After retreating in haste from the constant barrage of pointed fingers and cameraphones set to record in her general direction, Marinette really did start to fear that her world was falling apart.
It was bad enough that she turned into a gibbering idiot over Adrien whenever the two crossed paths, but now that Luka had emerged onto her romance radar, the situation was apparently spiralling out of control at an unstoppable rate.
Her already legendary clumsiness was ratcheted up by around 110%... the weird dreams she sometimes had were now a regular occurrence… and now she was even bumbling outside in her nightwear during the day, too.
If 'love' is supposedly this great and magical thing, why am I such a nervous wreck just at the thought of the word… Marinette seethed internally, as her father used his considerable bulk to cover her underdressed body so she could slink back indoors.
"Everyone, get out of here this instant! Unless… you're here for the fresh bagels. In which case, they'll be ready in around ten minutes. Please form an orderly queue towards the side entrance, and I'll be with you shortly." Tom remarked to the sizable crowd, before slamming the door shut and turning to the other two present members of the Dupain-Cheng clan.
"What is going on here?!" The usually jovial man bellowed at his sheepish daughter. "First, your mother tells me you arrived over an hour late for your curfew yesterday, with those designer jeans we bought you for your birthday completely ruined! Now, you're running around the street in your pyjamas at the crack of dawn, and disrupting our early morning business! What's happening with you at the moment, Marinette? You're usually the together and organised one in our family, but right now it seems you don't know whether you're coming or going!"
"We're not mad darling, we're just slightly… concerned." Sabine spoke to her daughter in a slightly softer voice, but like Tom worry was plastered all over her face. "Something is obviously bothering you, and it's affecting your behaviour a lot. Now, you know me and your father try to respect your privacy as much as we can, but if this sort of thing carries on, we think it might be best if perhaps you spoke to someone about it, maybe a professional. Unless… you have something you want to tell us both now?"
Marinette gazed lovingly at her parents who were linked arm-in-arm, the ones who'd raised her, clothed her, fed her, brought her up to be a fine upstanding citizen/superhero and were now pleading with her to divulge all her current troubles.
Could I really tell mother and father about my crush on two boys at once? Describe all the raw emotions running through my head, go into great detail regarding my embarrassing symptoms, reveal my biggest secret to them, apart from the small matter of me being Ladybug?
The answer to that question arrived much sooner than she'd anticipated
No. Freakin'. Way.
So it was with a heavy heart but steely determination that in rapid succession, Marinette kissed both of her parents fondly, grabbed a cooling hot roll from the table and darted upstairs to finish off her morning preparation in the bathroom.
Ignoring Tom and Sabine's shouts of surprise, she exhibited great skill in putting on her usual school attire whilst simultaneously taking small nibbles out of the foodstuff gripped in her jaws.
Sorry Mum and Dad… she thought guiltily, as she next focused on brushing her teeth, but I'm not quite ready for all that drama yet. One day soon I promise I'll sit down and tell you everything, but for now please heed my wishes and let me sort my own head out, before it gets even more messy with your involvement too. Thank you.
After Marinette was done, the agitated girl was able to depart the bakery without further interruption, as both her parents were now hard at work with the day's deliveries and the throngs outside had long since dispersed.
Unfortunately, the clear roads outside did not accurately reflect the blunette's tempestuous mind, and a fierce storm continued to blow in her head on the way to school. She ambled along on her usual route alright, but there was no real perception of her surroundings, on account of the incurable case of 'lovesickness' she'd found herself afflicted with.
...Which, in short order was followed by her absent-mindedly stepping directly in front of Adrien's limousine… and now you're all caught up.
Whatever The Gorilla's (aka Bernard) faults might have been (such as a lack of people skills and a less-than-sunny disposition) possessing poor motoring reflexes was not one of them. Thank God.
Even before Adrien began shrieking like a banshee in his ear to avoid the dazed blunette in front of him, the oversized bodyguard had already taken evasive action. By abruptly slamming on the brakes and sharply twisting the steering wheel to the right, he was able to just avoid the sleepwalking girl by inches, as well as make a very attractive tyre track pattern on the tarmac.
"H-Huh?" Having a large metal vehicle skid by you at high speed tends to rouse even the most dozy of pedestrians, as was the case with Marinette as she finally snapped out of her coma just in time to see Adrien's expensive car grind to a halt. It didn't take long, judging by the scene around her and the shocked faces of passers-by to figure out the events that had just transpired, and what the blunette wouldn't give to just 'bug out' right then.
"I-I didn't see you… I-I didn't know… I-I'm so s-sorry…" those were the stammered utterings of a girl who's preoccupation with her lovelife had almost led to her untimely demise as roadkill. The last thing she needed that stressful morning was someone else getting mad at her for feelings beyond her control, which is why Adrien's sudden interception was so timely and welcome.
Staring The Gorilla down from the backseat as if to let him know 'I got this', the kindly model wasted no time in rushing out of the car to put his coat around the still-shaking Marinette. In the same motion, he gently guided her over to where the limo was still parked haphazardly on the pavement, as if the fact that he'd be giving her a lift now was beyond question.
Ignoring Bernard's disapproving glare to get his friend settled, Adrien waiting until they'd set off again and she wasn't trembling quite so much to enquire as to her state of mind. "Are you okay, Marinette? You kind of just appeared right in front of us back there. Is there anything I can do to help you? You do seem a little pale…"
"W-Wrong? What could possibly be w-wrong?" Marinette reassured her brave rescuer none-too-convincingly, as she put on a nervous laugh. "I-I was just thinking of the big test we have later on, you know, the Math-Eng-Hist-Geog one. Y-Yep, that's the one! I-I t-think?!"
"Wow, sounds like a real toughie! Four subjects all in a single lesson. Let me know if you need anybody to study with beforehand." Adrien attempted to calm down the aggravated blunette with a joke, even though he now had a bad case of the jitters himself. "S-So anyway, sorry for gatecrashing your date with Luka yesterday. If I'd known you and him where there at the same time as me, I would've found somewhere else to stare at the wall and order loads of free water."
"W-Wha… a date?" Marinette reacted somewhat aggressively to Adrien's slight slip of the tongue. "I thought we cleared all this up already, Adrien! Me and him were just there as new friends getting to know each other. There was nothing even vaguely romantic about it! R-Really!"
Well, that's not the impression Luka's gotten. Adrien noted to himself, but wisely kept his mouth shut. "Oh, okay. My apologies, I didn't mean to say that. I actually spent a bit of time with him yesterday after you'd gone, and may I just say he seems quite the… 'intriguing' chap."
"Oh yes, he's great isn't he?" Marinette beamed out of nowhere, blind to the scowl her enthusiastic remarks caused on the grumpy model sitting nearby. "He made me laugh so much, and he just wouldn't stop paying me compliments! He even wanted to buy me dinner, but I had to say no. Mum would've never forgiven me if I'd ruined my appetite. Of course, by the time I got home late, that was the least of my worries."
Even though she didn't see it as a date, sounds very much like one to me. Adrien's inner voice continued to blare away, but once again he bit his tongue. "A-Anyway, we're nearly at school now. Do you and Alya want to hang out at recess with me and Nino? There's this new track he's discovered online he's desperate to show me, and we could listen to it together."
"T-That sounds like a great idea, Adrien!" The blonde's offer seemed to elicit the desired response from Marinette, hopefully taking her mind off you-know-who in the process. "And just before I dashed out of the bakery this morning, I managed to grab some mini eclairs we can share, too. Me and Alya will meet you at the usual spot in the shade, providing you can get a permission slip from Chloe to come and join us, of course."
Both of the teens laughed at that, and as the posh motor came to an abrupt halt just outside the college, their spirits were considerably improved from the lows they'd experienced earlier.
Adrien realised, what with his going to the same educational facility as Marinette, that this gave him automatic home advantage in his upcoming 'contest' with Luka, and boy didn't he intend on using it.
Marinette, on her side, just couldn't wait for the welcome diversion of lessons to begin, and the simple pleasure of hanging out with good friends to take her mind off her ailing heart.
So the two teens greeted with understandable consternation the sight that awaited them as they stepped into Miss Bustier's class that day, just as life was beginning to return to some semblance of normality.
A small group clustered around Marinette's desk, which once parted upon her arrival, revealed a troubling or cryptic sign, depending on who you were.
A single light blue rose, a beautiful fragrant bloom freshly plucked that very day, and upon it attached a note which did not make any mention of the sender at all.
Instead, written on there was 'IT'S ON' in big capital letters, a blunt statement which possibly made sense to only a single other person standing in that room...
...And the guitar-playing gigolo who'd paid for it and dropped it off, naturally.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Next part is up folks, and this where things start to get heated. Grab your popcorn, cancel your plans, and get settled in. It's going to be a doozie… ;)