When Mai woke up, she didn't know where she was.

Why is everything dark? she thought worriedly. Mai took in a deep breath and started to choke; sitting up, eyes wincing at the sudden onslaught of light, Mai coughed and coughed and-

Oh, wait. She knew where she was now.

She was in her bedroom at the Shibuyas.

Mai stopped coughing, now nervously laughing. She looked her face-shaped imprint on the bed sheets, embarrassment creeping up her neck. How tired was I last night? Tired enough to fall asleep face-first in the sheets and nearly choke, apparently.

But why was she tired?

"Oh," Mai murmured, her eyes fluttering shut. "Naru." When Mai said she wouldn't go to sleep, she wasn't kidding - Naru had put her on edge so much, Mai couldn't rest, no matter how hard she tried. She rubbed her neck, wincing at her muscles' protests, no thanks to the hours she spent it in the same position. Apparently Naru never sleeps, if last night was anything to go by.

So, Mai had to act like she had a good couple hours of sleep (which she didn't), ignore the dark bags under her eyes (which didn't go unnoticed by the others), and then help pack up and try not to break something (which she ended up doing. Who knew cameras were so expensive?). She fell asleep on the ride home, and when she was back at the mansion, Mai made a bee line for her bed without helping put equipment away.

"I'm gonna get an earful from Ayako later," Mai groaned. She scratched her head, pouting. What time was it now? She reached across the bed to grab her phone. She blanched.

"I slept for a whole day!" she said. "Aw, shoot, now he'll know that I didn't get any sleep last night, and he's going to be so damn satisfied about that, that pompous jerk," she finished irately, falling backwards onto the bed. Stretching her back, Mai yawned and rubbed her eyes, still not fully awake. "Hungry," she mumbled, stumbling out of bed and towards the bathroom.

She emerged a couple of minutes later, slightly more awake. Her stomach growled. Mai made a face and patted her stomach.

"Time for food," she said. After opening the door and checking for Naru, Mai went down the stairs and to the kitchen.

"No Naru here, no Naru here, no Naru-"

"Good morning, Mai." Mai shrieked and jumped back. Luella laughed and Martin smiled from their spot at the table.

"I didn't mean to scare you, dear," he said. Mai laid a hand across her heart and sighed in relief.

"It's fine," she waved their worries away with a smile. "How did you guys sleep?"

"Just fine, dear," Luella said. She motioned towards the empty chair in front of them. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, I did, thank you for asking." Mai sat down. She had a nagging sense that Martin and Luella wanted to talk about more than how she slept. As if sensing Mai's curiosity, Luella smiled, a smirk behind her eyes.

"So," she began after sipping from her mug, "I heard about your little date with Noll."

"Luella," Mai pouted. Martin sighed as Luella's grin stretched. Mai blanched. I swear to God, if Naru walks into the kitchen right now, I might send somebody to the afterlife myself.

"And I must say, it wasn't quite what I expected."

"I don't think anyone expected it."

"Yes, but that's Noll for you," Luella sighed. Martin shrugged and lifted his mug in begrudging agreement. Luella patted his hand appreciatively before saying "Moving on, the date didn't go as planned, yes? Which mean we have a problem."

"We . . . do?" Mai leaned back and blinked.

"Yes, Mai, we do," Luella replied airily. "So Madoka and I were talking a bit-"

"-Lord help us all," Martin mumbled. Luella glared and smacked his arm. Martin winced, but pretended he said nothing as he sipped his coffee. Shooting him another scowl, Luella turned back to Mai.

"As I was saying, Madoka and I were talking, and we came to a conclusion." Luella leaned forward. "You're not getting your money."

"What?" Mai nearly fell out of her chair. "B-But I went on the date! I did everything right!"

"Yes, you did, but that's not the problem, dear." Luella leaned back, crossing her legs and swirling her coffee. She took a sip while Mai tried to find her bearing. Luella set the mug down and folded her hands, smiling as she said "You did nothing wrong. Noll, however, doesn't know how to treat someone properly, and we wouldn't feel it's right to send you home after all of that."


"The whole point of this date was to teach him some social skills. He doesn't need to find a romantic partner, of course, but I figured we'd have a higher chance of finding a person who'd want to spend time on a date with him than work up a friendship, and if things went right then a friendship could take off . . . But getting back to the point"-she sipped her drink, then clicked her tongue-"he lied to everyone and acted quite rude, and that's not fair to you.

"So, we're going to make you a deal," Luella grinned. "I'm doubling the payment if you stay for another date."

Mai stared, shell-shocked. Her mouth quickly became dry as it hung open. A minute passed, and she still hadn't found her voice. Martin sighed at the victorious look on Luella's face, reaching over for the newspaper and another sip of his drink. Mai swore she could've heard him mutter "We're gonna have to pay for Mai's therapy bills after Luella too . . ."

"So that's a yes, then," Luella hummed and continued before Mai could interrupt. "Which is perfect, because I just so happen to have a bunch of college brochures sitting around here." She slid them across the table innocently. "Who knew that they'd keep sending them after Noll was done? And since no one in this house is going to school - except you, dear - and we don't really want to put these to waste. . . ." She trailed off with a glint in her eye.

"But I don't have the money," Mai insisted.

"Nonsense, we'll pay for you."

"No!" Mai shook her head. "No, I can't accept that. You've both done so much for me already, there's no need to do more."

"Mai, dear," Martin said gently, "how much longer will your professors allow you to stay here? You can't keep up with your classes online when it was meant to be done in person. You know this."

"I'll figure it out, it's no problem," Mai smiled nervously. He did have a point, but she winged the entirety of freshman year - she could do it with sophomore year too.

"Besides, Martin lectures at many of these colleges," Luella said, "so we can get a discount."

"But surely the colleges wouldn't lower the price because Martin works there?" Mai said slowly. Luella gave an ominous chuckle.

"Oh, I've bargained with them before. They know better than to fight me on what I want."

"We almost had to pay for their therapy bills too after that fiasco with Luella," Martin sighed again. "Some of my colleagues are still too afraid to look me in the eye."

". . . Right," Mai scooted her chair back a bit and made a mental note to be wary of Luella. "Still, it's no trouble, I can talk to my professors-"

"I've already done that," Luella said cheerfully. Mai shrieked a "What!" and Martin gave a long sigh again. "It was no trouble at all! Really, it may have taken a while, but I was able to come up with a plan for you. If you take these classes"-she slid a list over to Mai-"and do these projects"-she added another piece of paper to the pile-"then you'll be able to pass all your classes and continue on with your college career without a hitch."

Mai stared at the paper, speechless. Luella gave a victorious chuckle and took back the papers,

"But for now, it's time for breakfast! Here, I have some eggs to fry up, I'm sure we can add them to-"

Mai, not paying attention, reached over and grabbed a college pamphlet. She wordlessly flipped through the pages, still in shock, until Martin gently laid a hand on hers. Mai gave a smile, which Martin returned, before Mai stood up.

"Here, Luella, I know an easier way to cut the vegetables. If you do it this way . . ."

A/N: To all of those who left reviews, thank you so much! I appreciated you all beyond belief :) I'm still unsure where to end up with this story, especially because publishing this story has inspired me to pick up other ideas that I've neglected for a long time, so I am currently in the process of working on them. But who knows what the future looks like? I certainly don't right now, lmao.

I hope you all stay safe during this time, and thank you again for the sweet words of encouragement.