Nala rolls over in her bed several times, trying to get back to sleep as the sound of Celli and Corbin laughing together travels through the wall. Finally she gives up and decides it is time to start the day. She has already made breakfast by the time the two of them have left Corbin's room. "Good morning," Celli greets her with a smile. Her golden hair is a complete mess and her nightgown is askew. Nala can guess what she was doing in her brother's room all night.
Ever since Corbin transferred schools over a month ago, Celli has been staying over on a regular basis to make up for lost time. She is extremely friendly with Nala all of the time as she knows she is intruding on her personal life. Nala has grown used to it and acts as if she is not bothered, though she still worries about her brother.
"You've gotten much better at cooking recently, haven't you?" Celli remarks. "I bet your boyfriend is really pleased."
"Sean will eat anything made by me," Nala responds shyly. Even though she is used to people referring to her and Sean as a couple now, it still feels unreal. She still receives angry glares from the majority of the freshman girls in the school and weird looks from boys who think Sean has bad taste.
"You're so lucky to have such a sweet boyfriend," Celli continues to flatter her. "He's just as handsome as Corbin too. I bet my honey gets jealous when he sees you two together."
"When he transferred schools, he pretty much agreed not to interfere with my life choices anymore," Nala explains. "He thinks he failed me somehow."
"It should never have been his responsibility to raise you in the first place," Celli argues. "Where have your parents been in all of this?"
"This was our decision," Nala defends her parents. "We are the only ones to blame for all of this."
Before Celli can disagree further, the doorbell rings. "Ooh, that must be your handsome boyfriend," Celli coos excitedly.
Nala cringes as she watches her upperclassman answering the door. She knows full well that Celli is prone to dramatic mood swings. She can go from extremely chipper to manically depressed in a matter of seconds. Once she even broke down and started crying the moment Corbin started his drive to work. Dealing with her has been a sort of hassle all on its own.
"Good morning!" Celli greets Sean with an even larger smile.
"Um, hello. You're here again," he does not know how to respond. He does not particularly dislike her but she unnerves him to say the least.
"Oh, you're so shy," she laughs why dragging him inside by the collar. "Look who's here to see you, sweetie," she shouts at Nala just as she puts the finishing touches on the two lunches she has prepared for herself and Sean.
Sean steps past Celli and hugs Nala from behind, kissing her on the top of the head. Celli claps excitedly like she is watching a play. "Morning," Corbin yawns loudly as he makes his first appearance of the day. "Is breakfast ready?"
"I seem to remember a time when you made breakfast," Nala pretends to complain.
"That was when I wasn't completely useless," he makes no excuses for himself while grabbing a piece of toast from the table. His hair is just as messy as Celli's and his pajama top is missing.
"If you didn't spend all night having sex, you might wake up on time," Nala scolds him.
"What about you? Have you stayed over at Sean's place yet?" he turns the conversation around on her. "I know for a fact he's never stayed the night here."
"Of course I haven't slept at his place. His mother would kill me," Nala is quick to set the record straight. She has only met Sean's family twice; once when his mother invited her over for dinner and another time when his younger sister wanted to see her for no apparent reason. She had to play dolls with the rambunctious ten year old for a good hour or so.
"Are you sure you haven't slept over yet?" Corbin continues to taunt her. "I seem to recall you disappearing at night a lot over the past few weeks."
"I was at Asia's house," she explains quickly. "She wants to have as many sleepovers as possible before we graduate because she's used to having a different friend stay over each week."
"Don't you feel like she's using you as a substitute?" Corbin is concerned.
"She says I'm her first true friend," Nala disagrees. "I think she really means it."
"I wonder if she has stayed over at Maddie's house yet," Sean ponders out loud.
"Oh, even a girl like that has a boyfriend?" Celli is intrigued.
"I wouldn't call them a couple yet. They pretend to get along while arguing all the time. I think they've tried kissing a few times though," Nala explains.
"It's totally for show. They've probably already done it a few times," Sean is positive.
"I don't really want to think about Maddie and Asia having sex." Nala cringes again. "It makes me think that I'm wrong for making you wait."
"I don't mind waiting," Sean assures her.
"Yeah, you say that but I bet you're pretty high strung," Celli disagrees. "I bet you can't wait to see what's under this girl's spandex shorts."
"Celli!" Nala's face is bright red.
"I'll wait as long as I have to," Sean tries to maintain his composure. In truth he is getting a little restless. He has been dating Nala for almost two months now, counting their original pretend relationship. How long is one supposed to wait before having sex?
If he went by the rate at which things were moving the first time, when they almost did it on the doorstep, then they should be well past that marker already. Something is stalling Nala though. Perhaps she is still shaken up after what happened with Mr. Thalmus. If that is the case, then there is no way Sean can even think about rushing her.
Corbin seems to be trying to play the role of the cool order brother though. He often offers to let them be alone together in the apartment and has not once called to make sure she actually went to Asia's house at night and not Sean's. This is partially appreciated by Nala but mostly she is disappointed as she wanted her brother to dote on her more.
"Well, look at the time." Corbin finishes his breakfast in one bite before rushing into the bathroom to take a shower. Now that he has to commute to work, he has to be up a good half hour earlier.
"Hey, wait for me." Celli chases after him, hoping to take a shower at the same time.
"We'll be heading out then." Sean drags Nala away from the table.
"Ah, I wanted to walk with you two," Celli whines.
"It's a shower with your boyfriend or walking with us," Nala gives her two options.
"That's an easy choice." Celli closes the bathroom door.
"That's what I thought," Nala sighs while shaking her head.
"They sure are close, aren't they?" Sean is partially impressed. "Do you think we'll ever be that way?"
"Do you want to be that way?" Nala brings her face close to his.
"Of course I do." He kisses her. "I just don't want to push you too hard."
"You already pushed me a lot when we first started pretending," she reminds him. "Why do you think we ended up like this at all? To be honest, you're kinda lame right now. What happened to the cool guy who was so eager to push me down?"
"When you were just another girl, I could do whatever I wanted. Now I'm actually worried about losing you," he admits.
"There are other ways to lose a girl," she warns him, "neglect for example."
"I'm not neglecting you," he laughs.
"It sure feels like it," she mumbles to herself.
"Huh? Did you say something?" He cups his ear. She shakes her head instead of repeating herself. She does not want to make him feel bad for being considerate. He seems convinced that everything is fine between them.
"Guess what?" Madison is waiting at the front gate of the school for Sean and Nala with a large grin.
"No, don't guess!" Asia is beside him with her hands covering her face.
"You finally learned the color of Asia's panties," Nala gives a half joking reply. It is meant to catch Sean off guard but it has a better effect on Asia who gasps in embarrassment.
"How did you know?" Madison bursts into laughter.
"When did you get to see it?" Nala is now genuinely curious.
"Last night we went out with Paula and Dean again," Madison starts to explain. "We stayed out 'til two in the morning at a karaoke parlor. Those two started making out and we didn't want them to feel self conscious."
"So you joined in," Sean starts laughing as well.
"Please stop." Asia is still hiding her face.
"And then I lifted up her skirt," Madison continues.
"And got slapped in the face," Asia cuts him off.
"Well, that happened, yes." Madison shows them a slight mark on his cheek.
"Asia!" Nala is furious at her friend. "What did you do that for?"
"I wasn't prepared," she groans. "What was I supposed to do?"
"Doesn't matter. I still saw them," Madison seems perfectly happy.
"Yes, yes, you saw them." Asia nods while lowering her hands. Her face is only slightly red now. She fidgets with her fingers until Madison grabs her hand to hold.
"So you two are official now?" Sean asks hopefully.
"We don't advertise our relationship like you two," Madison scolds him. "We're just slightly more than friends now."
"Were we ever friends?" Asia asks.
"Come to think of it, I'm not sure." Madison shrugs. "I've never been good at being just friends with girls. I always end up making out with them at some point." Asia seems dejected by this statement. She was hoping that her situation with him might be unique.
"Don't worry. This thing that you and I have has already lasted longer than most of my friendships," he assures her.
"That doesn't mean much coming from you," she spouts. However, she seems to have cheered up slightly.
Nala is not sure what she thinks of Madison's and Asia's relationship. She knows that Asia is forcing herself to like him the same way she originally forced herself to like Nala. It is a bad habit of hers, making friends by lying to herself about her own interests. The fact that Madison is just as good at faking relationships seems to be working out in her favor though. Perhaps they are a good match after all.
"Time to split up!" Asia announces while slipping her hand out of Madison's and wrapping her arms around Nala's shoulders from behind. "Second years go that way!"
"You sure are energetic," Sean is impressed.
"This idiot promised to take me out again tonight." She nods her head at Madison while her arms remain occupied.
"What, really?" Sean is surprised. "You two really do like singing, don't you?"
"It's not the karaoke we go for." Madison shakes his head. "We want to remember our high school years fondly. Paula and Dean can't make it though so there is an open position for you two."
"I don't know." Sean makes a sour face. "Nala doesn't really like to sing and I don't want to bring her home too late."
"Oh, grow a spine." Madison slaps him on the back. "What are you being so timid for? If I recall, you came close to nailing her on her doorstep once."
"I remember that." Asia nods while squeezing Nala's shoulder even more. She is blushing feverishly, either from being held or from Madison's reminder.
"Don't say things that embarrass her," Sean rushes to defend his girlfriend.
"It's okay, Sean. It's not like it's a secret anymore," she is less bothered than he assumed. "You can stop being so overprotective, you know. It's kind of annoying." Sean's mouth twists into a frown. He does not seem to trust Nala's judgment. He intends to protect her whether she likes it or not.
"So… are you two coming or what?" Madison is still waiting for an answer.
"We'll come!" Nala shouts before Sean can make any more excuses. "We don't have to go do karaoke again, do we? We can hit the arcade or perhaps the batting cages?"
"Only you would think of sports as fun." Madison rolls his eyes. As fall is almost over, and the new season's first snow is already upon them, track practice has long since ended. Nala never did return after clearing out her locker and she has had little contact with any of her former teammates. Sean is considerably worried that her choice to suddenly quit may be his fault but he is the only one who is concerned. Asia and Madison have consistently told her she is better off.
"Yay, you're coming, you're coming," Asia cheers as she drags Nala in an awkward circle before pulling her toward Ms. Register's room. After Corbin informed her about his choice to transfer schools, the strict high heeled teacher had indefinitely postponed her intended home visit. She often reminds Nala to be prepared for her to drop by at any time but so far she has done no such thing.
"They really are close, aren't they?" Madison sighs as he watches the two freshmen girls disappear into their homeroom.
"It's kinda cute when they cling onto each other like that," Sean sighs with a smile.
"You're not afraid they'll abandon us for each other, are you?" Madison pretends to be worried.
"Do you really care about Asia that much?" Sean is curious.
"I'm more concerned about your girl," Madison admits. "She seems ready to float off on her own at any minute."
"No she doesn't," Sean disagrees. "She's too pathetic for that."
"Maybe you haven't noticed, but she has more friends than you now. I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't need you at all anymore."
"Are you suggesting she's going to leave me?" Sean scoffs.
"It could happen. She's more than capable of handling herself now. She argues with Mina and the other crazy girls in her class and she stays over at Asia's house at least once a week. They don't just do each other's hair either. I hear they talk about boys and sex."
"You're making that up," Sean is in denial. After seeing Nala's reaction to being attacked by Mr. Thalmus a month ago, he has resigned himself to the idea that she will never be ready for such things.
"This is exactly what I'm talking about," Madison sighs while shaking his head. "Now that Peters is friends with some of the popular kids like you, me and Seamus, other guys are starting to take interest. If she feels like she's not getting enough attention from you, she might try to get it somewhere else."
"No way. I've seen the way Nala acts around guys. She either freezes up or insults them outright," Sean continues to enforce his reasoning.
"Which is why I suggested those two might be getting it on," Madison makes a joke to lighten the mood.
"If that's the case then shouldn't you be worried too?" Sean tries to turn the conversation around on him. "Aren't there guys propositioning Kon as well?"
"First off, I won't lose any sleep if Asia goes for a different guy. I don't care who I sleep with. She's just close by right now."
"Kinda cold, aren't you?" Sean is disappointed in him.
"Second off," Madison ignores his statement and continues his rant, "she's not going to go for any of those boys because they all know about her reputation. I don't have to worry about her until she meets someone from a different school or the new freshmen arrive next year."
"Still cold," Sean yawns sarcastically.
"Finally," again Madison ignores him, "she's not even that interested in me. She's just going with the flow of things because she can't trust any other guy right now. I'm like a refuge for her."
"And you're fine playing that part?" Sean is skeptical.
"As I said, she's a hot girl willing to sleep with me." Madison shrugs.
"Except she's not." Sean taps the mark on Madison's face. "It seems she still has some scruples."
"That she does." Madison rubs his cheek while smiling. Despite everything he just said, he seems more impressed with her than he is willing to admit to his best friend. However, in his attempt to explain his relationship with Asia, he has drifted away from his original topic of concern for Sean and Nala's relationship. Perhaps that was Sean's intention. He is a rather stubborn person, refusing to listen when he has already made up his mind. Madison decides to let it go for now. Classes are about to start.
"So what did you make today?" Asia asks excitedly as Nala unpacks her homemade lunch.
"Um, nothing special. Did you want to try some?"
"I'll eat all of Sean's share and tell him you forgot to make enough for him," Asia threatens jokingly.
"I heard that." Sean taps the top of her head lightly.
"Ah, I've been discovered," she laughs.
"So what did you make?" Sean takes his lunch box from Nala.
"I've been meaning to ask, but why do you make him lunch every day?" Madison interrupts them. "Doesn't that mean that Sean hasn't had to buy lunch from the school store of almost a month now? Is he repaying you somehow?"
"It's not that expensive to make food from scratch," Nala quickly explains. She does not want Sean to feel bad.
"Tell you what, I'll treat you to something nice tonight," Sean offers.
"Really?" Madison's eyes light up.
"Not you." Sean pushes him away.
"What about me?" Asia bats her eyelashes at him.
"He can pay for you," Sean passes the job along to his friend.
"Why are you so mean to me?" Madison pretends to sob.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Asia demands. "Are you saying it is a punishment to pay for me?"
"Who would want to pay for a girl who hits them?" Madison points at his cheek.
"That was your own fault." She crosses her arms.
"Wow, you guys are at it as usual," someone interrupts their loud conversation.
"Ah, Trina, Mina, what do you two want?" Asia once again pretends to be polite.
"I wanted to try some of Peters's food." Trina grabs something from Sean's lunch box and eats it before he can stop her. "You really have improved, Peters."
"I said you could call me Nala," she reminds her.
"What's going on here?" Asia looks around with a clueless expression. "Are you two friends now?"
"As if!" Mina spouts before Trina can answer.
"We just realized that we have similar interests," Trina explains.
"By interests, you mean Sean," Madison surmises.
"Her interest in Sean pales in comparison to ours." Mina crosses her arms pompously.
"Can you stop saying things like that?" Trina groans.
"Is there something you need?" Sean is visibly shaking in annoyance.
"Come here." Nala drags both intruding girls away.
"What was that about?" Mina grumbles.
"He's kinda touchy about his popularity, isn't he?" Trina realizes.
"He hates it when people talk about him as if he's not there," Nala explains.
"You sure know a lot about him now." Mina frowns at her.
"Not enough," Nala sighs.
"What's this; trouble in paradise?" Mina snickers.
"I feel like we're just going through the motions of dating," Nala continues to sulk. In truth their relationship felt more real when they were pretending.
"Perhaps he's bored of you," Mina laughs.
"Stop that," Trina scolds her. "Don't mind this idiot. She's just jealous because she lost to you."
"Don't talk like it doesn't concern you." Mina points at her accusingly. "You're no better than me."
"Exactly; I'm no better than you," she doesn't disagree. "I am content to watch you two spin in circles as much as you like. As long as you are stuck in your pretend role, you won't be doing anything obscene with Sean and I don't have to worry."
"Is that really how you see us?" Nala is slightly hurt.
"A week ago, another boy asked me out and I accepted," Trina explains. "We've gone so far as kissing and upper body touching. At first I kept thinking that I wanted to save myself for Sean but then I realized how pointless that was. It's not like he's going to know if I do anything. It's not like I'll know if you two do anything. I should not care about your relationship as much as I do. I like Sean too much to hold it against him if he has a few girlfriends before me or after me."
"Hold it, you're talking as if you will eventually get to be with Sean," Mina interrupts.
"Maybe I will, maybe I won't. Either way I'm not worrying about you anymore, Peters. Sleep with him or don't. Dump him or don't; it has no effect on my plans. I still want him just as much. For that matter, I'm not limiting myself either. I'll date whoever I want in the meantime."
"Trina…" Mina is surprised by her friend. "I had no idea you'd given it this much thought."
"It's Katrina," she corrects her before returning to her seat.
Nala is red in the face after having to listen to Trina's embarrassing monologue. She wants nothing more than to hide her face and forget everything she just heard. Unfortunately it seems like it is Mina's turn to preach to her. "I'm not so forgiving like her," she informs Nala. "I want Sean all to myself."
"Selfish," Nala mutters.
"That's right, I'm selfish," she doesn't deny it. "I made that pact with the other girls because they were weak. They thought they could live vicariously through me. I didn't care as long as I was on top."
"You stifled your chances," Nala continues muttering. "If you'd all offered to date him one at a time you could have split your happiness."
"What about you?" Mina growls. "You have him all to yourself."
"Do I?" Nala tilts her head in thought. "He seems so distant right now. When I asked if we really were dating I said I wouldn't mind if he got himself a few extra girlfriends. I'm content so long as I am at least one of his choices."
"Weak!" Mina shoves her. "You don't deserve Sean. Just like all the other girls I tricked. You don't love him enough to keep him to yourself. Why did you even start dating him?"
"Well, because I wanted a boyfriend and he was there." Nala shrugs.
"That's so pathetic. I mean, I knew you were a piece of work, Peters, but this is just plain sad. If you wanted a boyfriend so badly you should have set your sights a little lower. You have guys who pay attention to you, don't you? Go out with one of them. Why did you have to steal Sean?"
"Well, I like Sean," Nala tries to explain.
"Do you?" Mina doesn't believe her. "You pretty much just admitted any boy will do. You don't even care if he has a girl or two on the side. Why don't you go figure out if you can be happy with someone else. If you can, then leave Sean alone."
"I…" Nala can't think of anything to say. From an objective point of view, everything Mina said makes sense. She didn't like Sean for his popularity or anything of the sort. She started to like him because of the way he treated her; touching her hair and kissing her without reason. Now all of that has stopped. She feels so distant from him. Why are they even still together?
"Get a life, Peters." Mina storms back to her desk in a huff.
Nala saunters back to her seat and sits down. By now her friends are in the middle of a conversation without her. She can't seem to find a place to interject and instead starts to eat her food in silence. For some reason it doesn't taste as good as it did before her chat with Trina and Mina. She continues to sulk for the rest of the lunch period.
"Where are we?" Nala asks while spinning around to take in the building in its entirety.
"The mall, silly," Asia laughs at her. "We're going to do some light shopping."
"The fact that you bothered to emphasize the light part means it will be anything but," Madison disagrees with her.
"Why is it so big?" Nala asks in awe.
"Don't tell me you've never been to the mall before," Madison teases her.
"Why should I have been? I can find anything I need at the convenience store down the street from my apartment."
"That's not the point." Asia drags her toward a clothing store. "This has thousands more options than a simple convenience store. You can get lost in here for hours."
"Light shopping!" Madison shouts at the two girls as they disappear behind a rack of clothing.
"Don't mind him." Asia waves her hand at Madison uninterestedly. "How about we try on something sexy that your boyfriend will like."
"Sean, his name is Sean," Nala reminds her.
"Yeah, whatever," Asia is still uninterested in people's names.
"Why do I have to buy something sexy for Sean? It's not like he will look at it anyway."
"We'll see about that." Asia is already taking several things off of the rack and holding them up in front of Nala. "I just realized, you're a bit bigger than me." She examines her friend's chest closely.
"I'm more athletic." Nala measures the difference between their heights with her hand.
"I'm not talking about that," Asia groans. "It's fun that you're so innocent, Nala, but sometimes I wish you'd get a clue."
"Oh, you mean my chest," Nala realizes. "Sorry."
"It's not anyone's fault," Asia sighs while taking another fleeting glance at the only attribute Nala has above her. Compared to the plain farm girl, Asia is prettier with lighter skin and hair and a better figure. Putting on muscle for track has not made Nala bigger, just less like an hourglass. "Maybe we can use that glittering look your skin has to our advantage." Asia moves on to a different rack.
"I don't glitter," Nala whines. "What do you mean I glitter?"
"Since you quit track and winter started, your skin has gotten paler but you still have that crisp baked look to you. It will match well with eye-popping colors."
"Define eye-popping," Nala remains cautious.
"Here." Asia holds up a pair of ripped jeans and a plaid shirt.
"I can't wear those in the middle of winter." Nala backs away.
"Winter only just started," Asia argues. "If you stay indoors, it'll be fine."
"I'm not staying in doors. I have to walk home after this," Nala argues.
"Then you can change back," Asia pesters her.
"Can't you find something more winter friendly?" Nala begs.
"I may have something." Asia replaces the items on the rack. After some more searching she comes back with a different outfit.
"Are you trying to make fun of me?" Nala asks calmly.
"Come on, just put these on." Asia drags her into a changing room.
"What are you…?" Nala is shocked when her friend starts to strip her.
"It's fine, I've seen you change at my house plenty of times," Asia reminds her.
"It never felt this strange before," Nala whines as she lets her friend continue.
Sean and Madison are both examining a leather jacket in the men's aisle when Asia and Nala finally return to them. Sean's jaw drops the moment he sees Nala. She is wearing a thick white skirt, perfect for winter, with grey winter leggings and red snow boots. She has a thin red jacket underneath a white winter shawl to match the skirt and finally a white hat with earflaps hanging down. "Is something strange?" she asks shyly.
"No, not at all," he answers as calmly as he can.
"Well that had the desired effect," Asia laughs. "What do you think about me, Maddie?"
Madison tears his eyes away from Nala to examine Asia's new outfit, which consists of a black hooded coat reaching her knees with fur around the neck. She also has high heeled black boots and winter leggings like Nala's. "What happened to you?" Madison asks.
"Pretty, aren't I?" she giggles.
"Where did your braids go?" He pushes her hood down and grabs a handful of her light hair, which is long and wavy now.
"I removed them," she answers with a confused expression.
"How am I supposed to recognize you now?" Madison pretends to be upset.
"What is that supposed to mean?" she shouts. "Surely there is a better attribute than my hair style you can tell me apart from other girls with?"
"You do love the color black." He examines her coat again.
"I'm seriously gonna hit you!" she threatens him.
"Violence is the staple of their relationship, isn't it," Sean mutters disappointedly.
"I think Maddie's a masochist," Nala laughs.
"I told you to stop calling me that." Madison glares at her.
"Calm down, Maddie," Sean takes his girlfriend's side. "It just means we're all friends."
"I don't want to be friends with the likes of these two!" he shouts. Neither Nala nor Asia is hurt though as they know he is joking.
"Come on, the arcade is this way." Sean takes Nala's hand to walk ahead of Madison and Asia, who is still grumbling about not getting complimented on her new outfit.
At the end of one side of the mall is a dimly lit carpeted area with loud music and dozens of gamming machines; the arcade. Nala's eyes start to sparkle as soon as she sees it. Her three friends seem less enthusiastic but still excited. "Haven't been here since summer," Madison ponders out loud.
"I was busy all summer," Sean reminds him.
"I've never been too keen on this sort of thing," Asia admits.
"What, really?" Nala is shocked. "It's really fun. Corbin always took me to the arcade on the other side of town on my birthday. It was the best part of moving to the city."
"If this is the best the city has to offer, I'm not sure why you even moved here," Asia remains skeptical.
"Come on, I'll show you how much fun it can be." Nala drags her friend into the dark part of the mall. The music is so loud they almost have to shout to hear each other. They head straight for a set of racing machines in the center, while Sean and Madison go to the edge to shoot hoops with plastic fake basketballs. Asia is obviously worse at racing than Nala but she still seems to enjoy getting to play with her friend.
Over the next two hours, Nala shows Asia every part of the arcade, spending a good amount of money in the process. Every once in a while they cross paths with either Sean or Madison or both, making for an interesting game of hide and seek. Altogether, the four of them seem to have an enjoyable time, even skeptical Asia. It is after six before they finally leave.
"So, where are we going next?" Madison asks when they meet up near a group of vending machines at the edge of the mall.
"Sean promised to treat me to something," Nala reminds everyone.
"And you're supposed to treat me." Asia grins at Madison.
"Why me?" he groans.
"So, where do you want to go?" Sean asks.
"Are there restaurants in the mall?" Nala glances around with sparkling eyes. Her friends can't help but find her innocence adorable.
"Shall we take her to the food court?" Madison asks.
"Court? Is there some kind of trial going on here?" Nala is confused. Her friends simply laugh as they drag her to a large tiled circular area filed with tables and chairs and surrounded by dozens of different restaurants. "What is this place?" Nala is impressed.
"You're so simple." Asia ruffles her hair. She is no longer wearing her hat or shawl as it is far too warm in the mall. They have been stuffed into her school bag.
"How about eating here?" Madison points at a Chinese restaurant.
"I like sandwich shops," Sean argues.
"Who wants burgers and fries?" Asia shouts.
"Can't we eat real food like soup and salad?" Nala complains.
"The good thing about a food court is that you don't have to get the same food as everyone else," Madison explains. "Let's all meet back at this table with whatever we want to eat." He sets his bag down to mark their location. Soon the group has scattered around the circle of restaurants.
Sean is the first to acquire his food as sandwiches take little time to prepare. Madison is next with his rather large serving of sesame chicken with wonton noodles and two egg rolls. Asia arrives third with a hamburger and three boxes of french-fries, enough to share with everyone. Not knowing where to go to get a salad, Nala takes her time and ends up being last to return.
"Are you still on a diet?" Asia asks while taking a piece of lettuce from her tray and eating it. "Not really, I'm just used to eating like this," Nala responds while taking a french-fry from her friend. Sean and Madison quickly do the same. Soon all four of them are swapping food back and forth.
"Hey, I want to try something." Asia bites down on a rather long french-fry and holds out the other end to Nala.
"What am I supposed to do?" she is confused.
"We'll eat it from each end and meet in the middle," Asia explains.
"And end up kissing in the process," Madison laughs at them.
"That's what makes it fun," Asia agrees.
"I don't know," Nala is reluctant.
"Don't you want to kiss me?" Asia pretends to be upset.
"Sort of," Nala admits. "It's a little embarrassing though."
"Hurry up, it's getting soggy in my mouth," Asia mumbles.
"Perhaps she wants it to get soggy," Madison taunts her.
"Shut up," Nala and Asia both shout at once.
"Maybe you were right about them," Sean leans over to whisper at Madison.
"Not you too," Nala groans.
"Here." Asia breaks the french-fry in half and sticks one end into Nala's mouth. Nala has just swallowed it when Asia kisses her on the cheek. "There, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
Nala shakes her head as her face turns red. She is not sure why she is embarrassed at the thought of being kissed by another girl. "Jealous?" Asia smirks at Sean.
"I can do that any time I want." He kisses Nala's other cheek, making her blush even more.
"That looks fun. Her skin must be so soft. I want to try now." Madison leans toward Nala but gets pushed away by both Asia and Sean.
"You can kiss me if you want." Asia offers him her cheek.
"How desperate do you think I am?" He turns away pompously.
"Pretty desperate," she laughs while kissing his cheek instead.
"Hey." He pushes her back into her seat. "Don't do things that can be misconstrued."
"I think we went beyond misconstrued last night," she reminds him.
"That was a bad joke and I'll apologize for it right now."
"I don't need an apology." She is smiling mischievously.
"Wait, what?" His eyes widen. "Last night you slapped me."
"Because I felt like it. Now I feel different." She shrugs.
"What is with you? Why does your mind change like the wind?"
"Is that really what you want to be asking right now?" She is still smirking.
"Hold on. Asia!" Nala tries to calm her friend down.
"What? This is what we went shopping for, remember?" Asia unzips her coat and then unbuttons the front of her blouse to reveal a black lace bra.
"Wait, both of your bought stuff like this?" Sean is suddenly curious.
"Hers is red if you'd like to see." Asia unzips Nala's jacket.
"Hey!" She quickly clasps it shut.
Sean gulps loudly while turning to stare at Madison. "Are we dreaming?" he asks nervously.
"It's not your birthday, is it?" Madison tries to maintain his joking manner.
"Come on already." Asia grabs him by the collar and drags him away from the table.
"Where do you suppose they're going?" Nala asks while fidgeting with her hands between her knees.
"I think you can guess." Sean is staring at her without blinking.
"Do, do you want to see?" Nala opens her jacket again.
"Sort of," he admits.
She quickly undoes the top three buttons of her blouse. "Then…"
"Stop." Sean zips her jacket up quickly. "I said sort of. I didn't say you should start stripping right here."
"Then would you like to go somewhere else?" she offers shyly.
"Look, I know you're trying to be thoughtful here but it's a little weird, don't you think?" He frowns at her. "This isn't like you."
"How would you know what I'm like? You won't even touch me anymore. I guess I really am that plain."
"What are you talking about?" Sean raises an eyebrow.
"Am I gross? Is that it?" Her eyes start to well up.
"No, of course not." He rubs the back of his neck.
"You're lying," she can recognize his nervous tick.
"I'm sorry, I can't get the thought of Mr. Thalmus out of my head," he finally gives a proper reason. "I feel disgusted every time I think of what he did to you."
"He didn't do anything," she cries. "Do you want to check for yourself?" She grabs his hand and moves it towards the hem of her skirt.
"No!" He jerks away from her.
"Come on, isn't this why we're dating?" her voice is hallow and eerie while her eyes are wide and unnerving. "You wanted a replacement girlfriend, didn't you? I know you never slept with Nina. I can do better than her. I promise you can do whatever you want to me."
"What's wrong with you?" He shakes her by the shoulders. "I'm not some sex crazed creep like Mr. Thalmus. I'm not with you because of Nina."
"Then why are you with me?" she raises her voice, drawing the attention of other people.
"Because your brother asked me to look after you," he answers without thinking.
"So you don't really want to be with me," she surmises.
"That isn't what I meant. Hey, wait, Nala." He chases after her as she flees the food court.
"I'm sorry for bothering you all this time," she shouts back at him before disappearing from sight. There is no way he can catch a track runner. He crouches down to the tiled floor while pounding his fist against his forehead. He should have picked his words better. He is not only with her because of what Corbin said; he is too afraid to get close to her because of what Corbin said. He wants to treat her like a treasured belonging; to be looked at but not touched.