“Paul,” Kammy says, stopping to look at him.  When he doesn’t acknowledge her, she tries again, with an even softer tone.  “Hon, hey, are you okay?  I’m sorry if I’m being too competitive.”

    Embarrassed to have the pretty girl go easy on him in front of everyone, he simply lets out a brief, “I’m fine,” and keeps playing.

    “Mm, okay, hon,” Kammy complies, “but let me know if you need a second to get your thoughts together.”  She then turns to Elf and starts to scold him.  “Entoni, don’t be so hard on your friends,” but then catches herself and ends with her lighter voice, “Okay, Elf?”

    “Yeah, sure.  Sorry, Paul.  I was just trying to help.”  The moment leads to awkward silence as Kammy and Elfie are afraid they’ve angered one another with Paul hating the game and hoping he can figure out how to lose without it being too obvious.

    Eventually, the game does end with Kammy claiming a most dissatisfying victory over the disheartened Paul.  “Paul, I want you to clear your head, then you and I will play again.  We can play without anyone watching, if that helps.  Please, I want a rematch, alright?”

    Paul agrees, looking forward to the promised rematch, but until then, he’s going to find a place to stand so he doesn’t have to endure the torture of Kammy smiling and laughing with the jerk who keeps scolding him.  In reality, he’s just mad at Elfie because of the whole situation in general and Elf’s good intentions combined with what’s obviously going on between him and the prettiest girl in the class makes Ent the obvious target of Paul’s bad mood.

    He tries to stand near Nova G., hoping they’ll start up a conversation, but he knows those days of sympathy passed long ago.  He might try starting a chat with her, but she’s obviously distracted now, so he just stands by and waits.

    “So, which one do you like?” Paul’s heart sinks as he hears this whispered in his ear.  He turns to see it’s the amazing Clara Scott in his bubble.  “Don’t give me that ‘Oh muh gudness, isa’ gurl,’ look, Paul.  You give up the fight as soon as you do that.”

    “I don’t like any girl,” Paul answers.

    Not even pretending to believe him, Clara switches to talking to him privately via the SG nano-chat ability and is more direct.  “Paul, you have three choices here, and it’s obvious ‘no’ is not one of them.  Now, tell me or I might scan your brain.”

    “I’ll tell Lady Duplica you’re violating my personal data.  You won’t like the consequences.”

    Patting him on the back, she consoles him, “It’s okay, I’m sure you’ll find a way to talk to Gigi once I’m locked up in Deader’s Prison in the Drawing Board.”

    “Wait,” Paul looks at her in surprise and nano-chats, “there’s a prison in the Drawing Board?  I thought all evil PACs ceased to exist because the author shouldn’t bring to mind bad thoughts.”

    Giggling, Clara says, “You’re so cute with how you take things literally.  I think if you stop overthinking things, the girls will find that attractive about you.  And if Gigi doesn’t like you, then don’t deny the other girls from seeing the real you just because one person saw it and was disinterested.”

    “But I don’t like Gigi.  I just want to be friends with her like Ent is friends with the other girls.  All the girls get along with all the guys, except me.”  Paul sighs.  “Besides, I’m a teen.  No dating yet, because we can’t marry anyway.”

    “Yeah, yeah, I know.  Did I say anything about dating?” Clara shakes her head in attitude.  This conversation must look funny to Keb and Christy who just see the two motioning without saying anything.

    “Uh, wasn’t that the point of the conversation?”  Paul is confused.

    With a hard facepalm, Justine struggles to find the proper words to help the boy.  “Look, you’re nervous around the girls.  It obviously ruins your day.  Do you want help, or do you secretly enjoy sulking in defeat and only pretend you would like to improve someday?  No one can help you if you treat discouragement like it’s a guilty pleasure.”

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