Early the next morning, Corbin awakens to find Nala already in the kitchen, trying to cook something again. "Well this is a pleasant surprise. I thought you gave up on learning how to cook when your boyfriend dumped you."
"I did," she mumbles shyly.
"Wait, are you two back together again? When did this happen?"
"You could say it wasn't a real breakup to begin with," she explains. "It was a trial separation."
"Wow, I've never seen that happen before; most of the time the separation is permanent. You make it sound like neither one of you could keep away from each other."
"Pretty much." She starts to hum as she puts the final touches on her boxed lunch.
"Wait, how far have you two gone?" Corbin is suddenly suspicious.
"Where'd that question come from?" Nala avoids answering.
"You said you couldn't keep your hands off each other."
"I said no such thing. You're putting words in my mouth," she becomes defensive.
"That reaction alone is proof that something happened," Corbin accuses her.
"You're one to talk. Have you had time to bang Celli on the couch again since you got caught kissing in a classroom?"
"I'm an adult. I can do those things," it is Corbin's turn to defend himself.
"Celli isn't an adult. Have you thought of what her parents would say if they saw you?"
"Her dad's a deadbeat and her mom's a cougar," Corbin brushes the thought off.
"Funny hearing that word from you," Nala scoffs. She is not really mad at her brother but as long as she keeps him focused on Celli she does not have to admit anything about her relationship with Sean. She has no idea if he will be understanding or if he will forbid them to see each other. This is uncharted territory for the both of them.
"It's not like she's that much younger than me," Corbin continues to argue. It surprises Nala how far he is willing to pursue a relationship with this girl considering the number of girlfriends he has had in the past. Perhaps he really is serious about this one. "What's with that face?" Corbin can tell Nala is deep in thought.
"You're an idiot," she resorts to her default insult rather than explaining. By now he is used to being called stupid by her, especially since it is not far from the truth. On many occasions the decisions he has made have almost ruined his goal of becoming a teacher.
One time he actually went out drinking with classmates the night before a test when he was in college. Without Nala to run a cold shower for him and practically drag him to his class, he would have definitely failed. He relies on her more than he would like to admit. It is only fair that he give her some leeway now that she is finally pursuing something for herself.
"So, if you're back with Sean, does that mean I'm not giving you a ride today?" Corbin asks. It is his way of setting aside his earlier questions about how far they may or may not have gone.
"Sean seems to like walking me to school," Nala answers while blushing. "I don't even know if he lives in the same direction or not."
"Well, you better figure it out soon. I want to have a talk with his parents eventually."
"We're not that far into our relationship yet," she argues. "There is no reason for you to meet them yet."
"If they're nice people who care about their son, they shouldn't mind meeting his girlfriend's family."
"Please don't do anything to embarrass me," she groans.
"I make no promises, baby sister. I live to mess with your life."
"I know." She decides to leave the apartment before he can make any other demands. To her surprise, Sean is already waiting outside the door for her. "Um, hello. You know, you could have just rang the doorbell."
"Yeah, I was too nervous to." He rubs the back of his neck.
She can't help but smile. Knowing he is just as shy as her makes her feel as if they are on equal ground for once. "Shall we go?" She offers him her hand. Instead of answering he simply starts to lead her away from the apartment without looking her in the face. He really is much less bold than when they were pretending.
While Sean and Nala take an extended route to school, to prolong their time together, Asia waits by the front gate for her friend to arrive. She is unaware of her patched relationship with Sean and therefore is planning to cheer her up. She had not been putting too much effort into her friendship with Nala when she didn't really consider them friends but now she wants to try to have a normal relationship with at least one of her classmates.
When she notices Corbin arriving in his car alone, she realizes that Nala must be walking. Of course she wouldn't need to come to school early without her brother. She probably will not be arriving for another twenty minutes depending on how far away she lives. Dejected, Asia leaves the front gate and heads for the main school building.
As she passes by the few sports clubs that meet before school hours, she draws the attention of some of the boys. She quickly recognizes them as the ones who were hassling her the previous day. Some of them leave their respective friends behind to follow her as she picks up her pace. She is just about to enter the school when one of them grabs her by the hand. "Where are you going, sweet thing?" he asks in a taunting voice. "I hope you haven't forgotten about us."
"Where is that annoying girl you're always with?" A group of them quickly forms around her.
"Without her here, Baker won't be interrupting us, will he?" They start to laugh and snicker amongst themselves.
"What do you want?" Asia jerks her hand free.
"You're really a tease, aren't you? Why was your number on the bathroom stall if you don't put out?" One of them tries to lift her skirt.
"Is that really how you guys think it works?" She twirls around so he can't touch her. "Even if I was some tramp, I still get to choose who I do it with. You guys are being unreasonable."
"Come on, you're not dating anyone right now, are you?"
"I heard she used to be really cute before she started dressing in black."
"Maybe she's trying to match that plain girl she's always talking to."
"If she's so plain, then why was Baker dating her?"
"Who's talking about Sean?" once again they are interrupted by a loud voice; it is higher pitched than Sean's though.
"Maddie," Asia gasps when she recognizes his spiky blonde hair and un-dyed brown roots.
"You're awfully friendly with me, aren't you?" He seems annoyed at being called by his nickname.
Asia opens her mouth to apologize but is interrupted by one of the boys around her. "Who's this guy?"
"Maybe he's her boyfriend."
"No one would be stupid enough to date a tramp like her."
"He would," Asia spouts without thinking. "This idiot is a playboy who'll date any girl regardless."
"Hey, don't drag me into your mess. I'm not as friendly as Sean, you know."
"Exactly. That's why you're dating someone like me and not Nala," she continues to lie.
"Oh, so they are dating. Not surprising from his appearance." The boys seem to accept her story.
"That's right, I'm the only one allowed to touch her, so move along." Madison positions himself between Asia and the boys. Before he can say anything else they have already dispersed. Once they are out of sight, he turns his anger towards Asia. "What was that for? Don't go using other people like that." She has already slipped into the building though. "Hey, I'm talking to you." He chases after her.
"I'm really sorry for acting so friendly to you," she calls back while picking up her pace. "I know how annoying it is when people act friendly with ulterior motives."
"What?" Madison stops in his tracks. "Is that how you feel? Is that what you think everyone is like? Just how broken are you?"
Asia slows to a stop as well but continues to face away. "You wouldn't understand."
"What wouldn't I understand?"
"You're one of the most popular kids in the school. You have tons of friends. You don't know what it's like to have them abandon you."
"First off, don't just decide what I am like without even getting to know me," he scolds her. "Second off, if they abandoned you, then they weren't your friends to begin with."
"Exactly," she shouts while finally turning around. "I never had any real friends before. They all disappeared when I needed them most."
"If that's so then I don't have any friends either. I'm sure Seamus and Dean wouldn't want anything to do with me if I hit a rough patch like you."
"What about Nala's boyfriend? Isn't he a real friend?" she refuses to use Sean's name. "He wouldn't abandon you, would he?"
"And Nala wouldn't abandon you either. Forget the posers and give your all to people who do care about you."
"I'm trying," she raises her voice again. "I'm trying to help Nala but I don't know how. It goes both ways. I've never been a real friend to someone before. I'm no better than the people who abandoned me."
"To be honest, I only recently ever had to deal with something like this myself," he admits. "Sean's and my friendship had its first big test yesterday when I forced him to tell me his darkest secret. I honestly thought about running from him when I heard what it was."
"It was that bad?" Asia moves closer to Madison as she gains interest.
"I can't tell you what it was but it was bad. It honestly scared me. I believed, no, I hoped, that whatever he was hiding was meaningless and small. I wish I could have told him it was nothing to worry about and that everything was going to be alright, but I couldn't even do that for him. The only thing I could do was pretend it didn't bother me; to act normal and stay by his side. There is nothing else I can do for Sean. There is nothing else you can do for Peters. Just stay by her side and don't abandon her."
"I won't," Asia promises. "I'll never abandon her."
"Why are you telling me this? Tell her." He points at Nala and Sean as they walk through the front doors of the school.
"Nala!" Asia runs to hug her friend.
"Um, hello. Did something happen?" Nala is completely confused.
"I see things went well for you." Madison smirks at Sean whose face is red. "Did you tell her about last summer?"
"I don't think I will." Sean's expression becomes solemn. "I don't want her to hate me just yet." The two second years watch as Nala and Asia head off to class together. "What about you? Are you still stuck?" Sean asks Madison.
"I don't know," he answers honestly. He has no idea how to classify the conversation he just had with Asia. He feels like he was interfering in something he shouldn't have.
He sort of understands why Sean felt the need to intervene when he saw Nala and Mr. Thalmus a little more now. He only hopes that he doesn't have to go through everything his best friend did just to protect his reputation. It is not like he cares what any of those boys think of him. With these thoughts swimming in his head, he heads off to the second year hall with Sean in tow.
"Are we really doing this?" Madison asks as he peeks into Ms. Register's homeroom for the third time.
"I promised Nala I'd eat lunch in her classroom with her again," Sean grumbles.
"Why are you so nervous then? Haven't you done this before?" Madison reminds him.
"Now that we aren't pretending, it's a little embarrassing." Sean's ears are already red.
"Then invite her up to the roof. At least then I won't have to sit in a room full of freshmen with nothing to do."
"You're just afraid you'll have to talk to Nala's friend again," Sean laughs at him.
"She has a name, you know," Madison snaps at him.
"Really? What is it?"
"Well…" Madison doesn't know either.
"Now you have something to ask her, don't you?" Sean smiles as he drags his friend into the classroom. Nala's eyes light up as soon as she sees them but she quickly looks down at her desk in embarrassment.
"You two are made for each other." Madison rolls his eyes.
"Um, hello… Mad-Maddie," Asia has trouble speaking to Madison.
"When did this become my name?" he is not happy.
"Sorry, Madison. I never told her your real name," Nala explains.
"It's not like I want you calling me Maddie either," he complains.
"Madison? That's such a cool name," Asia spouts excitedly.
"What's with her?" Madison asks Nala.
"She does this when she's trying to like someone for no reason. She pretends everything is cool about them without really paying attention at all. She did the same thing when you were txting back and forth."
"Nala, don't!" Asia whines.
"Is that so?" A smirk spreads across Madison's face. "You are forcing yourself to like me, eh?"
"I am not. I just thought I should try to get along with you better considering the fact that you helped me this morning."
"Who helped you? You went ahead and said some pointless things to those boys without my permission," he reminds her.
"Who was the one that said 'only I can touch her'?" she counters.
"You really said something like that?" Nala pretends to cringe.
"It's not that bad," Madison moans.
"Well." Sean is smiling.
"Well, what?" Madison is confused.
"Aren't you going to touch her?"
"Why on earth would I do that?" Madison is furious.
"You went through the trouble of saying you could touch her and you're not even going to take advantage of it?" Sean pretends to be disappointed. "You should do something like this." He flips Nala's skirt up, revealing a pair of white panties. "Wait, what?" He falls out of his chair in shock.
"What was that for?" She pulls the hem of her skirt down.
"I thought you'd be wearing spandex again," he tries to apologize.
"Even if I were, that doesn't give you the right to do that. Besides, I quit the track team already so there's no need."
"I thought you wore spandex so you didn't have to be careful going up and down stairs," Asia recalls.
"She probably just wanted to try being cute for Sean today," Madison surmises.
"Hold on a second. What's going on here?" someone interrupts their noisy conversation.
"Ah, Mina. What brings you here?" Asia greets her with a smile to hide her malice.
"I need to have a word with Sean." She drags him out of his seat by the hand.
"Hey, hold on a moment," he wails as she pulls him into the hall.
"Hey, didn't you break up with Peters?" she hisses at him.
Sean opens his mouth to answer but stops when he notices someone else in the hall. "Can I help you, Mr. Thalmus?" he asks sternly.
"Keep it down," the tired looking sweater clad teacher grumbles at him before stalking off.
"Well?" Mina taps her foot impatiently.
"We had a slight disagreement," Sean mumbles.
"How slight?" Mina is hopeful.
"Not even worth mentioning," he answers sternly, angering Mina. She rears back before slapping him across the face as hard as she can. He doesn't even flinch though.
"I'm sorry, Sean. I didn't mean to…" she is immediately apologetic.
"Can I get back to my girlfriend now?" he asks coldly.
She nods slowly while trembling as they reenter the room. Just as she sits down, Trina stands up and crosses the room to stand in front of Nala. "What do you want?" she is confused.
"I need to know if you're serious this time." Trina glares at her sternly.
"I don't have to tell you anything." Nala crosses her arms.
"Promise me you'll take this seriously," Trina begs. "There are dozens of girls waiting for their chance to even talk to Sean. If you're not serious then you're just wasting everyone's time."
"Isn't that for Sean to decide?" Madison interjects.
"Didn't you already ask Sean out a while ago?" Asia recalls. "What was his answer?"
"You didn't seem too upset by it," Nala mutters in annoyance.
"Would you be happier if I had been?" Trina smiles at her. "Now you're taking this seriously. Keep those feelings in your heart at all times. As long as you are jealous of other girls talking to Sean then I can leave him to you. The moment you stop caring, you better leave him alone."
"What is with you?" Nala is thoroughly angered by now. "You don't get to tell me what to do. And what did Sean say to you?"
"He said he likes my name." Trina blushes.
"Oh, because it rhymes with Nina," Nala surmises.
"No, he said he likes my full name; Katrina," she corrects her. "He doesn't seem to like my short name very much at all."
"Does that mean we have to call you Katrina from now on?" Asia asks in a mocking tone.
"You can call me whatever you like. I'm tried of being Trina and Mina though so I'm going back to Katrina around my friends."
"Somehow I feel bad now." Nala lowers her head.
"Why?" Trina raises an eyebrow.
"You two aren't really friends anymore, are you?" Nala gestures to Mina.
"It's not your fault," Trina assures her. "I'm the one who broke the agreement we had."
"Um, bye… Katrina," Nala tries calling her by her full name.
"Bye, Peters… I mean Nala," Trina returns the favor. "Treat Sean well. I won't forgive you if you hurt him."
"Will you just go already?" Asia shoos her away.
"What was that about?" Sean returns to the desk in front of Nala's a moment later.
"Nothing." Nala turns up her nose.
"Are you still mad about your skirt? I'm really sorry."
"It's not that. Madison was right. I wanted to change for you," she explains.
"Oh," he doesn't know what to say.
"Well?" she waits impatiently. "What did you think?"
"What am I supposed to say?" Sean asks. "I like your panties?"
"Yes… no," Nala realizes how their conversation sounds.
"This isn't going how you planned, is it?" Madison stifles laughter.
"No it's not." Nala presses her forehead to her desk to hide her face.
"There's only one thing to do!" Madison announces in a deep voice.
"What's that?" Asia plays along.
"You must show him what's underneath your panties tonight!" Madison answers. Instinctively, Nala slaps him across the face, to which he overreacts by falling out of his seat on purpose.
"You asked for that," Asia laughs at him.
"Um, what's your name again?" Madison asks while staring up at her from the floor.
"You're only just asking?" She is shocked. "It's Asia, Asia Kon."
"What a cool name," he copies how she reacted to his name.
"You don't have to do that. I know it's weird." She blushes.
"It suits you… as does the color blue," he adds after a moment.
"Blue?" she seems confused until she realizes what he is looking at. He moves before she can step on his face though. "You're such a jerk," she whines.
"You're the one assigning me false values. I can be a jerk if I want to be."
"If you enjoy getting hit you can," Asia threatens him.
Nala sinks into her seat guiltily though. "Sorry, Madison. I shouldn't have done that."
"So you do plan to show him what's underneath tonight?" he jumps right back into making fun of her.
"No she does not. I absolutely forbid it," Asia is adamant.
"What makes you the boss of her?" Madison asks.
"These two can't even eat off the same fork without blushing," Asia reminds him. "Stop pushing them too fast."
"Are you two going to do that again?" Madison switches his focus.
"Absolutely not!" Nala shouts.
"Man, your relationship was better when it was fake," Madison pretends to be disappointed.
"Maybe so." Sean nods in agreement.
"It's too late to go back now though," Nala spouts. "I absolutely refuse."
"What exactly are you guys talking about?" Asia is unaware of their fake relationship. "I guess I never really asked after I saw you two arrive together this morning but are you two back together?"
"It's taken you this long to notice?" Madison laughs at her.
"I just wanted to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding something." She puffs out her cheeks in annoyance.
"What do you mean you absolutely refuse?" Sean draws Nala back to her previous statement.
"It means what it sounds like. I like you too much to go back to just pretending." Sean seems extremely happy to hear this and even takes hold of her hand to show his own affection.
"Time for lunch." Nala brings out the food she prepared that morning. "I made it myself this time."
"You did? Then what were we eating last time?" Sean asks.
"Something my brother made," she admits. "Tell me if you like this; be honest."
"Well…" he looks at Madison nervously.
"Don't involve me in this," his friend abandons him.
"I'll do my best," Sean finally agrees.
"Alright then, open wide." Nala prepares to feed him, despite what she said before. Several other students turn to watch as she places a small amount of food in his mouth. "Well?" she squeals impatiently as he chews.
"It's edible," he answers vaguely.
"Oh," she seems disappointed. "It's a start at least, right?" Again Sean looks to Madison for some form of support. His friend is pretending to talk to Asia though, completely ignoring him. "You don't have to eat it," Nala informs him. "I'll try harder next time."
"It's not bad though." He takes the fork from her so he can feed himself. "Ask your brother for advice next time. I'll be waiting to try it again."
"Really?" She leans over her desk to hug him, causing him to choke on the food in his mouth. "Oh, sorry." She lets go quickly. A smile spreads across Sean's face as he catches his breath. It may not be the same as when they were pretending, but it is interesting in its own way. It is fun to see Nala trying so hard to act like a proper girlfriend. It will take a while to get used to but he is definitely enjoying the new experience.
"So, do you want to walk home together?" Asia asks Nala after classes are over.
"What's this all the sudden?" Nala is surprised. "You've been acting much friendlier recently."
"I don't want to take you for granted. Besides, if you really have quit track, then we finally have the chance to do something like this," Asia explains.
"I'm really sorry, but I already agreed to walk home with Sean. Where do you even live? Would we walk in the same direction? Maybe you can walk home with the both of us."
"No, I don't want to intrude on your time together," she refuses.
"It's no problem, honestly."
"You two only just got back together. This time is important for you," Asia is adamant.
"You can walk with me to the second year hall where I'm supposed to meet him," Nala suggests hopefully.
"Nah, I don't want to run into… Ma-Madison," Asia has trouble saying his name. She is obviously still not used to being friendly with people.
"Bye then, I guess." Nala waves to Asia with a disappointed expression as she runs off. It is the first time she has had the chance to walk home with a friend and she had to refuse. She will definitely have to make plans to do so at a later date; maybe after learning where Asia even lives.
When her friend is out of sight, she finally stops waving. She turns around to head for the second year hall and comes face to face with Mr. Thalmus. Instinctively she opens her mouth to scream but he covers it with his large hand. "What are you trying to do, get me in trouble?"
"Sorry, you startled me," she mumbles.
"Ew, don't spit on my fingers." He wipes his hand on his dirty sweater. She cringes at the thought of the fact that he just touched her mouth. She wants to run to the nearest water fountain but she knows it would be rude. "Don't give me that look," he growls at her. "What is it with students thinking all teachers are gross?"
Again she wants to say that it is only him she thinks is gross but she can't form the words. She simply stands there with her mouth moving, making a quiet squeaking sound. "What's the matter with you? Did you like licking my hand that much?" He pushes two of his fingers back into her mouth.
"Please stop," she mumbles as he swishes her tongue around.
"Are you lonely now that your boyfriend dumped you?" he taunts her.
"He 'id not," she can't form the words for a different reason this time.
"I saw him in the hall with that pretty redhead today. She said you two were finished. I guess that means I was right; no one wants you. You're going to have to settle for me." He pinches her tongue so she can't respond. Instead she looks down at her feet shyly. "To be honest, you didn't look half bad yesterday with those extensions in your hair. What happened to them?"
"Track practice," she whimpers while trying to close her mouth.
"Track practice, eh?" He nods as he thinks about it. "Why don't you try skipping? We can do something much more fun in my classroom." He drags her toward the geography room by her mouth. She tries to stay put but he digs his fingernails into her tongue painfully. Her eyes start to water as she follows him obediently. For some reason the only thought in her mind is how easy it was to reject Trevor compared to Mr. Thalmus. Fear must play a very large factor.
"Come and have a seat." He positions her on his desk, finally removing his hand for her mouth.
"Don't," she whispers when he tries to pull her legs apart.
"Why not?" he seems confused. He doesn't think she should have any complaints.
"I'll scream," she warns him in a hoarse voice.
"Just try it." He covers her mouth with his, pushing his tongue past her teeth. Though she wants nothing more than to bite him, she can't bring herself to. She is sure she would not be able to run to the door before he could catch her and perhaps hit her. "That's more like it," he is satisfied with how docile she is. "All girls should be like you. It would make dating a whole lot easier." He tries to open her legs once again.
She tries as hard as she can to keep them closed, which is pretty hard considering the fact that she is a track runner. "Hey, cut it out," he is not happy. "I'm warning you, I don't like hitting girls." He rears back in preparation to slap her.
"Don't!" she screams while covering her face. She has not been slapped by anyone but her mom and dad, and only when she did something like wetting the bed when she was eight.
"If you don't like pain, then open your goddamn legs!" he shouts at her.
"Mr. Thalmus?" Ms. Register's voice travels from the door of the classroom, which is now open. "What is the meaning of this?"
"What the…?" he is caught off guard. His first instinct is to charge at her, preparing to tackle her. She sidesteps him easily while pulling a can of mace from her purse and spraying him in the eyes. "What the hell, you stupid cow!" He falls to the floor holding his face.
"What on earth is going on here, Miss Peters?" Ms. Register turns her attention to the student instead. Nala is trembling as she stands up. She grabs her stomach and promptly vomits on the floor, expelling her lunch along with the taste of Mr. Thalmus's tongue and fingers. "I hope you have a good explanation for this?" Ms. Register returns her glare to the teacher who is still rolling around on the floor with his eyes closed.
"What is your problem?" he spits angrily. "This has nothing to do with you."
"Are you joking? You're lucky I don't call the police on you right now," she warns him.
Nala suddenly dry heaves. She has nothing left in her stomach but she still feels sick, especially after remembering how Ms. Register handled her brother's situation. She is going to give Mr. Thalmus a chance to explain himself before turning him in to the board. She stumbles to the secondary door at the back of the classroom, avoiding going anywhere near the thoroughly blinded teacher.
"Where do you think you're going?" Mr. Register shouts at her.
"Please let me leave," she begs. "I can't stay in the same room with him."
Ms. Register nods in agreement. "You are to go to the nurse's office and wait for me," she instructs. Nala does not answer as she drags herself from the room, still holding her stomach. The hallway is empty of students now as they have all either left or gone to their respective practices. She does not want to wait for Ms. Register but she feels too sick to leave by herself. Reluctantly, she hobbles down the hall until she finds the nurse's office, just before the last freshmen classroom.
"Nala?" Sean is standing at the beginning of the next hall where the second year classrooms begin. "Nala, what happened?" He runs to catch her as she collapses due to sheer relief. He drags her into the nurse's office. "Nala, speak to me." He lays her down on an empty cot. "Are you sick? Did you eat something?" he can smell the vomit on her breath. He quickly pours her some water from the sink. He has to hold her head up properly as she drinks it.
It is a good thing he served as the nurse's aid for the previous summer. He knows where everything in the room is, including medicine for her stomach and rags to clean the vomit from her face. "Nala, please talk to me," he begs. She shakes her head while dry heaving again. He wraps his arms around her shoulders to keep her from trembling as much.
Suddenly the sound of voices in the hall startles them both. Nala lies down and closes her eyes in an attempt to pretend to be asleep. The pair of voices stops right outside the door though. Sean can clearly recognize them as Ms. Register and Mr. Thalmus. "You are not coming in with me," Ms. Register warns her fellow teacher.
"Please, I need to wash this stuff out of my eyes," he begs.
"You are not going anywhere near Miss Peters, do I make myself clear?"
"If I can just get Miss Peters to explain the situation then…"
"I'm fairly certain your presence will do nothing but prevent her from revealing the truth," Ms. Register cuts him off.
"Surely you can try to see this from a different point of view. There are several teachers at this school currently dating students. I can name Mr. Peters as a prime example," he comes up with a believable excuse.
"I am well aware of Mr. Peters's relationship with Miss Agnew," Ms. Register informs him. "I am in the middle of deciding what to do about it."
"Well that's not fair," Mr. Thalmus whines. "Why does he get special treatment? Did you mace him in the face as well?"
"Mr. Peters did not try to attack me when I walked in on him kissing Miss Agnew. Further more, Miss Agnew did not proceed to spill her lunch on the floor. I'm sure you can see the difference."
Sean starts to shake visibly as his face turns bright red with anger. He is about to leave Nala's bedside to confront the pair of teachers when she grabs his hand to stop him. She does not say anything or even open her eyes but it is enough to make him stay. He slides a chair over to sit on before lacing their fingers and pressing her hand to his forehead.
"My relationship with Miss Peters is no different than Corbin's and Miss Agnew's," Mr. Thalmus continues to barter with Ms. Register. "If you're going to rat me out, then I shall be forced to do the same to them."
"Miss Peters is only fifteen," she reminds him. "Even if she was a willing participant, it is illegal. As the adult in the relationship, you are responsible for knowing that. She could have shown you a fake id claiming to be of age and you'd still be to blame, understand?"
"You're just taking Corbin's side because you like him and not me," he accuses her. "Miss Agnew could be twelve and you still wouldn't rat him out."
"How dare you?" Ms. Register is furious. "Don't ever even suggest that I play favorites. I take my job very seriously. It is because of how much this job means to me that I am restraining myself for both of your sakes. In truth I should be looking out for Miss Agnew and Miss Peters by having you both disallowed from ever setting foot in a school again. The only reason I am not is because I would be devastated if I lost my career to something as foolish as a scandal. I will not be held responsible for ruining your lives without sufficient evidence."
"So I'm off the hook then," Mr. Thalmus asks hopefully. "You're not going to breathe a word of this to anyone?"
"I didn't see enough to justify telling the board anything but I can't help you if Miss Peters wants to press charges. I will warn you though, do not let this happen again or I won't think twice about turning you in and I'll kick myself for not doing it sooner," she gives him an ultimatum. He seems to take her word seriously though as the sound of his footsteps in the hall can be heard as he scurries away.
Nala is still pretending to be asleep when Ms. Register opens the door to the nurse's office. "Oh dear, Mr. Baker, did you hear all of that?" She is surprised to see Sean.
"What did he do to her?" he asks through gritted teeth.
"I think I arrived before anything serious happened but she seems to have suffered a great shock. I would ask her brother to drive her home but I'm currently faced with another dilemma."
"You're worried about his relationship with that senior, Celli Agnew," Sean is able to put the pieces together himself. "You're also worried that Nala and Corbin living together alone is unhealthy."
"When you put the two situations side by side, it makes one suspicious," Ms. Register admits.
"So Mr. Thalmus can pretty much rape my girlfriend and get away with it but Corbin gets in trouble? How is that fair?"
"I don't want to agree with him, but Mr. Thalmus is right; I can't play favorites. I was being too lenient with Mr. Peters before. I'm going to have to insist that he break off his relationship with Miss Agnew until she has graduated."
"It's not like they're showboating it," Sean argues.
"They brought this on themselves when they decided to act affectionately on school grounds," Ms. Register explains. "I'm extremely sorry, I really am."
"So that's it then? What am I supposed to do now?" Sean lowers his head to Nala's shoulder, completely defeated.
"Now I need to speak with Miss Peters. We need to decide if she will be filing a formal complaint."
"What good will that do?" Nala finally opens her eyes.
"Even if Mr. Thalmus manages to talk his way out of it, it will still go on his permanent record. He will probably be fired and will have trouble finding a position at any nearby schools. He will have to move and start over."
"Good. He deserves that much," Sean spits angrily.
"The decision is up to Miss Peters," Ms. Register informs him.
"I don't want to ruin anyone's life," she whimpers. "I don't want to have to file a formal anything."
"Without a complaint of some kind he will get off scot-free," Ms. Register warns her. "You won't even be allowed to sit out of geography class. You have to face him every day for the rest of your freshmen year."
"Can't I go into remedial classes?" Nala asks.
"With a valid excuse, you could. Without a formal complaint though, there is no reason to give you special treatment unless your grades slip."
"Then I'll do that," Nala agrees.
"You can't simply jeopardize your grades just to get out of going to class," Ms. Register argues.
"The alternative is having Mr. Thalmus fired," Nala reminds her.
"Have him fired," Sean has no sympathy.
"Please bear with me on this," Ms. Register begs Nala, "I will warn Mr. Thalmus that I am watching his actions, so just try to focus on studying when in class with him. You already sit in the back of the room, don't you?" Nala nods slowly.
"So, you're blackmailing him," Sean surmises.
"I don't like to use such words." Ms. Register wrinkles her nose. "I simply want what's best for everyone. Make sure Miss Peters arrives home safely," she orders Sean. "I will be visiting your home within the next month. Be prepared," she warns Nala before leaving the nurse's office.
The two students are completely quiet. Sean is too worried about Nala's feelings to say anything about the situation and she is too shaken up. Silently she climbs off the cot without making eye contact with him. He follows her out of the office and down the hall as she slowly makes her way back to the geography room where she left her bag. Luckily, Mr. Thalmus is nowhere to be seen. They are still unable to say anything to each other when they start the long walk home.
On the way back to Nala's apartment, Sean decides it will be best to start a conversation to take her mind off of what happened. Although she listens intently to whatever he says, she does not contribute in any way, making him feel slightly depressed.
When they reach her apartment, he turns to leave without a single word of goodbye. She grabs the sleeve of his shirt to stop him though. She is still unable to speak but her eyes are watering. She stands on the tips of her toes in preparation for a kiss, but he responds by hugging her instead. She starts to cry into his shoulder silently as they stand on her doorstep.
After a long while, they are finally interrupted by the sound of her brother's car pulling into the driveway. He is smiling at the sight of them together when he steps out of the vehicle. His expression quickly changes when he notices her tears though. "What happened?" He rushes over to them.
Knowing Nala won't say anything, Sean speaks first. "Mr. Thalmus…" he begins but is quickly interrupted.
"What about Mr. Thalmus? I thought I told you not to go near him," Corbin is immediately enraged.
"She didn't do anything. He came after her," Sean explains.
"That bastard. I'm going to have him arrested this time." Corbin pulls out his cell phone while walking into the apartment.
"This time?" Sean quickly follows after him with a confused expression, leaving Nala alone outside. "You knew about the first time?"
"Of course I did. I was there."
"You were?" Sean is even more confused. "I didn't see you."
"What?" Corbin drops his phone. "Are you telling me this has happened at school before?"
"When else would it have happened?" Sean is completely lost.
"When she was twelve I brought Nala with me to college once to watch a parade. She had to go to the bathroom and didn't want me to miss anything so she went by herself. She was taking so long I went to find her eventually. I found Andrew trying to drag her into the men's room."
"Andrew Thalmus," Sean mutters to himself.
"He was an upperclassman of mine," Corbin continues explaining. "I nearly broke his arm that day. When I realized he was a teacher at the same school as Nala and me I was furious. I thought about ratting him out to the board multiple times but…"
"But then he found out about you and Agnew," Sean finishes his sentence.
"I couldn't say anything while he held it over me. I still can't say anything." Corbin's shoulders droop.
"It doesn't matter anymore. Ms. Register found out," Sean informs him.
"Thanks, but I already knew that. It doesn't seem like she's going to tell anyone."
"She is now," Sean raises his voice. "She said she can't afford to play favorites. She wants you and Agnew to breakup or she'll tell the board on the both of you."
"For real?" Corbin's eyes widen. "What the hell for? God damn it. I can't break up with Celli now, she'd never forgive me."
"Can't you just wait until she graduates next year?" Sean is optimistic.
"Celli is a very special girl. She suffers from depression and thoughts of suicide. I can't abandon her."
"You really got yourself trapped," Sean's optimism fades quickly.
"I never wanted to put another girl before Nala but now I'm going to have to. Can I rely on you, Sean?" Corbin places his hands on the second year's shoulders to convey trust.
"Um, of course you can. What do you need?" Sean has no idea what he is being asked.
"I don't know the details of why you broke up with Nala before but it seems like you've reconciled. It also seems like you have protected her from Andrew before. It's selfish of me to ask this of you but can you stay with her. I don't mean forever, just until I return next year."
"Return? Where are you going?"
"I've already been looking at this option for a while and it seems like I have no choice now. If I transfer to a different school, then my relationship with Celli becomes just that; a relationship between two consenting adults. I will transfer back at the start of next term next fall."
"Are you going to move?" Sean is concerned.
"No, I've already talked to the head of the next closest school. If I want it, they already have a position for me. It's only a half hour drive. I just need you to look after Nala for me at school. She's delicate, you know. I don't think she even remembers what happened at the parade that day."
"I know she's delicate," Sean sighs loudly. "Oh god, do I know."
"Sorry," Nala's meek voice interrupts them from the doorway of the apartment. She looks like she is about to start crying again. "I'm sorry for being such a bother to you both."
"Don't say that." Corbin pulls her into the living room and hugs her tightly. "You've been a bigger help than I could have ever asked for. You have to promise me that you won't tell mom and dad anything that has happened though. I just know they're going to revoke the deal if they find out."
"I, I won't tell them anything," Nala seems reluctant to agree. Sean can guess that she would like nothing more than to run crying home to her parents and never leave her countryside farm again. Coming to the city seems to have been a huge mistake for her.
Corbin is well aware of it too but he has no choice. As he said before, he is putting himself and others above his sister. "Remember what I said, Sean," Corbin turns his attention back to the second year. "I have been a terrible big brother thus far and there is no way I will ever be able to make it up to her. I'm counting on you in my place."
"I understand." Sean nods.
"This may be the worst decision I have ever made and the most selfish; shirking my responsibilities onto you. Right now you are very important to Nala and no matter what parental instinct tells me to chaperone you two, I feel Nala has earned the right to pursue whatever relationship she wants with you. I will not interfere no matter what."
"Brother!" Nala shouts at him as her face turns red.
Sean winces as her remembers why she refuses to use Corbin's name. "That's better." Corbin pinches his sister's cheek. "Looks like you're coming around."
"Are you really going to transfer schools?" she asks shyly, revealing the fact that she was eavesdropping.
"I have to, babe. There's a girl as precious to me as you are out there and she's relying on me."
"You're a terrible big brother," she quotes him.
"That's why I'm making the terrible decision to leave you in your boyfriend's hands. I'm hoping he cares about you even more than I do."
Sean doesn't say anything as he sinks down onto the couch in the living room. He is already aware of how helpless and pathetic Nala can be and was already prepared to have to look out for her throughout the duration of their relationship, but this is all too sudden for him.
Depending on how attached either one of them becomes over the rest of the school year, he may not be able to ever break up with her again. It is too late to back out now though. All he can do is silently accept the situation and hope that he will not make too many mistakes.