Here we go! Final five issues! Four more after this plus a special bonus features update answering questions nobody's asking to wrap up the series! Enjoy!
The rest of the week passed more or less uneventfully as rain fell seemingly nonstop on the island. Marley and her friends continued their friendly greetings with Nina and The Six (+2), continuing Nina's (and their friends') paranoia. She did not especially want to be included with them, and her time off the social radar had been wonderfully relaxing (for her and Ayumi both, really). But once again, the waters around her surged and whirled with drama, and each day was sweat out in the hopes of becoming invisible for the rest of the year. But as she waited at her locker for Ayumi to show up, she was displeased to see Tory approaching first.
Tory: Neens, what's up?
Nina: Uh, nothing, Tory. You?
Tory: *sudden smile* Lots, actually. You and your friends, you're all coming out tonight, right? Big party at my place, you guys remember how to get their, right?
Nina: I can like, hardly forget... Do you remember what happened the last time we were invited to a party at your house? It's like, not an exciting idea to me.
Tory: Aw, Neens, I thought we were past that! I thought we were buds, we don't need to be looking over our shoulders or whatever anymore!
His manner was perfectly amiable. Nina's face went blank and she studied his face closely. It was driving her mad, this thing they were up to, and hanging little hints like that in front of her face made her feel as though she was being taunted. Despite her rising rage, she swallowed her angry retort and suppressed most of her glare and sought words that felt as secretive and conspiratorial as his.
Nina: I just don't know, Tory. If we're all friends now, we should al be honest with each other, and-
Tory: Babe, we're all totally honest with you. If there was anything you needed to worry about, you'd've heard it by now.
Nina: Why did you ask me to prom?
Tory: Heh, 'cuz you're smoking hot and got beautiful tits (despite their smallness)! Not as beautiful as that babe Momo you're always hanging out with, but she's one in a million.
Nina: That's... Kind of insulting, actually...
Nina glowered at him and he laughed her off.
Tory: Hahaha, you take yourself so seriously! You're smart and all, everyone in school knows that, but damn, Neens, lighten up!
Nina: So, if I do decide to trust you, and there's nothing going between us and you guys, then you must be using us to get at someone else...
When Tory laughed at her she stopped listening well and started thinking out loud.
Tory: It's great you can see the world beyond yourself.
He was very smug, unaware of how ridiculous such a statement sounded coming from one of the most narcissistic students in school.
Nina: So if not us, maybe we were pawns in the plot against Chrystal, but that doesn't quite like, make sense because of Momo... Maybe Tsukino? You guys hate her, right?
Tory: Figure that out all on your own now? Really though, just leave it alone. Everyone knows you wanna have no part in this, you gotta have some restraint, and, what, self-control or whatever.
The irony of the conversation hit Nina in the face like a water balloon.
Nina: Pff, that's rich, coming from Mr. Self-Restraint and Self-Control himself. You're like, right though. We don't want any part of this. So why go out of your way to like, do just that?
Tory: *shrugs* Don't know, doctor's orders. But whatever, you guys are all invited. Everyone is, baseball team, football team, the soccer dudes, the volleyballers (so your girl Erisa's going anyways, right?), even some top-rank bandos. S'weird if y'all ain't there.
Nina sighed and scanned the halls around them. Students were whirling past, laughing and shouting and making plans and talking about the week and she felt safely invisible standing in Tory's shadow amidst it all.
Nina: Alright, just don't expect us to drink with you guys or anything...
Tory: Great, see you later.
Tory was suddenly distracted, and Nina was roughly brushed aside as Tory forearmed her out of his way to shout down the hall:
Tory: Kenji you [homophobic slur]! Those are my sunglasses!
On autopilot, Nina grabbed a few extra books to get some more studying done that weekend. She reached in her bag and groped for car keys that were no longer there and cursed her dad for selling her car before looking up to see Ayumi walk up, a small smile on her lips.
Ayumi: *with her usual dryness* It seems we're in-crowd again, whether we like it or not. An invite directly from the source to Tory's party is an invite to the in-crowd.
Nina: You already heard?!
Nina snapped back to reality as she slammed her locker shut. They continued their conversation on their way out to Ayumi's car.
Ayumi: I was invited, too, by Marley just now, in fact. Still a bit strange she's going despite their not being on speaking terms, but I have no desire to analyze that relationship.
Nina: It makes me uncomfortable, Ayumi. I told you what happened last time we were there, and I really like, don't have the best history with any of them. I just... This whole thing like, freaks me out.
Ayumi: I'm with you, Nina. There's obviously a reason I'm hanging out with you instead of them these days. There's an awful lot of shallow garbage that goes along with running with them, a lot of doing things we have no desire to do. But since it seems we're obligated to be a part of this somehow at this point, we can go and cling to each other and be wallflowers.
Nina: That's like, what Tory and Marley both basically said to me, you know? Just sit back and watch.
Nina's manner was dark as they paused while Ayumi unlocked the car. They tossed their bags in the back seat and got in the front and Ayumi turned it on. Pop music playing softly in the background they resumed their conversation.
Ayumi: It would be really nice to just sit at home and relax, you know? Gossip with each other and play a stupid game, anything but this. I guess it has simply been too easy for us recently.
Nina: Hah! Yeah, right, just what I was like, hoping for subconsciously, a social challenge! Seriously though, I guess we'll be okay if we do stick together and we don't have to stay the whole time, you know?
Nina watched quietly as tears welled up in Ayumi's eyes and was surprised at the show of unrestrained emotion in a girl she always thought was so remarkably well-composed.
Ayumi: They're so stupid, Nina! I was dying, laying in a hospital bed dying, and none of them came! It was so hard to move for so long, and none of them helped! I cried every night and none of them cared! None of them!
And Ayumi put her head down in her hands and sobbed out long stored-up tears of anger and frustration and especially hurt for her so-called friends. She barely noticed Nina's hands gently pulling her over, and only began to calm down at the sound of Nina's voice in her ear.
Nina: Shh, it's okay, Ayumi. I care, we all do, me and Kana were always there to help you, you have friends in us. We won't let you down, you don't have to worry.
Ayumi: I'm sorry, Nina, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. You know what it's like though, don't you? The way they are when you're one of them, what they did to you and Kari, I know it wasn't right, but we made fun of you guys anyways, and what Noble did, and he tried to get me, and he cheated on me the whole time, with other cheer girls, with Pamela who was supposed to be my best friend, with Bryn, and then when I ran into a bad situation, they just disappeared, and I... I-
Nina: It's okay, Ayumi, I think that we have similar experiences makes us closer friends than we maybe though before, you know?
Ayumi: Yeah, I didn't even think about it before just now.
She looked at the steering wheel in shame. She sniffled and wiped her cheeks with the front of her uniform and took a deep breath to calm down, suddenly feeling warm and safe in Nina's presence.
Nina: Seriously, we've only really been close at all for like two months, but you can trust me more than you can trust any of them. It's, hehe, it's great and sad at the same time. You don't have to worry about them, just stick with me. With us, all of us. They were there for me last year like we're here for you now.
Ayumi: Yes, I'm with you, Nina, I'm sorry about this right now.
Ayumi managed a small smile as she began to put her usual expressionless expression back on her face.
Ayumi: I'm sorry about before, too, how we were to you.
Nina: Hehe, like I said, it's like, totally okay! I made my peace with it a LONG time ago!
Ayumi: Thanks, Nina. I feel a lot better. Let's get going, I guess we're gonna have to prepare for tonight...