goodbye, I guess," he answers.
"To my hair?"
"To you," his voice deepens.
"What do you mean?" She jerks away from him. "You're not going to end the game now are you?"
"I have to. It's affecting our lives too much. I'm spending less and less time with Madison and you are arguing with your track captain. We've gone beyond healthy here; it's time to stop."
"Who says you get to decide that?" she raises her voice. "You're supposed to take responsibility."
"I am and this is what I've decided is best for us," he remains stern. "I realize that I raised your expectations but I think after last week it's become clear; we can't see each other anymore."
"No." She glares at him with tear filled eyes. "You can't do this. I told you it was for one night and you didn't listen. I told you what would happen."
"I'm sorry for leading you on." No matter how much she shouts his voice remains calm.
"You bastard!" She pounds on his chest. "I hate you." He remains perfectly still, not even trying to block her fists.
She does not stop hitting him until the sound of his phone ringing interrupts them. "It's Seamus. He wants us to hang out with him again."
"Tell him I'm not feeling up to it." She sinks to the ground.
"It'll be like a final date," he suggests, "the last thing we do together."
"I can't be in public right now," she refuses.
"Have your friend come with you; the one with the pigtails. I'll bring Maddie. How 'bout it?"
She looks up at him from the ground with her tear stricken face. She can't say no to him. "I'll call her," she agrees finally.
"Good girl." He ruffles her hair. It reminds her of how Corbin treats her. Maybe that is what she and Sean will be like from now on; siblings and nothing more. They message their friends at the same time, calling them out for their first and last ever group event.
"Bowling? We're actually going bowling?" Sean is disappointed when they arrive at the meeting spot.
"What's wrong with bowling?" Seamus asks.
"I suck at bowling. Can't we do something else?"
"We'll go do karaoke later or something," Seamus assures him. "For now, I want to try something different."
"Are we all bowling for ourselves or are we on a team?" Madison asks without looking up from his phone. He had answered Sean's message almost immediately seeing as his face was already glued to the screen.
"Man, why'd you even bother coming if you weren't going to participate?" Seamus groans.
"I'll bowl, just wait," Madison assures him.
"How about we bowl in teams of two couples each," one of Seamus's friends suggests. He has brought only two other people than his girlfriend with him this time; a couple named Paula and Dean.
"I think you're mistaken; she and I aren't a couple." Madison points at Asia who is also busy clicking away on her phone."
"You could be," Paula mutters. She is a short girl with platinum blonde hair pinned up on top of her head and heavy makeup, making her skin look shiny under the fluorescent light of the bowling alley. Her boyfriend has rusty brown hair and bushy eyebrows along with broad shoulders, making him look like a football player.
"So how about we go guys versus girls," Seamus suggests.
"No way," Paula objects. "I've never met these two before. They could suck for all I know."
"It'll even out with Sean on our team," Madison assures her. "Let's just get started."
"I'm surprised you're being so impatient when you haven't even been paying attention," Sean grumbles.
"I can multitask. I've listened to everything you've said so far."
"For the record, I have to," Asia informs him.
"Just get a room already." Sean rolls his eyes. As if contemplating his suggestion, Madison's eyes dart over to Asia, sizing her up and down. His expression seems to suggest he finds her attractive enough. Asia on the other hand has already expressed her opinion of Madison's looks so she has no reason to check again.
"Have these two ever met before?" Rain asks Nala.
"Only in passing," she whispers. "Creepily similar, aren't they?"
"I'll say. Can we trust this girl to bowl well?"
"If she can't set down her phone for a minute, I doubt Maddie will either. We may have a dud on each team." With all of the people around her, Nala has almost completely forgotten the fact that she was crying on the ground less than an hour ago. Perhaps going out together was a good idea after all.
Seamus is up first for the boys' team. He bowls a spare bringing the game off to a good start. After him, Paula splits her pins on the first try and ends up with a nine. Dean shows off, getting a strike without even trying. Rain bowls a spare just like her boyfriend. No one is surprised when Sean's first shot is a gutter ball but they are all shocked when he brings it back with a spare, including him.
Finally it is Nala's turn to bowl. After watching Sean, some of her feelings from an hour ago have returned, making her extremely angry. She sends the first shot flying like a cannon ball. The first pin it hits spins out, knocking over all the others. Paula is so impressed she jumps on top of her, dragging her to the floor while screaming. The boys are equally impressed, all except for Madison who has not even been watching.
"It's your turn." Sean slaps him on the back. Madison sets his phone down and grabs the first ball he sees on the rack, which is much too small for his fingers but he doesn't care. He tosses it at the pins and knocks down a mere two. His next shot is a gutter ball, leaving him with the lowest score on the board.
All of the boys are furious. "What the hell is wrong with you?" Seamus grabs him by the collar of his shirt.
"Calm down, it's just a game," he yawns while reaching for his phone. Dean is faster though, snatching it away and opening it up just as another message arrives. It is a question asking if he has a current girlfriend. Dean types out a reply and sends it before handing the phone back to Madison. "What'd you do that for?" he grumbles as he checks what was said.
At the same time, Asia's phone beeps with a new message. This time it is Paula who steals her phone and opens it to read it. "Quit talking to me, stupid tramp," she mutters out loud. Madison drops his phone in shock. Luckily the rubber case around it keeps it from breaking as it hits the floor though.
"Seriously?" Dean starts to laugh hysterically.
"What? What is it?" Sean retrieves Madison's phone and reads the message Dean sent from it. "No way."
"What's going on? I don't get it," Rain whines.
"They've been txting each other this whole time," Dean explains while wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. "I don't think they even knew."
"Um, your name is Asia, right?" Madison tries to approach the pigtailed girl.
"Don't come near me." She backs up quickly, hiding behind Nala.
"This is great, isn't it?" Nala is confused. "Now you know who you've been talking to this whole time. It wasn't some greasy loser."
"What?" Madison turns to Nala. "Who said I was a greasy loser?"
"Well, when you normally think about boys who read numbers off the bathroom stall, greasy comes to mind," Nala explains.
"Maybe your mind," Madison is not pleased.
"You got her number from a bathroom stall?" Paula has started to laugh along with her boyfriend.
"It's her fault." Madison points at Nala again. "She asked me to scribble over all the numbers in the bathroom for her."
"So you saved a few before you did," Rain surmises. "What a player."
"I just wanted to have some fun. I never txted any of the others. She was the first one and since she was so much fun to talk to, I completely forgot about the others."
"What do you mean, fun to talk to?" Seamus asks slyly.
"He's been asking her all kinds of things." Sean is still scrolling through their conversation. "Hey, is this about Nala?" He shows Madison the message about spandex.
"I don't know. Ask her." He jerks his head in Asia's direction.
"Wait, who wears spandex?" Paula is confused.
"She does." Rain flips up Nala's skirt to show everyone.
"And how does Sean know that?" Seamus grins at his friend smugly.
"I think I'm going home now." Nala turns to leave.
"I'll come too." Asia follows her.
"Not so fast." Paula grabs Asia while Rain grabs Nala. "We were promised a fun night and this qualifies. No one is leaving until we know the whole story. For now, let's head over to the karaoke parlor so we can have some privacy." Paula gestures to the other patrons of the bowling alley who have all stopped to stare at the noisy group.
Both Nala and Asia continue to whine and struggle as they are dragged out of the building by the two other girls. Madison is reluctant to follow but Sean makes sure he does not try to flee as well.
Paula and Rain spend the rest of the night interrogating Asia about everything she and Madison have been messaging about and Nala about how far she has gone with Sean. Seamus and Dean take turns singing while also laughing at whatever the girls are saying. Sean and Nala refuse to speak to each other at all while Asia and Madison do the same. They are far too embarrassed.
At the end of the night, Seamus and Rain give Sean and Nala a ride back to her apartment while Dean and Paula drive Asia and Madison in the opposite direction. Sean and Nala are still avoiding eye contact with each other when they step out of the car.
"What's wrong with you two?" Rain is concerned. "Aren't you two dating? Isn't this sort of thing normal?"
"It wasn't normal." Nala shakes her head. "That was the first time I've ever done something like that," she is referring to Sean and her on the front step of her apartment last week, which Rain and Paula forced her to tell them about in detail.
"So he's your first serious boyfriend?" Rain surmises. "You'll get over the embarrassment soon enough. Just be glad you have someone willing to go through things like that with," she tries to be helpful. Nala can't possibly explain to her why it was out of the ordinary for her and Sean. They went far past pretending to be a couple and pretty much ruined their own little game. "Sean, say something to her," Rain urges.
"Goodnight," Sean mutters without looking at Nala's face.
"At least kiss her." Seamus slaps him on the back.
Sean finally looks Nala in the eyes, silently asking her if it is alright. She nods slowly. She doesn't want to end their relationship on a bad note. Seamus and Rain watch as they press their lips together awkwardly. All of the previous times they have kissed they have been pretending. This time they are actually nervous and scared. Both of their faces are red when they break apart, making it impossible to look at one another.
"Well, that was… interesting," Seamus can tell that something is wrong. "Come on, Sean. We'll drive you home."
"Goodbye, Nala." Sean waves to her as she enters her apartment. It is not a farewell until tomorrow; it is the end of their fake relationship and she knows it. As soon as she has shut the door she leans back against it, banging her head loudly.
"Nala? Where have you been?" Corbin runs into the living room. He stops when he sees the tears streaming down her face. "What is it? What's wrong?" he wraps his arms around her tightly. Again she is crying too hard to answer him. She simply sobs into his shoulder as he pats her on the back of the head.
He can guess what is wrong. He had been so happy to see that she found a boyfriend that he had not even considered what would happen when he left her. He has never had to deal with this sort of thing before. Raising a teenage girl is much harder than he could have imagined.