After Zack watched Jasper and Charlotte drag away the alleged superhero, Kid Danger, he turned to his brother and friends, who were all gawking at him, while Henry’s little sister, Piper, was staring at the ground, clearly deep in thought.
“Okay, what the hell just happened?” Zack blurted out, his mind reeling.
“I can’t believe you almost got arrested by Kid Danger,” Woody declared in disbelief. “You’re so lucky!” he whined, and Zack turned to stare at him, his eyebrows furrowed. Woody looked to Piper then. “It’s so cool to finally meet you in person! You’re taller than I thought you’d be. Of course, I’m not used to seeing you outside of a tiny screen,” he concluded as he held up his fingers to make a rectangle, trying to mimic the shape of a smartphone screen. Cody crossed his arms over his chest as he let out a sigh.
“Can somebody please start explaining some things?” he pleaded, exasperation in his tone.
“She’s president of the Man Fans,” Woody replied, gesturing to Piper.
“That much we gathered,” Cody responded, obviously trying to keep his composure.
“And what exactly is a Man Fan?” Zack interjected, holding up an index finger.
“It’s the official fan club for Captain Man and Kid Danger,” Piper answered, finally looking up from the ground to peer at Zack.
“I tried to become a member before, but the old president wouldn’t let me join since I don’t live in Swellview and can’t attend the meetings. But after Piper took over, she let me join and I’ve just been attending the meetings virtually,” Woody explained.
“But the better question is, why was Kid Danger going after you?” Piper inquired as she stepped directly in front of Zack, pointing to him as she continued to study him with a contemplative expression. By the tone in her voice and the way she was looking at him, Zack wasn’t sure if he was actually meant to answer that question or if it was supposed to just be rhetorical.
“Yeah, I mean… what in the world did you do that would warrant an arrest ?” Bailey questioned in bewilderment as she stepped in front of Cody in order to get a better look at Zack. Zack met her gaze as he shrugged.
, Zack. This is serious!” Cody finally snapped as he scowled at him.
“Alright!” Zack retorted, holding his hands up to signal for him to calm down. “First you have to promise that you won’t snitch.”
Cody stared blankly at him.
“Well, if you get arrested !”
“But, I didn’t,” Zack shot back.
“Yeah, but you were going to. You just got lucky.”
“Maybe so, but I still didn’t.”
Cody exhaled sharply, and he and Zack started arguing, with each of them getting louder as they tried to drown out the other.
“Guys,” Bailey said, but they ignored her. “GUYS!” she roared, putting herself in between them as she held her hands out to both, and they finally stopped bickering while still shooting daggers at one another.
“Cody promises not to say anything as long as you don’t actually get arrested,” Bailey continued through gritted teeth, giving Cody a serious expression. They kept their eyes locked on one another, as if Bailey was challenging Cody and Cody was trying to decide whether it would be worth it to fight back or not. He finally let out a sigh of defeat.
“Fine,” he grumbled with a roll of his eyes. Zack pushed the hair from his face as he started to think it over.
There was that fake I.D. he got a week before coming on board, but he hadn’t actually used it yet.
There were a few things in his cabin that he might get in trouble for, but nothing that could be deemed illegal .
Zack grimaced as he looked at Cody.
“Okay, you have to promise me that you’re not gonna freak out.”
Cody sucked in his lower lip as he continued to glare at his twin.
“I can’t make that promise.”
Zack rolled his eyes as he exhaled sharply.
“What is it?” Bailey questioned coolly, putting a soothing hand on Cody’s shoulder, staying calm for the both of them.
Well, I might have-” Zack began, stopping mid-sentence as his eyes flicked to Piper. He stayed silent, his gaze now fixed on her as his mind searched for a euphemism to use so he wouldn’t have to say the actual word right in front of her.
“You might have what?” Cody barked, his tone sharp. Zack looked between his brother and Bailey for a minute.
“I might have… Brownie mix stashed in my cabin,” he stated, squeezing his eyes shut for a beat as he mentally reprimanded himself for not thinking of a better way to describe it.
“What do brownies have to do with anything?” Bailey remarked, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion as Cody narrowed his eyes, obviously just as perplexed.
“Ooo! I want brownies!” Woody uttered excitedly.
“How is brownie mix illegal?” Cody muttered, his tone more puzzled than angry at that point, “And when have you ever baked anything?”
“Okay, it’s not the brownie mix itself,” Zack sighed, “How do I say this? What do people sometimes put in brownies to make them… special?” He kept his eyes on Cody, silently hoping for a second that twin telepathy was an actual thing so that maybe he might get it.
Judging by the way Cody was just staring blankly at him, that definitely wasn’t the case.
“Love?” Cody answered, his clueless expression deepening, and Zack rolled his eyes as he let out a sharp breath.
“Yes, Cody, I have love stashed in my cabin,” he sneered, “Aren’t you supposed to be the smart one?!”
“Ohh! I know!” Woody chimed in eagerly as he snapped his fingers together, “Is it chocolate chips?”
Zack bit his lower lip as he looked at Woody incredulously.
“Woody,” he stated, and Woody just nodded with a toothy smile, blissfully unaware of Zack’s growing frustration. “How are chocolate chips illegal?”
Woody’s face slowly faltered.
“Right,” he mumbled.
“He clearly means weed,” Piper deadpanned, and Zack pinched the bridge of his nose as he squeezed his eyes shut for a few seconds, gesturing to her to indicate that she was right. “I’m thirteen, I’m not stupid,” she added, acid in her tone as she glanced at Zack and he opened his eyes again to meet her gaze.
“Zack!” Cody hissed as he took a step towards him. “Drugs?! Seriously?!” he bellowed, and few heads turned to look at them.
“Would you keep your voice down?!” Zack growled and Cody put his hands up in defense as he backed off a little.
“I’m sorry, but! Really?!” he seethed. Zack rolled his eyes, putting his hand out to Cody to signal for him to wait a moment as he turned his attention to Piper. He could see Cody out of his peripheral vision, putting his hands on his hips as he began to pace impatiently.
“Please don’t tell Henry I told you that,” Zack begged, his eyes meeting Piper’s, “He still hates me, and I’m feeling like finding out from his little sister that I have drugs stashed in my cabin is not the best way to get on his good side.”
“Don’t worry,” Piper replied breezily with a dismissive wave of her hand, “Keeping things from Henry is my specialty.”
“You better hope none of us say anything, considering you could get kicked off the boat, or worse!” Cody snarled, throwing his hands up.
“But that still doesn’t explain Kid Danger,” Piper continued, her voice calm, clearly ignoring Cody and his hissy fit, and Cody looked to the sky in exasperation, “He wouldn’t go after you for something like that,” she said, her eyes glazing over in thought. Cody’s eyes landed on Zack again as he gave him a disapproving glare that could rival their mother’s.
“I thought you said you and Henry were friends now?” Bailey commented, obviously also ignoring Cody.
“I might have exaggerated a little,” Zack responded as he made a gesture with his thumb and forefinger.
“A little?” Piper scoffed, “He hates you.”
“But, he’s coming around! You’ll see,” Zack finished with a confident smile. Both girls watched him with skepticism etched on their faces. Bailey squinted a little as she kept her gaze glued to him.
“You know, I’ve never seen you work this hard for a friendship… or anything, really-”
“Hello?!” Cody snapped, waving his hands around wildly to try and get their attention. Zack pushed the hair from his face. He could see Piper beginning to sneak away from them out of the corner of his eye and he internally wished that he could do the same.
“It was nice meeting you!” Woody called after her, blowing her covert exit, and she gave him a lackluster wave before disappearing. Zack met Cody’s gaze again to see that his eyes were practically bugging out his head.
“Oh, would you unclench?” Zack remarked, “I’ve been getting that stuff since sophomore year and I haven’t been caught yet.”
“Just because you haven’t been caught before doesn’t mean you never will,” Cody shot back, “You’ve obviously been caught for something ,” he finished, gesturing to the spot where Kid Danger had been standing.
“You heard mini Swellview, though. He wouldn’t go after me for that,” Zack responded casually with a half-hearted shrug.
“That’s true. If the comic books are any indication-” Woody started.
“Yes. Because I’m sure the comic books are just like real life,” Cody interrupted sarcastically.
“As I was saying,” Woody grumbled through gritted teeth, shooting daggers at Cody for a beat before looking at Zack once more, “Piper’s right. Captain Man and Kid Danger don’t usually go after people for small stuff unless they’ve got nothing better to do. And if he’s here, then that probably means something major is happening on this ship. Are you sure you haven’t done anything?”
“Yeah, Woodstock, I’m pretty sure,” Zack sneered, “I think I’d remember if I did something that was both big and illegal. Besides, I promised Moseby I’d behave for a little while so I thought I’d at least wait a day before I started my usual antics.”
“There’s something about this whole thing that isn’t adding up,” Bailey commented, her arms crossed over in front of her and her eyes glazed over in thought as they stayed glued to the place where Jasper and Charlotte had hauled Kid Danger away just minutes ago. “There’s just something about that Kid Danger guy...” she added, trailing off.
“It was a bit odd that he seemed confused by the question ‘what are the charges?’” Cody pointed out as he turned to look at his girlfriend, his voice much calmer now.
“Exactly. And how did he even know you were you?” she questioned, finally tearing her gaze away to look at Zack as she pointed to him.
“What do you mean?” Zack asked, furrowing his eyebrows.
“He said that he didn’t know you personally, but he was still able to tell the difference between you and Cody-”
“Damn. That’s what I should’ve done. I should’ve told him you were Zack,” Zack interrupted, lightly smacking Cody’s upper arm. Cody shot him a dirty look.
“Yes. I’m sure that’s her point,” he deadpanned, his eyes lingering on his twin for a beat longer before he turned back to Bailey. Bailey rolled her eyes before continuing.
“I know there are enough differences between the two of you that most people can tell you apart; even people that might’ve just met you. But, would someone who’s supposedly a total stranger be able to do the same?” she concluded.
“You’re right. He didn’t really even hesitate,” Cody acknowledged, a contemplative expression crossing his face, “Even London still mixes us up at times, and she’s known us for at least four years now.”
“I don’t think that’s so much she can’t tell the difference as it is she just doesn’t care,” Zack said flatly, and Cody’s expression told Zack that he agreed with that statement.
“So... You think maybe it’s somebody that we know?” Cody asked after a moment as he studied Bailey.
“Maybe,” she replied, but there was a hint of doubt in her voice, “Or maybe just somebody that knows you,” she added, her eyes snapping to Zack. The four of them remained silent as they considered Bailey’s words.
“Well, whoever he is, I’m definitely not a fan,” Zack announced finally.
“Aww. Why not?” Woody cried, disappointment etched across his face, and Zack just peered at him in response.
“You know, when you asked me if I wanted to hang out Friday night, I assumed you meant we’d do something like laser tag or bowling,” Jasper muttered as Henry bent down so that he was at eye-level with the lock on Zack’s bedroom door.
“Just keep watch,” Henry grumbled as he inserted a hairpin he had stolen from Piper into the lock. He had convinced a very reluctant Jasper to help him search Zack’s cabin for evidence that might point to him being the hacker, while Charlotte had told them both that they were on their own. Bailey had invited her, Piper, and Piper’s roommate, to a sleepover in her cabin, and the memory of Charlotte telling them very sternly that she “ deserves the night off ” flashed briefly in Henry’s mind.
“Can you explain again why we’re even doing this?” Jasper whispered as he surveyed both ends of the hallway. Henry exhaled sharply with a roll of his eyes.
“I told you; I spent all week with Zack and I’m no closer to proving he’s Mystica or figuring out how to get his phone. And it’s getting especially difficult since he’s spending less and less time around me,” Henry explained, never taking his eyes off the door. “It’s almost like he’s...starting to avoid me or something,” he mumbled.
“Gee, I wonder why,” Jasper responded sarcastically. Henry paused, turning to stare at him.
“Okay, why’d you say it like that?” he demanded, letting his arms rest for a beat.
“Maybe because you’re always giving him the cold shoulder? Every time he’s around you give him a death glare-”
Jasper ignored his interruption as he continued on.
“And some of the things you say to him are a little...” he trailed off, his gaze flicking to the floor. It was as if he was trying to choose his next words carefully, and Henry stood up to face him.
“A little...?” Henry pressed.
“...Harsh?” Jasper finished finally, meeting Henry’s gaze.
“Besides the first couple of days we came onboard, name one instance.”
“Wednesday afternoon in class,” Jasper remarked, his tone sharp, as he turned to lean on his shoulder so that he was fully facing Henry now, “He asked you if you had plans this weekend and you replied, and I quote, ‘avoiding you.’”
Henry stayed silent for a beat.
“Okay... But that’s-” Henry began, but Jasper cut him off again.
“And there was earlier today when the group was talking about their plans for tonight and Zack mentioned something about a date and you said, and again I quote, ‘how unfortunate for her.’”
“I’ve got three more examples just like that ready to go,” Jasper interjected. Henry opened his mouth to respond but immediately shut it. He racked his brain for a response, tried to find some way to defend himself, but when he couldn’t, he knelt down to start picking at the lock again. “So…” Jasper proceeded, his tone much less severe, “can you really blame Zack for starting to avoid you a little? I mean, would you want to be around you?”
“No...” Henry said with a resigned sigh, “But, that’s because I don’t want him around,” he finished defensively.
“And you’ve made that pretty clear,” Jasper pointed out, the tiniest hint of an edge returning to his voice. “My point is, if you don’t find what you’re looking for in there,” he continued, gesturing to Zack’s bedroom door, “And you don’t want him to shut you out completely, you’re gonna have to chill a little. You catch more flies with sugar.”
“What?” Jasper replied with a puzzled look.
“The expression is ‘you catch more flies with honey.’”
“I knew that,” Jasper commented confidently, and a small grin crossed Henry’s face, but it quickly faded as he considered Jasper’s words. Deep down he knew he was right, but he was silently hoping they’d find something and it wouldn’t have to resort to that. A second later he heard a familiar click, and he turned the doorknob, pushing the door open slightly as he shot a satisfied smile to Jasper. Amazement crossed Jasper’s face as Henry straightened back up.
“How do you even know how to do that?” Jasper inquired as he followed Henry into the room. Henry’s nose crinkled from the pungent smell that assaulted his nostrils immediately upon entering.
“I learned how in the hopes that Ray might stop kicking down doors all the time,” he answered, using the back of his hand to cover his nose and mouth as he started stepping over dirty clothes that littered the floor, the carpet underneath barely visible.
“Did that work?”
Henry paused for a moment as his eyes flicked down.
“Not really,” he said, and Jasper nodded as if that was the exact answer he was expecting.
“Alright, a hundred bonus points to the first person who finds the weed that’s stinking up this place,” Jasper commented as he shut the door behind him.
“I knew it smelled familiar,” Henry responded, “Although, I’m pretty sure it’s more than that,” he added, his face twisting in disgust.
“Oh, there’s definitely more than that, that’s just the most prominent.”
“How hasn’t he been kicked off this boat yet?” Henry inquired out loud, intending for it to be more rhetorical than anything else.
“Maybe because one of his closest friends is London Tipton.”
“Still,” Henry said, his eyes scanning the room.
One of the bi-fold closet doors was wide open and it looked as if most of his stuff had been carelessly tossed inside. Any articles of clothing that weren’t strewn about the room were hung haphazardly on hangers, and his bed, which was actually two beds pushed together to make one, was unmade and messy. The wall where the head of his bed was situated was made to look like a beach at sunset, with a porthole right smack dab in the middle of it. A skateboard and a guitar hung on the wall opposite the closet, along with a banner from Ireland, decorated in the colors of the Irish flag. Various pictures hung above his desk.
“What exactly am I looking for?” Jasper asked, both of them taking care to not step on anything.
“Anything that might point to Zack being Mystica,” Henry answered as his eyes skimmed the pictures above Zack’s desk. Most of them showed a much younger Zack, Cody, London, and a blonde girl that looked to be around London’s age, in what Henry assumed was the Tipton hotel. There were a few closeups of an amp and someone playing the guitar that was dangling off the wall on the other side of the room.
Henry observed for a moment how carefree and happy Zack looked in all of them, and for a fleeting second, he felt a twinge of jealousy.
“Hey, look!” Jasper announced, and Henry looked over to see Jasper standing in front of Zack’s open closet, “Someone finally beat you in the ugly flannel department,” he teased and Henry playfully glared at him for a beat. Jasper closed the one door that was originally closed when they entered before he went to the other side of the room.
“You think he knows how to play this thing?” he questioned, and Henry turned around slightly to see him eyeing the guitar on the wall.
“How would I know?” Henry said, and Jasper shrugged. Henry’s gaze moved to the desk as he approached it before he began opening up the drawers. They were filled mostly with junk; postcards from places Henry assumed Zack had visited so far, pens and pencils, and half-finished homework assignments from years prior. He closed each of them carefully, trying to be sure that they left the room exactly how they had found it, although it already appeared as if someone had ransacked the place, so he wondered for a second if Zack would even notice.
He started combing through the papers laying on top of the desk, and he instinctively frowned when he started reading some of the comments left on them in bright red ink by the teachers; things like Terrible , Very bad job! , and other negative remarks were sprawled across the top of them all.
As much as Henry hated it, he could feel himself sympathizing with Zack in that moment. He didn’t exactly get the best grades himself, and he knew what it was like to have teachers that punished you for factors outside of your control.
“Wow. I didn’t know people even used CD’s anymore,” Jasper remarked, snapping Henry out of his train of thought, and he turned to see Jasper holding a stack of CDs, his brows knitted together in a frown. “Guns n’ Roses, Queen, Twisted Sister, Metallica… You think he listens to anything from this century?” he finished, flipping through the albums in his hands, stopping to observe the back of each one for a beat.
“I’m not really interested in his music taste, Jasp,” Henry quipped as he turned back towards the desk. He cocked his head to the side slightly as something at the bottom of the pile of papers caught his eye. He pulled it out and immediately recognized it as the old, beaten up black spiral notebook Zack was often doodling in during class. It looked as if Zack had dragged it through hell and back. The corners were rounded out from years of wear and tear, and there were a few deep creases on the cover. Henry started to open it when he heard Jasper exclaim excitedly behind him.
Henry abandoned the notebook as he swiftly made his way to Jasper’s side.
What? Did you find something?” he questioned hopefully.
“Yeah,” Jasper answered as he turned the picture frame in his hand so that Henry could see it, “It’s a photo of Zack at Pride.”
Henry looked down at the photo to see that it did indeed look like Zack and a few of his friends in the middle of a Pride parade on a sunny day. He was on one side of the group, with Woody on the other, London at Zack’s side, and the blonde Henry had seen in some of Zack’s other photos at London’s other side, squished in between London and Woody. They all had their arms around each other’s shoulders, huge smiles plastered on all of their faces. London had a bi pride flag painted on her cheek, the other girl in the photo with a similar face painting except it was of the lesbian pride flag. Woody had an ace flag tied around his neck so that it was flowing behind him like a cape.
“What does this have to do with anything?” Henry interrogated, a hint of aggravation in his tone as he looked up at Jasper. Jasper met his gaze with a grin.
“It could mean that I was right and he does have a crush on you.”
Lately, Jasper had gotten it in his head that Zack wasn’t actually the hacker, and the reason why he was trying so hard with Henry and making subtle comments was because he liked him; that his little quips were meant to be taken as a subtle form of flirting.
But, Henry knew that wasn’t actually the case.
He knew deep down that it was just Zack’s game, a way to get inside his head.
Henry rolled his eyes, his eyebrows pressed together as he took the picture from his friend a little forcefully and placed back on the shelf.
“Focus,” he snapped, and Jasper rolled his eyes. Henry made his way back over to the desk, inspecting the notebook he had been looking at just moments prior. He began thumbing through it and was stunned to find that it was filled with intricately detailed drawings. There were popular superheroes, landscapes, and some portraits of the blonde in the photos from the hotel, along with a couple of other girls Henry assumed Zack was either friends with or dated at one point or another.
As much as he didn’t want to admit it, even to himself, he was impressed with how remarkable they were. He marveled at the thought of this past week where he was sitting in class, listening to the teacher drone on, entirely unaware that right next to him, Zack was creating masterpieces with just a crumbling notebook and a No. 2 pencil. As he flipped to the end, he found several pages full of comic book style panels, featuring Zack and Woody as a superhero team, fighting their arch-nemesis that was made to look a lot like Cody. Henry smiled a little, sliding into the desk chair as he studied the artwork, delicately running his fingers over the page, careful not to smudge anything.
“Tony Hawk?!?!” Jasper bellowed, and Henry whirled around, snapping out of his daze as he frowned at Jasper.
“Shhh!!!” he hissed, pressing his index finger to his mouth for a second, “You want people to know we’re in here?!”
“Sorry. But, check this out,” Jasper continued in awe, his voice much softer now as he pointed to a picture on the wall. “There’s literally a photo of him skateboarding with Tony Hawk. This guy is so cool,” he gushed, his eyes sparkling. Henry let out a huff as he stood up, closing the notebook and putting it back at the bottom of the pile where he found it.
“He’s a criminal, Jasper,” he deadpanned, although he wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince Jasper or himself of that at that moment.
“Says you!” Jasper shot back, “And so far you have no proof of that.” Henry pressed his lips into a thin line, shooting a look to his friend before making his way over to Zack’s bed. He winced as he stared down at the pile of dirty clothes and shoes lying in the space between the bed and the closet.
“ I really don’t want to do this, ” he thought.
“Dude, I’ll give you ten bucks right now if you get down on the floor and look under Zack’s bed,” Henry said as he pointed to the floor in front of him, meeting Jasper’s gaze.
“Fifty,” Jasper countered and Henry’s brows snapped together.
“Twenty,” he retorted, a trace of disbelief in his tone. Jasper narrowed his eyes as he kept his gaze glued to Henry’s.
Henry exhaled sharply, pressing his lips together as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“Fine. Deal,” he grumbled and Jasper shot him a satisfied smile, making his way over to him, before he knelt down onto the floor, getting on his back and sliding the upper half of his body under the bed.
“See anything?” Henry asked, staring at the spot on the bed around where Jasper would be. He could hear things moving, like Jasper was rummaging through them.
“Not really,” he answered, his voice slightly muffled, “there’s some Victoria’s Secret magazines addressed to London aaaaaaaaand,” Jasper continued, pausing for a few seconds while Henry guessed he was scouring through stuff, “An unopened pack of cigarettes,” Jasper finished, sliding back out for a moment and sitting up as he turned the pack over in his hand, looking at Henry.
“Anything else?” Henry pressed, his tone slightly desperate. A shred of irritation flashed in Jasper’s eyes as he went back under.
“No. Just more dirty clothes, some candy bar wrappers, and an empty pizza box.”
Henry let out a sigh as he started to pace.
“There has to be something that we’re missing-”
“What exactly are you looking for?” a familiar voice rang out in the room, and Henry froze in place, his eyes going wide as his blood turned to ice.
“Henry?” Jasper said slowly, and Henry waited several seconds before answering.
“Please tell me that’s not who I think it is,” he pleaded, the apprehension in his voice coming through crystal clear. Henry cautioned a look to the door, and his heart leapt into his throat when his eyes landed on Zack watching him from the now open doorway. Jasper started crawling out from under the bed as Zack took a few steps into the room, his eyes fixated on Henry.
“You know, Swellview,” he said, his lips curling into a smirk as he swept the hair from his eyes, “When I called you a stalker, I meant it as a joke, not a suggestion.”
“I wasn’t stalking-”
“What are you doing in here?” Zack demanded without waiting for Henry to finish. Jasper was on his feet once again, and he and Henry shared wide-eyed looks as Jasper made his way to Henry’s side.
“You know what, Jasp?” Henry stated as he pretended to survey the room, reaching a hand out to grab Jasper’s shoulder, “I’m just now noticing that this isn’t our cabin.”
“You know?” Jasper responded, pretending to look around as well, “I see that now,” he said, and he and Henry shared another look.
“We should go,” Henry declared, pointing an index finger at the open door, and he and Jasper made a beeline for the hall.
“Hold it!” Zack declared, holding his hands out to stop both of them, and the two boys stopped dead in their tracks as they looked to each other in defeat. Zack crossed his arms over in front of him as he took a step closer to Henry.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t rat you both out right now?” he growled, his eyes boring into Henry’s. A devilish smile crossed Henry’s face as he moved closer to Zack.
“I don’t know. Should we start with the Victoria’s Secret magazines and the cigarettes? Or just go straight to what that overwhelming smell is?”
“You found it?” Zack commented, squinting as his gaze moved to Jasper. Henry and Jasper shared puzzled looks.
“Well-” Henry started, his gaze snapping to the floor.
“Aha! So you have no evidence,” Zack uttered triumphantly.
“The cigarettes are still there,” Henry countered, pointing to the bed.
“And I can say you put them there! I think there’s plenty of people that could attest to the fact that you can’t stand me. And now you’re just trying to get me busted.”
Henry stayed silent for a beat and he could feel Jasper’s eyes on him. He could practically hear Jasper chanting “ I told you so! I told you so! ”
“Who do you think Mr. Moseby’s more apt to believe? Certainly not the chronic rule breaker...” Henry remarked, hoping that Zack wouldn’t be able to tell that he was bluffing.
“Might I remind you that you’ve broken the rules just as much as I have, and you’ve only been here six days,” Zack retorted with a smirk, “It’s my word against yours, pretty boy.”
“Yeah...well... Jasper hasn’t!” Henry stuttered.
“Oh, please don’t put me in the middle,” Jasper muttered, but Zack and Henry ignored him as they kept their eyes locked on one another. Henry’s face was now inches from Zack’s, and even though he was just a tiny bit taller, it felt like he was towering over him at that moment.
“Alright. I promise not to breathe a word of this to anyone, but you two have to promise the same...” Zack offered, his eyes shifting from Henry to Jasper and back again as he put his hands up in surrender. The two boys glanced at one another.
“Deal,” they answered simultaneously. The room remained uncomfortably silent for a beat.
“Well, I think we really should go now,” Henry announced, and he and Jasper headed for the door once more.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Zack declared as he reached out and grabbed onto Henry’s arm, holding him back. Henry stumbled backward, surprised by Zack’s strength. “You broke into my room and went through my stuff so, at the very least, I think you owe me an explanation as to why.”
“How come he gets to go?!” Henry whined, pointing to Jasper who was now stepping into the hall, but Zack ignored the question, his gaze glued to Henry. “Jasper. Jasper!” Henry hissed, but Jasper just turned around and winked at him with a toothy grin before he disappeared, leaving Henry to fend for himself. Henry exhaled sharply, taking note to get Jasper back for that later as he cautioned a look at Zack.
“I thought you had a date tonight...?” Henry muttered, an uncomfortable tension now hanging in the air between them. Zack let go of Henry’s arm and backed off a little to give him a bit more space.
“It didn’t work out,” he replied simply.
“There’s a shocker,” Henry murmured with a roll of his eyes, and Zack shot daggers at him.
“Really?” he snapped, and Henry’s expression turned apologetic, remembering the conversation he had had with Jasper earlier.
“What happened?” he inquired, an air of sincerity in his tone.
“I forgot her name. I rolled the dice, called her by the first name I could think of, ended up being wrong... Apparently, girls don’t like that,” he explained, sweeping the hair off his face as he spoke.
“You’re a real stand up guy.”
“Says the guy that broke into my room,” Zack retorted and Henry’s gaze snapped to the floor. Zack made his way over to the door to shut it, leaning against the doorknob for a beat as he spoke. “You wanna tell me what you’re really doing here?” he demanded. Henry’s mind started racing. He knew he had to be discreet from this point forward so as not to raise Zack’s suspicion anymore then he might have already.
“You want the truth?” Henry questioned, and Zack’s lips curled into a playful smirk.
“No, I was kinda hoping you’d lie to me,” he teased. Henry felt his heart rate increase. He knew there was a way he could still get out of this unscathed but it was about the last thing he wanted to do: appeal to Zack’s massive ego.
“You piqued my interest,” Henry said casually, and Zack’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, the smile never leaving his face.
“I piqued your interest?” he echoed in disbelief.
“Yes,” Henry replied, resisting the urge to gag when he saw the satisfied smile on Zack’s face. Zack continued to eye Henry, and Henry wondered if maybe he was trying to decide if he was telling the truth or not.
“Did you ever think about maybe just... Talking to me? Asking me what you wanted to know?” Zack questioned.
“Yeah...” Henry started, his gaze shifting to the floor for a beat, his mind racing, “But, I knew that if I started asking you questions and showing any interest at all you’d get that arrogant smirk on your face that you’re getting right now!” he finished, his voice getting louder as he pointed at Zack’s face, which now had the same smug expression that Henry had seen a million times before, etched across it.
“Well, I’m sure me catching you breaking into my room was a much better alternative for you,” Zack joked, grabbing Henry’s wrist as he moved his hand away. “You know you’ve mentioned twice now that you’re interested...” he pointed out.
“Definitely not in the way you might be thinking,” Henry responded hastily.
“What way am I thinking?” Zack replied, the corner of his mouth quirked up, and Henry was sure his blood pressure was spiking.
“Okay, we’re getting way off track here,” he commented, beginning to yank himself out of Zack’s grip, but he ended up using much more force than he needed to; as soon as he displayed any indication that he wanted Zack to let go, Zack immediately did. He must’ve also picked up on the fact that Henry no longer wanted him so close as he took a few steps back.
“Tell you what,” he proceeded, as he sat down at the foot of his bed, “I’ll give you five questions where I promise to answer with nothing but the honest truth…”
“Ten,” Henry interrupted, and Zack’s smile grew.
“...but you have to promise to do the same,” he concluded.
“Do we have a deal?” Zack inquired, and Henry considered his offer for a beat as he kept his gaze locked on Zack’s. He knew deep down that if Zack truly was his enemy like he so vehemently believed, then it would be dangerous to reveal any parts of himself to him.
But, on the other hand, if he really was Mystica, then he already knew he was Kid Danger, so Henry supposed that it wouldn’t hurt to open up to him just a smidge.
Besides, if he asked a question that was too personal, he couldn’t very well call Henry out on a lie without condemning himself in the process. There’s no way he’d know he was lying unless he had gotten that information from elsewhere; like hacking into his phone, for instance.
“Okay. Deal,” Henry said with a smile as he sat down next to Zack.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Zack declared as he gestured for him to go ahead before resting his elbows on his knees.
There were about a million questions that flashed in Henry’s mind then, the most notable one being “ Are you Mystica? ” but he knew it wouldn’t be nearly that easy.
“Why do you have two phones?” he inquired after a beat, trying to sound as casual as possible. Zack pulled his smartphone out of his front pocket, both boys eyeing it for a moment. The phone switched on for a few seconds and Henry noticed that the lockscreen was a picture of Zack sandwiched between London and the blonde that kept showing up in his pictures and drawings.
“Our mom doesn’t make a lot so she can’t really afford for Cody and I to have smartphones. I make enough in tips that I’m able to afford one myself,” Zack answered.
“Well, then, why not get rid of the flip phone?” Henry quickly responded.
“It’s easier to screen my mom’s calls that way,” Zack said with a wicked smile, “she doesn’t even know I have this.” Henry watched Zack turn the phone over in his hands, internally wishing that he could just take it right then and there and give it to Charlotte.
“Have you always lived in Swellview?” Zack questioned, and Henry finally tore his eyes away from the phone to look at Zack.
“Yep,” he said simply.
“Have you ever been outside of Swellview before this?”
“A few times,” Henry responded, standing back up as he started to pace, “That first day I came onboard and Cody brought me an ice pack, he told me he had gotten my room number from you because you had hacked into Mr. Moseby’s computer,” he continued, pausing as he looked at Zack again, and Zack nodded in response, keeping his baby blues fixated on Henry. “How’d you do it?”
“I put in the password.”
“Well, how’d you get the password?”
“Why is this starting to feel less like getting to know me and more like an interrogation?” Zack inquired, and Henry’s heart started pounding.
“Been through a lot of those, have you?” Henry quipped, hoping that Zack couldn’t detect the faintest hint of panic in his voice. Zack’s lips slowly curved into a smile.
“It’s easy. It’s just his mother’s birthday,” he answered as he leaned back on his elbows. “Three questions left, better make ‘em interesting.”
“Who’s the girl?” Henry blurted out, his curiosity finally getting the better of him, but he immediately regretted it when he realized he had just wasted one of his questions. A puzzled expression crossed Zack’s face. “On your lock screen. I recognize London but I don’t think I’ve seen the other one around here before,” Henry concluded as he sat back down next to Zack, this time a lot closer to him than before.
“Oh. That’s Maddie,” Zack explained, turning his phone on for a moment as his eyes flicked to the screen. “She’s London’s girlfriend back home. But, no matter what she tells you, I fell for her first,” he said as he slipped his phone back into his pocket, and Henry felt a mix of sympathy and disappointment wash over him. He wanted to ask about her some more, ask him to elaborate on that last comment, but he didn’t want to pry. Zack had apparently picked up on this.
“You can ask about her, it’s okay.”
“I’m not even sure what to ask,” Henry said truthfully. “I guess...What’d you mean when you said you fell for her first?”
Zack’s gaze snapped to the floor, and for the first time since they met, he seemed completely serious, and Henry felt a twinge of guilt for asking something so personal so soon.
“Sorry. You don’t need to answer that,” he said, but Zack cut him off as he met his gaze once more.
“Don’t be. It’s okay, I told you you could ask about her, and I meant it. I had this sort of... puppy love crush on her when I was a kid. I mean, I was completely head over heels,” Zack recounted, a smile crossing his lips, the memory sparkling in his eyes. Henry’s lips were threatening to curl into a grin at any second. “But,” Zack continued, his smile fading, “She’s three and a half years older than me so...it was never quite meant to be. Besides, her and London are very happy together, and I’d never do anything to jeopardize that.” Zack’s voice was calm, nonchalant, but Henry could see the tiniest hint of heartbreak flash in his eyes, and he felt a twinge of pity for him then.
“Do you still love her?” he asked before he was even aware of what he was saying.
“Why? Are you jealous?” Zack teased without missing a beat and Henry playfully rolled his eyes.
“Keep dreaming,” he quipped, smiling a little in spite of himself.
“Yeah, I still love her,” Zack replied, his earnest tone returning. Henry’s smile disappeared, his compassionate side forcing him to continue to feel empathetic for Zack. “But, I’m not really in love with her anymore,” he added, meeting Henry’s gaze. There was a serious tension hanging in the air between them then, and for a brief moment, Henry could feel his perspective beginning to change.
He still believed that Zack was the hacker, but it was like suddenly, he was much more than that. He had interests and hobbies and crushes, he had experienced unrequited love, he had felt heartbreak. He had bad habits, and an interest in rock music, and he could create masterpieces with just a no. 2 pencil.
He had a whole life outside of being Mystica...
...and Henry wondered for a moment what that must be like.
“Any other siblings besides Piper?” Zack questioned after a second, yanking Henry out of his train of thought.
“Nope. It’s just us,” Henry answered, his mind still lingering on Zack for a beat.
“Ah. Another thing we have in common,” Zack replied with a smile.
“What else-?” Henry began, but Zack cut him off.
“Sorry, you’re out of questions.”
“What?! I am not,” Henry snapped.
“Yes, you are. I know math isn’t my best subject but I think I can at least count to eight,” Zack said playfully. Henry thought it over for a beat and he realized that Zack was right.
“Wait, no. Give me one more,” he pleaded. Zack’s smile widened.
“Nope, sorry. Thanks for playing, better luck next time.”
Henry crossed his arms over his chest, a pouty expression crossing his face.
“Meanwhile, I still have three left,” Zack continued with an arrogant smirk.
“And they would be?” Henry replied in a sour tone.
“Sorry, you’re still out of questions,” Zack teased, and Henry rolled his eyes. “I just have one more for now,” Zack proceeded, and Henry looked at him with curiosity. “You want to do something with me tonight?”