Kari's house, Friday evening after school...
Kari: Do you seriously make Ayumi drive you around everywhere?
Kari laughed as Ayumi and Nina got out of Ayumi's dark gray A4 in front of Kari's house.
Momo: Where is Kana? No Kana today?
Momo looked at the unopening back door of the car in disappointment.
Nina: Nope, sorry, Momo. They've got her working like, mega hours over at Ribbie's.
Momo: I'm not liking the working.
Momo pouted. She had grown quite fond of the girl, and went out of her way to talk to Kana at school. She loved hearing her call everyone “Sempai.” It reminded her of home.
Nina: She doesn't like it, either. But apparently she needs the money sincer her parents cut her off.
Erisa: Man, everyone's parents are getting stricter.
There had been an incident with Kyosuke in her room with the door closed three weeks prior that she was still fuming over.
Nina: I still can't believe my dad sold my car!
Ayumi: You couldn't drive it, you're moving away in a little while, and he did give you some of the money from the sale.
Nina: Jeez, Ayumi, whose side are you on, anyways?
Kari: Hehe, bite the hand that drives you much?
Ayumi: *shrugs* Well, if it wasn't for Nina, I'd have no friends at all. I'm happy to drive her around. It's nice to be needed.
Erisa: That's certainly one way to look at it.
Nina: Enough about this.
Nina and Ayumi settled themselves on the lawn in front of Kari's house with their friends. It had become a Friday ritual: get together at Kari's after school, then go to either Ribbie's or Ayumi's parents' sushi restaurant for dinner with some light shenanigans following. That mid-May evening was warm and humid and the sun shone dully through the hazy sky. Occasionally Dan-O, Taro, and Kyosuke joined them, but they all had sports related activities to attend to. So, it was ladies' night.
Nina: Marley and Tory broke up or whatever, but I think they're really up to something. Did any of you hear anything about this?
Nina: No one? Nothing?
Momo: I have class with Tory, he was like the everyday thing, I think.
Tory was easy for Momo to remember, but she always had a hard time picturing Marley.
Kari: I haven't heard anything either, but chances are if Ayumi hasn't heard anything, none of us would have. She's our best-connected friend.
Ayumi: No, not anymore. I'm with Nina and you guys all the time, I don't get the constant stream of the information I used to get. Swim Team is much different from Cheer Team.
Nina: I just don't get it. He asked me to prom with her right there watching, and was all nice and polite about it. Marley basically called me paranoid and told me not to worry about it. But she knows me! She knows I'm a drama queen and I won't be able to let it go!
Erisa: Maybe you should do something unexpected and just let it go. You said you think she wants you to make this a big deal. So you could just ignore it.
Nina: Yeah, I said that to Ayumi in the car.
Ayumi: On the other hand, Nina and Marley have been on fairly good terms since the New Year, and I think it is a safe assumption that this doesn't have anything to do with Nina, or us for that matter. So, Nina plays along, maintains the good-ish relations with Marley, and nothing bad happens. I don't think this is a terribly risky path to pursue, and I really am intensely curious to find out what's going on.
Erisa: *skeptically* You really think we can trust Marley?
Nina: *suddenly unsure* She told us nothing's going on between us. Definitely, something's up, though.
Ayumi: I think there's still some trouble between her and Tsukino, or even Pamela, or even Bryn. I don't think that thing with Chrystal was resolved before the attack...
Nina: But why involve me? I don't want anything to do with it!
Kari: Who better to start rumors than the school's biggest drama queen and her ex-cheerleader bff?
Erisa: That is an excellent point. Hahaha, I changed my mind, you're already doing it now anyways, time to go with the flow!
Nina: You're like, so supportive, 'Ris, thanks.
Erisa: Anything for you, Nina!
Nina: Let's keep our eyes and ears open anyways.
Mt. Plains High School, home of the Foresters...
Tsukino: You tell your skanky girlfriend to stop spreading rumors about me!
Nina, Ayumi, and Momo looked over to see Tsukino confronting Tory up the hallway a little bit. Despite the noise their voices could be heard very clearly above it all. Teachers tended to let the students sort their differences out without mediation (of course stepping in when confrontations took on a more physical atmosphere), so even though they were whom Nina's eyes sought out initially, no authority figure was present. Thus, Tsukino squared off with Tory.
Tory: Huh? Who the [expletive] are you, rollin' up on me like this? *turns to go*
Tsukino: Listen, [expletive], I know that skank Marley's been talking [expletive] about me! You better get her to shut her whore mouth!
Tory's face suddenly took on a very calm, almost smug, look. He smiled at her with mocking kindness.
Tory: I don't know how you expect me to do that. You keep yelling at me like she's my girlfriend or something.
Tsukino: She is your girlfriend or something.
Tory: Huh? You didn't hear? We're not talking. You'd think that a popular, hot-ass cheer girl would know these things.
Tsukino: What? Of course I- What? You broke up? The top couple in school splits and I hear nothing?? WTF!!
Tory: I even asked Nina to prom. The school's biggest drama princess, and you hear nothing?
Tsukino: You're taking Nina to prom?
Tory: Find that [expletive] out on your own, [expletive].
Tsukino was too stunned to react and let Tory saunter off triumphantly. She looked angrily off into space for a moment, then swept her eyes across the crowded hallway. She spotted Nina in the midst or an animated (but fake) conversation with Ayumi and Momo, seemingly oblivious to her confrontation with Tory, and her eyes narrowed hatefully. She stormed past them wordlessly, the hallway clearing miraculously ahead of her.
They watched her round the corner and then burst into giggles at the scene.
Nina: Seriously? Did we seriously like, just witness that?
Ayumi: Curiouser and curiouser. You are right, Marley is without a doubt up to something.
Momo: I do not like that girl *meaning Tsukino*. Did Marley make Tory ask you to prom just that she is angry?
Nina: It would be a stupid, roundabout way to go about it. All you have to do to make Tsukino mad is look at her funny.
Momo: Like this?
Momo twisted her face about in a way that resembled an oni. Ayumi didn't bother suppressing her amused giggle, but Nina (fighting her smile the whole way) sighed and rolled her eyes while Ayumi's giggles grew to laughter at each new face Momo made.
Momo: Like this? Like this?
Nina: Well, not exactly, but I'm sure that would work, too.
Ayumi gave Momo a playful shove to get her to stop making faces and her voice took on her more customary aloof tone as she turned the conversation serious once again.
Ayumi: It doesn't make any sense, though. Marley's relationship with Tory had nothing to do with Tsukino. But she sounded mad about Marley spreading rumors about her. Although, she hasn't said anything that isn't true, from what we've heard...
Nina: What do you mean?
Ayumi: Oh, just the usual Tsukino is a liar blah blah blah. Like I said, nothing untrue, but I can see how it would wound her fragile ego.
Momo: *uncharacteristically disgusted* That girl is always crazy, I don't know why is she so popular girl. She is even the year under us, but enters the seniors in-crowd. Is so strange, and no good I think.
Nina: I think she's like, willing to do more with the boys than me and Kari were. I don't know how you managed to stay pure while staying in the in-crowd, Ayumi.
Ayumi: Eh, I pretended not to notice Noble cheat on me the whole time.
It had been relatively easy for her to trade chastity for infidelity and honestly had had no problems with it as it let her remain at the school's top social rung.
Momo: *loudly* Tsukino must have the disease from touching so many boys!
Nina: Jeez, Momo! At least this time it's totally not me getting drama all worked up!
Ayumi: You really let Marley get into your head with that, didn't you?
Nina: Everyone was thinking that anyways...
Momo: Yes, me too. But I love you and it's a fun.
Kenji was a tall, athletic football player who was known for his prowess with the Lady Foresters and his dashing good looks. He appeared in front of them almost out of thin air to lean against the locker and smile at them playfully.
Nina: Ah! Kenji, geez! I told you like a zillion times, there is just no way I'm going to prom with you!
Kenji: Hahahaha, Nina, Nina, Nina. I just wanted to apologize for being so pushy all last month. I guess honestly if a guy gets turned down ten or twelve times a guy should take a hint, right?
Ayumi: What did you say?! Did you just apologize?!
Kenji: Yeah, it was completely uncool, so here I am with a sincere apology.
Kenji shrugged and smiled in comfortable resignation.
Nina: Did Marley put you up to this? Did she make you do this? Where is she? What's in it for you?
Kenji: Hahaha, you must be the single most doubt-filled girl in school! Anyways, I'm a big boy, I can handle it. I'll see you beautiful girls later!
And before any of them could react he turned and disappeared, leaving only his dashing smile imprinted on their minds.
Momo: Everyone is become crazy! This school is become upside-down!
Nina: What is Marley doing?
Nina asked rhetorically, for none of them had the slightest clue.
Ayumi: I think it's not just her but Tory, too. This has to be a team effort.
Momo: I know that Marley does not like Tsukino, but the Kenji and Tory, it makes a difficult puzzle. Is so fun!
Nina: Hehe, fun, right, Momo. Well, we gotta get moving Momo's gonna be late for work!
Momo: Ah! I love my job! I cannot be late!