Later that day after classes had ended, Bailey began working on homework in her cabin while she patiently waited for Zack to arrive for another one of their study dates. Soon after, she was finished, and she had even managed to complete some of the work that would be due later in the week. She opened a blank word doc, preparing to start on her submission for the writing competition, but she paused when she caught a glimpse at the time.
Zack was now over an hour late.
He wasn’t exactly known for being punctual, but he usually never made her wait this long without at least letting her know first. She sent him a quick text asking where he was before returning to the task at hand. She watched the blinking cursor for a few beats, trying to focus enough to start brainstorming potential subjects, but she found that her mind kept drifting back to Zack.
She checked her phone again after a few minutes, letting out a sigh of frustration.
No new messages.
After almost thirty minutes went by without a word, she slammed her laptop shut, deciding to start a search for her missing friend.
She went to his cabin first, but after several seconds of knocking with no answer, she exhaled sharply, her heart sinking.
It was highly unusual for him to go complete radio silence on her, and she hadn’t realized how accustomed she had become to seeing him on a regular basis until that routine was suddenly interrupted.
She bit her lower lip, contemplating which of his frequent hangout spots she should check next. She pulled her phone out, checking it again to see if maybe he had sent a message that she missed, but still nothing. She tried to ignore the subtle feeling of worry beginning to form within her. She heard a familiar voice call out to her then.
“Hey, Bailey. Everything okay?”
She whirled around to see Cody through his open doorway, sitting in his desk chair, an open textbook in his lap, his brows knitted together in concern. Her heart skipped a beat before it started racing.
“Oh, uhh… Hey,” she stuttered out, the heat crawling up her neck, as she nervously pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. He grinned at her as he leaned back in his chair, gripping onto the textbook to keep it from sliding off his lap.
Bailey tried to focus on this unexpected moment with Cody, but the thought of Zack kept creeping back.
“Everything’s fine,” she answered, “But, have you seen Zack?” she continued, pointing an index finger over her shoulder to his cabin door. “He was supposed to meet me about an hour ago but he never showed up.”
“Sorry,” Cody responded with a shrug of his shoulder, his expression apologetic, “But, I wouldn’t take it personally, Zack’s sort of forgetful about those things sometimes.”
Her shoulders slumped as her chest started getting heavy.
Why was this bothering her so much?
“But, Woody mentioned something about a basketball game on the Sky Deck,” Cody added hastily, obviously detecting her growing disappointment, “I’m sure he’s there and he just lost track of time or something.” She let out a deep breath as she nodded.
“Okay. I’ll try there. Thanks,” she commented with a half-hearted smile. She turned to start that way, but before she could take a step, Cody spoke again.
She stuck her head in the doorway, meeting his gaze once more.
“I wouldn’t worry too much. I mean, we’re in the middle of the ocean. Where could he go?” he joked, and the corners of her mouth curved up.
She arrived on the Sky Deck just a few minutes later, and sure enough, she saw a familiar head of blond hair currently in the middle of a basketball game with Woody and a few of their other classmates. She felt a sense of relief wash over her, but it quickly dissipated, replaced with a wave of anger. She crossed her arms over her chest as she glared at him.
Considering the fact that he was wearing basketball shorts and a white v-neck, she figured this game was pre-planned, and seeing as sweat was beading down his face and his hair was matted to his forehead, she guessed he had been there awhile. For the briefest moment, she forgot about how furious she was when her conversation with London in the dressing room that past weekend suddenly flashed in her mind.
For one, you say you like guys that are athletic…
She quickly pushed the thought away.
“Zachary Martin!” she bellowed just as he threw the ball, her sudden exclamation throwing him off, causing the ball to hit the side of the rim before it bounced to the ground. The other players froze, their eyes shifting between Zack and Bailey.
“She just used your full name, bro,” one of them mumbled.
“Yeah. You’re in troublllllle,” Woody sang with a grin.
“Dude!” Zack barked as he turned to face her, his expression just as livid as she felt, clearly unfazed over the fact that she had just called him by his full first and last name. She marched over to him, with him following suit, meeting her somewhere in the middle, as she crossed her arms over her chest, her jaw clenched.
“What are you doing?!” she demanded.
“Losing, thanks to you,” he snapped as he snatched up the ball.
“Isn’t there somewhere else you’re supposed to be right now?” she retorted. A hint of remorse crossed his face as he winced.
“Oh, right,” he muttered.
“Yeah, right. You were supposed to meet me in my cabin almost two hours ago!”
Zack pressed his lips into a thin line, letting the ball rest under his arm, using his free hand to push the hair from his face as he rolled his eyes.
“I sent you a text...why didn’t you respond?” she continued, her voice a little calmer now.
“I’ve had my phone off during the game,” he responded coolly, shrugging one shoulder.
“So, you didn’t think to let me know you’re playing a game and you might be a little late?”
“I lost track of time,” he replied casually, his apathetic attitude causing her frustration to grow.
“Are you missing the part where you made me wait almost two hours for you?” she snarled.
“No. But I’m missing what the big deal is. I lost track of time,” he echoed.
“Oh, let’s see. You made a commitment to me and you broke that. You didn’t bother to tell me, you turned your phone off so I couldn’t get in touch with you,” she fumed, listing the offenses off on her fingers, getting closer to him with each sentence. Zack stood his ground, still clearly unbothered. “But, the big deal, is that you don’t seem to care at all! You don’t seem to care that you wasted my time or that you made me worry!” she seethed, her voice much higher than she intended, her face just inches from his. She hadn’t meant to say all of that, but it was like once she started, she just couldn’t stop. Zack watched her for a moment before his lips crept into a smile.
“You were worried about me?”
Bailey exhaled sharply, her heart starting to race for a reason unbeknownst to her.
“That would be the one thing you’d take away from that,” she mumbled.
“Man, you made your girlfriend worry, you ass,” one of the boys closest to Zack said as they punched him in the arm.
“Ow!” Zack yelped as he shot daggers at him, the ball bouncing to the ground as he tenderly rubbed the spot where he had just been hit.
“I’m not his girlfriend,” Bailey quickly pointed out and Zack rolled his eyes.
“Can I talk to you over there for a second?” he asked through gritted teeth as he gently grabbed Bailey’s elbow, leading her to a secluded spot on the Sky Deck away from his friends.
“Listen, I’m sorry I didn’t let you know earlier that I wasn’t coming to our study sessions anymore. Right before I was about to call you, Woody asked me to play this game with him, and I really did lose track of time,” he admitted. “But, I promise I’ll keep my phone on next time since you can’t seem to live without me for a few hours,” he added with a smirk. She rolled her eyes.
“You know that’s not why I- Wait. What do you mean you’re not coming to our study sessions anymore?” she inquired, her heart starting to sink again. She tilted her head to the side, her eyebrows furrowed as she watched him with rapt interest. His gaze flicked to the ground as he let out a sharp breath.
“You know me, I’m not a study, work hard kinda guy,” he began in the same casual tone he was using before as his eyes met hers. He gave her a lop-sided smile, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes like it normally did. She could tell then that there was much more to the story.
“Zack,” she began, but he cut her off.
“Don’t worry about the deal, I’ll still do what I promised-”
“I’m not worried about the deal,” she responded truthfully, her tone gentle, “What are you not telling me?”
“Nothing,” he replied with a shrug of his shoulder. She kept her gaze locked on his, her eyes slightly narrowed.
“Zack-” she started again, but one of the boys from the other side of the deck cut her off.
“Zack, what gives? We playin or what?” they called out to him, and Zack looked over at his friends with a thoughtful expression before he met Bailey’s gaze again.
“I gotta go,” he said, starting to take a few steps to the side towards his friends, but she grabbed onto his arm, holding him back.
“He’ll be there in a second!” she yelled back, keeping her eyes glued to Zack. He exhaled sharply as he used his free hand to push the hair out of his eyes.
Bailey heard a chorus of groans coming from the other side of the deck and she knew his friends were complaining about his continued time-out, but they were too far away for her to be able to make out what they were saying.
“Will you please talk to me?” she said softly, giving him her best doe-eyed look, her hand still gingerly gripping onto his arm, “What really happened that’s causing this sudden change of heart?”
His eyes moved to her hand for a second, before he met her gaze once more as he let out a sigh of defeat.
“I got my Chemistry test back,” he mumbled, his eyes flicking to the ground.
“I still got a D despite the fact that I studied your notes all night. So, what’s the point of putting in all this effort if I’m just gonna fail anyway?” he stated, meeting her gaze, and she felt a slight knot in her stomach when she noticed the disappointment in his baby blues, the knot only getting tighter when she realized how hard he was trying to hide it.
“First of all, a D’s not failing, that’s still passing. Secondly, you were trying to learn almost an entire semester's worth of material in one night. I actually think you did pretty well considering,” she said and he just looked at her skeptically. “But, you shouldn’t give up so quickly,” she added, her voice gentle as she moved closer to him. He watched her for a moment, clearly contemplating her words. A smile crept onto his face again.
“Are you really that desperate to spend time with me?” he teased, and she grinned.
“If I say yes, will you come with me to study?”
His smile got a little bigger.
“No. But, I’d make time to come see you anyway,” he answered. She didn’t know why her heart skipped a beat then, but it did. Her smile slowly disappeared soon after.
“So, you’re really just going to quit?” she inquired, her voice low. He looked at her apologetically.
“Listen, Bails, school and I just don’t mix. That’s all there is to it,” he confessed, and he took a few steps backward away from her as he shrugged. “I’ll text you later, okay? I promise. No need to worry,” he quipped with a grin before he whirled around and jogged back over to his friends. Bailey exhaled sharply, thinking over what to do next as she made her way over to the group.
She had made it her personal mission to make sure he graduated this year, and she wasn’t about to give up on that just yet, even if he had.
“Hey, Woody, do me a favor and toss me the ball,” she said, and Woody lightly threw it to her, a puzzled expression on his face. “Tell you what. I have a new proposition for you,” she began as she caught it, slowly turning it over in her hands as she looked at Zack, “You play a one-on-one game with me right now. The first one to ten wins. If you win, we’ll forget the whole deal.”
“What deal?” Woody interjected.
“Don’t worry about it,” Zack commented, turning to look at Woody as he spoke before he met Bailey’s gaze again.
“But, if I win, we stick to the original arrangement. You say goodbye to your friends, and you come with me to study,” Bailey concluded, as she pointed to each of the other guys before resting the ball underneath her arm.
“We were kind of already in the middle of a game,” Zack pointed out as he gestured between him and the group.
“That’s okay. We’re fine with watching her kick your ass instead,” one of them mocked and they shared a laugh, mumbling some sort of agreement.
“So, what do you say?” Bailey asked with a raise of her eyebrows. Zack watched her for a beat, uncertainty etched all over his face. “What? Afraid a girl can beat you?” she teased, her lips spread into a clever grin.
“Oh, I know a girl can beat me. I just don’t think you can,” he scoffed, moving to stand directly in front of her. “You do remember I was an all-star in middle school?”
“I remember. So, I guess that means you’ve got nothing to worry about,” she noted as she dribbled the ball a few times before chucking it to him. He caught it, keeping his eyes locked with hers as he seemingly considered her offer for a beat. The corner of his mouth curled up into a smirk.
“Fine. Deal. Ladies first,” he said as he bounced the ball to her and she caught it. They both crouched down a little, their gazes locked, determined smiles spread on both of their lips.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Zack sneered, and a wicked smile crept onto Bailey’s face. She swiftly started towards the net, dribbling the ball in front of her, and Zack immediately went after her. He tried to snatch the ball from her a few times but to no avail. He then switched to trying to block her, but she pushed him out of her way, almost knocking him over in the process as she shot the ball towards the net, and she watched with glee as it soared straight through.
“That’s one,” she announced triumphantly, holding up an index finger as she bounced on her heels, and a chorus of “Oooo’s” rang out amongst Zack’s friends. Zack scoffed, rolling his eyes as he grabbed the ball, dribbling it a few times before he and Bailey got into position, with Zack now facing the net and Bailey facing Zack. A second later, he took off down the makeshift court, and Bailey put her arms out, bumping against him as she tried to throw him off his rhythm. He launched the ball at the hoop, but Bailey leapt up at the same time, extending her arm into the air and smacking the ball back down to the ground where it bounced a few times before finally stopping. An even louder chorus of “Oooo’s” sounded from Zack’s friends.
“Alright, alright!” he snapped as he shot daggers at them before he looked at Bailey again.
“What was that you were saying about being an all-star?” she taunted, a devious smile on her lips.
“Well, I was taking it easy on you.”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself in order to sleep at night,” she teased, and Zack looked to the ground, trying to conceal an entertained smile.
Another chorus of “Oooo’s.”
“Would you cut that out?” he growled as he glared at the group. Bailey took this opportunity to snatch the ball from his hands, and she quickly went to the hoop as she jumped up and shot the ball, sending it sinking into the net.
“Hey, that’s cheating! I wasn’t ready!” Zack cried.
“What do you think, fellas? Was that cheating?” Bailey inquired innocently, as she grabbed the ball before facing her other classmates, turning it over using the palms of her hands.
“Nope. The point definitely stands,” Woody answered, his voice slightly muffled from the brownie he was chewing on as he gave a mischievous smile to Zack. Zack furrowed his eyebrows, shooting him a look.
“Thanks, man” he deadpanned.
“Your turn,” Bailey announced as she flung the ball to Zack a little forcefully, and he caught it with a slight groan that he quickly tried to play off, apparently somewhat taken aback by her strength.
“Alright,” he announced as he stared at her, his lips curling into a wicked smile, “You wanna play it like that, let’s play it like that,” he concluded and she just grinned in response. He exploded down the court with Bailey hot on his trail, and Bailey stepped in front of him as she waited for him to shoot. Zack then promptly moved to the left, and before Bailey could react, he was throwing the ball up to the net, but it bounced off the rim and to the side.
“Wow, you suck,” she quipped playfully, biting her tongue at him.
“Oof,” he responded, dramatically putting a hand to his chest as he smiled at her, his brows knitted together, “I’m pretty sure that’s your third jab of the night. When did you get so feisty?”
“I’ve been living with London for four years. I guess a little bit of her attitude rubbed off on me,” she answered with a shrug.
“Okay, yeah, that tracks,” Zack replied, “Well, I like it. Sweet with a hint of spicy is a good look on you,” he continued. Bailey’s lips curled into a smile as she felt the heat rise to her cheeks, and they kept their eyes locked on each other for a beat.
Zack’s eyes always had a certain gleam when he smiled, but Bailey noticed how that was suddenly amplified by the glow of the setting sun hitting them just right.
“Were they always this pretty?” she briefly thought to herself, but she quickly pushed the thought from her head.
“Are you guys going to keep flirting with each other, or are you gonna play the game?” one of the guys from the sidelines called out, and Bailey’s heart started pounding as both of their gazes snapped to the ground, an awkward tension now forming between them. Zack grabbed the ball as he held it out to her.
“Your turn,” he said.
“Thanks,” she mumbled, avoiding eye contact as the heat crawled up her neck. She dribbled the ball for a second, taking a deep breath as she worked to regain her composure. She tossed it towards the hoop, but this time it ricocheted off the backboard, missing the net entirely.
“Who sucks now?” Zack joked as he grinned at her. His teasing remark and warm smile made her immediately forget about their uncomfortable encounter, and the tension between them promptly vanished.
“Let’s not forget, you’re still Oh for two,” she said as she smirked at him. They got back into position, with Zack facing the hoop and Bailey facing Zack. Zack faked going left before he went right, racing down the court. Bailey trailed after him, finally catching up to him as he tossed the ball, and she watched as it sailed straight through the net.
“How bout that!” he declared with a triumphant smile, “Now it’s one for two.”
“You better enjoy that point cause it’s the only one you’re gonna get,” she sneered. He gently tossed her the ball with a toothy grin.
“Okay, babe. We’ll just see about that,” he said. She dribbled it in place for a minute, before she started down the court with Zack directly behind her. She stopped near the hoop, rechecking her position and footing, quickly calculating in her head, all the while dodging Zack, before she tossed the ball upwards, watching with glee as it seamlessly sailed through the net once more.
The rest of the match went on for a spell, with Bailey sinking every shot she took. Zack had managed to keep her on her toes, trailing closely behind her by only one or two points, but she could tell she was wearing him down quickly. His breathing was getting heavier by the second, the sweat caused his hair to stick to his face, and his movements were getting ever so sluggish. Admittedly, she was tired too, and she could feel a few beads of sweat running down her forehead, but she wasn’t nearly as exhausted as he was.
But, this was it.
They were down to the last point.
If Bailey made one more shot she’d win the game. Zack had his hands on his hips as he bent over, trying to catch a breath while he could.
“Shall I make this last shot, or do you want to forfeit right now and save yourself the humiliation?” Bailey quipped, resting the ball under one arm, as she gripped onto her wrist with the other. Zack lifted his head as he met her gaze, his eyes going dark.
“It’s not over till it’s over,” he said as he straightened back up, making his way over to her. They stood face-to-face, with Bailey facing the net, their eyes boring into each other. Bailey’s lips curved into a wry smile as she took a step to the left before lurching forward. Zack tried to block her, but she shoved her shoulder into his chest, causing him to stumble back a bit. She continued towards the net, taking advantage of Zack’s momentary lapse to sink the ball into the hoop one last time. She turned around to face him, her arms crossed over her chest and a satisfied smile on her lips, only to find that he was now sprawled out on his back on the ground, his arms and legs jutting out like a starfish. His group of friends stood over him at his side, some of them shaking their heads.
“Dude…” one of them mumbled.
“She kicked your butt,” Woody commented. Zack let out a heavy sigh.
“I’m aware of that,” he retorted. She made her way over to them, her arms still crossed over her chest.
“I know you guys aren’t about to make fun of him for getting beat by a girl…” she warned.
They shook their heads.
“We would never do that,” Woody replied nervously.
“Mhmm,” Bailey responded with a wry grin. After that, each of them said some form of goodbye to Zack, giving him some variation of that weird high-five, handshake thing guys do that Bailey could never quite understand before it was down to just her and Zack.
She stepped over him then, putting her feet on either side of his hips as she peered down at him with a smile.
“How’d you get so good at that?” he inquired, meeting her gaze. She reached a hand out to him.
“It’s math,” she responded simply as he took her outstretched hand, and she helped pull him up. He looked at her inquisitively.
“I’ll show you,” she continued as she made her way over to the ball before picking it up. “Here, come here.” She gestured for him to join her. He looked at her hesitantly, and she rolled her eyes. “Just come here,” she echoed, reaching out for him, gripping onto his wrist as he silently did as instructed. She turned so that they were standing side-by-side, facing the hoop. “It has to do with angles. Shoot the ball at a certain angle and you’ll sink it every time,” she explained as she handed him the ball. “Now, get into a position like you’re going to shoot,” she instructed, and he did as he was told. She looked at his form for a beat, imagining the angles in her mind’s eye. She gently put a hand underneath his elbow, gingerly pushing it up a few degrees. He stayed frozen in place as he turned to look at her.
“Like this?” he asked. She scanned him for a second. Something still seemed off. She went around behind him, wrapping her arms around him, her hands delicately gripping onto his wrists and her head resting by his shoulder. She moved him into the correct stance, her heart starting to race when she realized a beat later that she was basically holding him. He turned to look at her, and her breath caught in her throat.
“Are we good now?” he inquired, pulling her from her train of thought, and she swiftly let go of him, taking a step back and exhaling sharply as she tried to shake off whatever it was she was feeling.
“Uh, yeah. Now you just shoot,” she said, her cheeks burning once more as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Zack tossed the ball towards the net, his lips curving into a toothy smile when it went straight through. He grabbed it after it had bounced once before he moved to another spot on the deck.
“What if I shoot from here?” he questioned, meeting her gaze. She made her way over to him, swallowing hard as she repeated the same steps. She watched as he thrust the ball towards the hoop, his lips curving into another gleeful smile as it went through again.
They did this a few more times, with Zack picking increasingly obscure spots, even attempting to do it with his back to the hoop at least once. He turned towards Bailey with an elated smile, practically bouncing on his heels.
“That’s so cool!” he beamed, and Bailey grinned.
“See? Math can be fun,” she mentioned, and his smile immediately vanished as it was replaced with a look of annoyance.
“Don’t ruin it,” he said, and she let out an airy laugh.
“What about if I-” he started, beginning to move to a new spot, but she cut him off.
“You know you can’t put off the studying forever,” she pointed out, and he let out a resigned sigh as he pushed the hair from his face.
“Five more minutes?” he implored. The corner of her mouth turned up into a wry grin as she shook her head.
“Alright,” he replied, making his way over to her before he gestured for her to go first.
“So, they’re in love now?” Zack asked a little over twenty minutes later, laying on his stomach across his bed, propped up by his elbows as he faced Bailey, who was sitting in his desk chair. He let his beaten-up copy of Romeo and Juliet that he had borrowed from Cody rest on the bed in front of him, his hand still gripping onto the spine, his thumb inserted in the crease on the page they were currently going over. Bailey picked up her like-new copy off the desk, letting it sit in her lap as she turned the chair around to face him.
“Essentially,” she said with a nod. His brows knitted together as he looked down at the book again, seemingly dissatisfied with that answer.
“Didn’t they just meet?”
Bailey smiled at that.
“Oh, c’mon. You’re telling me there hasn’t been at least one girl...or guy,” she added hastily when his eyes snapped to her, “that you haven’t looked at and immediately thought you were in love? Even if it was just for a moment?”
Bailey’s smile slowly faded as an unreadable expression crossed Zack’s face.
“There was Maddie,” he said, his eyes scanning her for a moment. Bailey felt like there was something he was holding back then.
“Uh, what about you?” he muttered, obviously trying to take the focus off of him. She winced, her eyes shifting down.
“Cody,” she mumbled.
The air suddenly felt slightly heavy between them, an uncomfortable tension beginning to form.
She awkwardly cleared her throat, looking down at her book, suddenly desperate for a change of subject. Zack had apparently picked up on this, as he immediately asked another question.
“Wasn’t Romeo in love with this other chick like two seconds ago?”
“Well... yes,” she said, and he looked at her, puzzled. She took a moment to contemplate how to explain things to him in a way that he could fully understand it. She stood up, moving to sit down next to him on the bed as he sat up, letting his feet dangle over the edge now as they sat side-by-side. “This is actually a good place to talk about the symbolism present,” she said turning to look at him and he met her gaze, “Shakespeare uses light and dark to compare and contrast Romeo’s unrequited love with Rosaline to his mutual love with Juliet,” she explained.
“How so?” he asked, and if Bailey didn’t know any better, she could’ve sworn that he was genuinely interested in the answer.
“Well, everyone is sort of familiar with the famous line ‘It is the east, and Juliet is the sun,’ where Romeo is comparing Juliet to the sun... The line after that says ‘Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon’. If you remember, Romeo used to compare Rosaline to the moon. So, what do you think that means?” she asked.
Zack’s expression turned thoughtful.
“I would guess that that sort of means that Juliet killed Romeo’s affection for Rosaline,” he said after a few beats. Bailey smiled.
“Really?” he questioned, his tone excited. He smiled at her, the kind that made his eyes twinkle, and she felt sort of warm them.
“Really. In this scene, when Romeo steps out the shadows and into the light from Juliet’s balcony, he’s figuratively leaving behind his melancholy love for Rosaline towards his deeper, more authentic love with Juliet,” she explained.
“So, just so I’m clear,” he started, staring straight ahead for a beat. Bailey kept her eyes on him, listening intently, “his love for Rosaline...”
“Sort of like infatuation,” Bailey finished for him.
“But his love with Juliet...” he continued, looking at her again. She looked at him for a moment, realizing then that they were so close she could practically count the freckles on his face.
“Is true,” she breathed. Her eyes scanned his face, her gaze lingering on his mouth for a brief moment as her mind echoed their conversation. An odd feeling spread through her as her heart started pounding against her chest.
It was the same feeling she had gotten on the Sky Deck earlier.
It was like something shifted between them, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was.
Whatever it was, she sort of liked it.
It was comparable to the feeling she got when she was with Cody.
Of course, she was in love with Cody.
Did that mean she was...?
Was London right?
She swallowed hard, pushing the thoughts from her mind as she stood up.
“I think that’s a good place to stop for tonight,” she announced, and he looked at her, nodding in agreement as he followed her to the door. She opened it, pausing for a beat as she turned to face him. “Your assignment for tonight is to at least finish act two,” she instructed.
“Yes, teach,” he responded, and they said a quick goodbye before Bailey started down the hall in the direction of her own cabin, her study date with Zack lingering in her mind.