Nick and Sara were completely oblivious to what had just happened. However, Kevin, Brian, Howie, A.J., and Linz were left there staring nervously at each other and not quite knowing what to do.
"What crawled up her butt and died?" Linz finally asked, breaking the silence. A.J. tried not to laugh.
"I dunno," Brian murmured. Howie, Kevin, and A.J. murmured similar sentiments. All lying, of course, but Linz didn't know about the whole Nick story.
"I think I'm gonna go talk to her," Howie decided after another awkward silence.
"Okay." Brian said it casually enough, but he looked up at Howie with pure gratitude in his eyes.
"All right," Howie said, smiling weakly. "Wish me luck. I'm going in."
When Howie got inside the building, it occurred to him that Kayla had probably just locked herself in the restroom, making it impossible for him to talk to her, and after examining the arcade thoroughly, he found no sign of her. However, just to make sure that was really where she was, he went up to the ticket counter.
"Excuse me, have you seen a girl come through here in the past few minutes? Blonde hair, blue eyes, kind of upset?" Howie asked hopefully.
"Yeah, I saw her," the man replied. "Went out back."
Howie thanked him extensively and then went out the back door. He immediately breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Kayla standing a fair distance away from him. She was facing the other direction, so she wasn't aware of his presence. He noticed her slumped shoulders and back and felt a wave of sympathy for her. Despite her professional attitude toward her work and at times even toward the guys, she really was still a kid. Love was a lot for a kid to handle.
She heard him coming and looked up. Seeing who it was, she sighed. "Howie—" she began.
"Shhh," he said. "C'mere."
He wrapped his arms around her, but she pulled away from him. "I'm not in the mood to talk," she mumbled.
"Kayla, he doesn't mean it," Howie attempted.
"How do you know that?!" she snapped. "He's obviously sick of dealing with my fears and insecurities. Maybe he figures he'll have better luck with someone else."
Howie tucked some hair behind her ear. "Nick loves you," he told her.
Kayla shook her head, and he could see her eyes welling up with tears. "Maybe I should just fuck him some more. That seems to be the only thing that keeps his attention," she said bitterly.
"He's just trying to make you jealous. He just wants you to want him more," Howie said.
"Howie, I do want him. I think he's sexy, and sweet, and amazing, and talented, and...why would I have kissed him, let alone slept with him, if I didn't want him?"
"I know, sweetie. You wouldn't have. But if you look at it from his point of view, you keep pushing him away..."
She started crying. "I hate this," she said, finally letting her friend hold her.
Howie rubbed her arms. "Kayla, if you want this to stop, why don't you just—"
"It's not that easy!" she interrupted. "Do you think I haven't tried? I tried so hard, but I'm just scared...I can't help that," she sniffled.
"Why don't you tell him that instead of making him think you don't want him?" Howie reasoned.
"I did!" she protested. "I didn't just run away...I told him that I just needed more time. I don't know what else to say." She took a shaky breath, getting control of her sobs. "I thought it would help him to hear something like that...I thought it would tell him that I DO want to be with him, I just can't at this exact moment..."
"He probably just thought you were giving him an excuse that you didn't mean," Howie said.
"But I did mean it."
"I know that, but he doesn't."
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"Try talking to him about it," Howie suggested rationally.
She shook her head. "No. I can't do that."
"Because it'll happen all over again. We'll end up kissing, and then I'll get scared and run away, and then he'll get hurt. We'll just keep going in circles."
"Well, what do you think you need to do to fix it?" Howie asked logically.
Kayla folded her arms so tightly she was almost hugging herself. "I think I need to get away from him," she said softly.
Back on the golf course, Nick and Sara finally noticed their missing companions. They went up to Brian and the others.
"What happened to Kayla and D?" Nick asked his best friend.
Brian stared daggers at his best friend, and he would have made a nasty comment, but Sara and Linz were there. "I don't know. She just ran off," he said coolly. "Howie went to see what was wrong."
Nick raised his eyebrows. He had a sinking feeling as to exactly why she had left so quickly. "Did she look upset, or..." he asked hesitantly.
Brian shrugged. "Kind of. I didn't see her very well."
"Hey, here comes Howie," Sara said.
"Hey guys," Howie said.
"What happened?" Nick asked immediately.
Howie looked at him strangely and turned away to address the entire group. "Kayla's not feeling too well, so I'm gonna take her home," he said.
Nick raised his eyebrows. "Is she okay?"
"She thinks it was just something she ate. She'll be fine," Howie said. "I called a cab. I'll see you guys later." And he turned and left.
Kayla was watching TV in her room a little later that afternoon, but her mind kept wandering, and she was finding it impossible to pay attention to the program. When she had gone to use the bathroom a few minutes earlier, she had seen herself in the mirror, and her eyes had looked dull and empty. Sighing, she rolled over onto her back. She had never felt so conflicted about anything before, and it was driving her crazy. She wished she could just freeze time for awhile, learn to accept the fact that she and Nick loved each other and would be in a relationship, and then unfreeze time again and get with Nick and make everything okay. But, of course, things weren't that simple, and from the looks of today, Nick wasn't too keen on the idea of waiting around for her.
Someone knocked on her door. Silently praying that it wasn't Nick, she got up and went to answer it.
Great. It was Sara. Just the person she wanted to see.
"Hey," Kayla said, faking happiness.
"Hi," Sara replied. "Feeling better?"
"Hm? Oh...yeah." That's right. Howie had told everyone she had been feeling sick. Oops.
Sara raised an eyebrow. "You sure about that?"
"Positive." Kayla nodded quickly.
"Kayla," Sara said.
"What really happened?"
She should have known that her friend would see right through her. "It's a long story," she sighed.
"I've got time."
"I'm your best friend. I'm not gonna judge you," Sara said impatiently.
"It's not that," Kayla said. "I just don't want to tell it again."
"Kayla," Sara said reproachfully, "you can't just blow it off. Whatever it is, you have to deal with it."
Kayla shut her eyes. Damn her best friend for knowing her so well. "I know," she muttered.
"So, are you gonna tell me or not?"
"Fine," Kayla relented. "Come in."
"Linz'll wanna know too," Sara pointed out.
"So she will," Kayla realized glumly. "Give her a call
and tell her to come on over."