Bailey pulled her books tighter to her chest as she shuffled into her homeroom, stopping in the doorway, her heart skipping a beat when she caught sight of a certain blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. He was sitting on the edge of his desk in the front row of the class, currently conversing with another one of their more attractive female classmates. He began to laugh, his entire face lighting up as he smiled, and Bailey felt a warm feeling burst into her chest, the corners of her mouth tugging upward at the sight. She stood in place for a few minutes just watching him, her mind drifting into another one of her romantic daydreams. This time they were in Paris, situated at the top of the Eiffel Tower. There was a candlelit dinner sitting between them, their hands resting on the table in front of them as he held onto hers, stroking the back of her hand with his thumb. He was smiling at her, that smile of his that she adored, the one that made his eyes sparkle. He gazed into her eyes for a second before leaning forward across the table for a kiss. Bailey felt a flutter of butterflies invade her stomach and her heart began to pound. She was sure at any second it was actually going to beat straight out of her chest. She leaned in toward him, her eyelids drifting shut as she anxiously awaited a moment she had dreamt about a thousand times before. She leaned in closer, closer, the anticipation and exhilaration building up inside her.
Right as their lips were about to connect, she heard someone in the distance calling her name, and her surroundings began to dissipate, the voice getting louder and louder until it was loud enough that it sounded like it was coming from directly behind her. She was pulled violently back to reality and she whirled around to see the boy’s twin brother, Zack, and his best friend and her present roommate, London, staring at her, London looking annoyed while Zack just looked amused.
“Hey, Bail. You with us?” Zack inquired as he waved a hand in front of her face. She felt the heat crawling up her neck and into her cheeks.
“Uh, yeah. Sorry,” she murmured timidly, shaking her head a little, trying to rid her mind of any remaining remnants of her daydream.
“Can we pass or is there a secret password or something?” Zack asked with a cheeky grin. Bailey felt her face get even hotter as she realized then that she had been blocking the doorway. She glanced down at the floor in embarrassment and stepped aside, muttering out a “sorry.” London stuck her nose up in the air as she strutted into the classroom, shooting Bailey an irritated look as she passed. Zack followed after her, still giving Bailey an entertained smile. He kept his eyes on her, and she watched as the pair made their way to their seats side-by-side in the back of the class. Once they sat down, she and Zack broke eye contact and Bailey turned her attention back to the object of her affection. She took a few deep breaths, steeling herself before she plastered on her best flirty smile as she strode over to him. She went to stand by his side and waited patiently for a break in his conversation before she spoke.
“Hey, Cody,” she said, a fanciful tone to her voice. His eyes flicked to her, and he smiled, but his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes as it had just moments ago.
“Hey,” he responded, his tone more polite than enthusiastic. Before she had a chance to say anything else he was turning his attention back to the pretty brunette he had been talking to before. Bailey exhaled sharply, doing her best to keep her composure.
“So...the Valentine’s Day Dance is coming up soon...” she continued as she watched him intently, fluttering her eyelashes flirtatiously at him, but he didn’t seem to notice. His eyes snapped to her once more.
“So, it is…” he responded flatly. Bailey tossed her hair back more dramatically then she meant to, trying to up the flirty factor, but it was coming across more awkward than attractive. She gently laid her hand on his shoulder, his eyes moving to her hand for a second before he met her gaze again, a puzzled expression crossing his face.
“You know...I don’t have a date yet. I’m still waiting for that special someone to ask me,” she said expectantly, tilting her head to the side ever so slightly as she leaned in closer to him, giving him her sweetest smile. He kept his eyes locked with hers for a beat, clearly perplexed at this whole ordeal. His lips spread into a slow smile, and she felt butterflies invade her stomach, her excitement bubbling up to the surface. This was her moment. He was finally going to ask her.
“Well, don’t worry! I’m sure it’ll happen for you soon!” he replied with a wide grin as he playfully punched her in the arm.
“Oh, Cody, I’d love to-!” she exclaimed, but she stopped after she registered what he had said. Her face immediately faltered, but Cody didn’t notice, as he had already gone back to the conversation he was having before she had approached him. Bailey let out a deep sigh as she started towards her desk, the blood rushing to her cheeks again when she noticed that Zack and London had witnessed the entire interaction. London snickered while Zack just looked at her with pity. She wasn’t sure what was worse; the fact that her long-time crush had just blown her off or the fact that two of her friends, one of which was the boy’s own brother, had just seen the whole thing. She stood up straighter, putting her shoulders back as she tried to appear as poised and aloof as she could. Zack gave her a sympathetic smile as she took her seat directly in front of him. She was too humiliated to give him anything back, so she pretended like she hadn’t noticed as she slumped down into her chair. A second later she felt a hand lightly squeeze her shoulder, and she turned her head to see Zack out of the corner of her eye, leaning forward in his desk, his hand resting on her shoulder. She gave him a small smile as he let go, just as their teacher, Ms. Tutweiller, strolled into the classroom.
“Good morning, class!” she said, and a very unenthusiastic chorus of “Good morning, Ms. Tuttweiller” rang out in the room. Ms. Tuttweiller did her best to hide her disappointment over the fact that the class seemed as unhappy as ever to be there. “Before we begin, just a few morning announcements,” she said as she picked up a flier off her desk and started rattling off the contents of the page. Bailey opened her notebook and pulled a few pencils out of her backpack, lining everything up neatly in front of her as she prepared for class to officially begin. She stole a few glances at Cody, a heavy feeling forming in her chest when she looked at him. As Ms. Tuttweiller started on the day’s lesson, Bailey did everything she could to put her encounter with Cody out of her mind as she focused on her teacher’s words.
The class went pretty smoothly after that, and before Bailey knew it, the bell was ringing, signaling the end. She scribbled a few more notes in her notebook as the students around her began piling out of the room.
“Zack, if you could hang back a second,” Ms. Tuttweiller announced, a stern edge to her voice. Bailey heard Zack sigh heavily behind her. She quickly gathered up the rest of her things, shoving her stuff into her backpack and shutting her notebook as she stood up, hugging the notebook to her chest. Ms. Tuttweiller made her way over to Zack’s desk just as Bailey began to leave.
“Zack, another F,” Ms. Tuttweiller began, her voice low, “Do you realize what this means?”
Bailey walked out the door, moving to the side so she was out of sight of the two of them as she stopped, listening intently. She felt a twinge of guilt for eavesdropping, but she justified it by saying to herself that it was purely out of concern for her friend. “If you don’t start pulling your grades up, and fast, you aren’t going to graduate.”
“What?!” Zack exclaimed, his voice a few octaves higher than normal, “Ms. Tuttweiller, please,” he said, but she cut him off.
“That’s not the worst of it,” she continued, “Attending this school is a privilege, not a right; if you fail this year, you’ll flunk straight of this school. You’ll have to repeat your Senior Year at your home school.”
“Ms. Tuttweiller, listen, you can’t do this. I can’t go to school at home! I can’t fail! I’ll do anything,” Zack pleaded, desperation dripping from his voice.
“You need to get your grades up,” Ms. Tuttweiller repeated, “I’ll help you as much as I can if you’re really willing to listen and put in the effort. But, I’d suggest getting a tutor as well. You could always ask your brother,” she suggested. Zack let out a heavy sigh.
“We’ve already tried that. It didn’t really work out all that well,” he responded.
“There are plenty of other straight-A students you could ask. But, I’d suggest getting it done, and fast.”
Bailey heard Zack start collecting up his stuff to leave, and she quickly moved away from the doorway and down the hall, hoping he wouldn’t catch her. She bit her lower lip in thought as she walked, a plan beginning to formulate in her head as she made her way to her next class.
That afternoon, Bailey leaned against the wall near the door to the classroom where detention was held, doing her best to appear nonchalant as she waited for it let out. Just a few minutes later, she heard the teacher announce that they were all free to go, and she watched as students began piling out, scanning for the one she was looking for. Zack was the last to leave the room, and he had his nose stuck in his phone so he hadn’t noticed her. He started down the hallway opposite of where she was standing and she quickly sped up to catch up with him.
“Oh, heyyyy, Zack!” she said as casually as she could, trying to make it seem like it was just purely coincidental that she was running into him here.
“Hey, Bail,” he said with a grin, glancing over at her for a moment before he turned his attention back to his phone.
“Can we talk for a second?” she asked as she fell in sync with him.
“Sure,” he responded, shoving his phone into his pocket and readjusting his backpack over his shoulder as he turned to look at her, “What’s up?”
“I kind of need your help with something.”
A curious expression crossed his face.
“And what would that be?” he inquired. She bit her lower lip, pulling her notebook tighter to her chest as her eyes flicked to the ground for a moment.
“I kinda need your help...wooing your brother,” she responded softly. Zack stopped dead in his tracks, turning his whole body towards her as he made a face.
“What?! Ew, no!” he uttered before he started walking again, his face still twisted in disgust.
“C’mon, Zack! You’re his twin! You know him better than anyone! You can help turn me into his perfect girl!” she pleaded as she swiftly stepped in front of him, putting her hand to his chest in order to get him to stop walking. He froze, glancing down at her hand before he met her gaze once more. Her expression was desperate, her eyes practically begging him. He exhaled sharply and rolled his eyes.
“Listen, Bailey...first of all, me helping you ‘woo’ my brother,” he started, putting air quotes around the word “woo” as he visibly cringed at the thought, “is...sick and twisted in about a million different ways. Secondly, you’re pretty much already the perfect- his perfect girl. Thirdly, why would you want to change for anyone, anyways? One of the best things about you is your unwavering confidence in who you are.”
She blinked for a second, slightly taken aback by his words as she slid her hand off his chest.
“That was...sweet of you to say,” she said, surprise dripping from her voice, the corners of her mouth tugging up ever so slightly as she studied him for a beat.
“I’m nicer than you guys give me credit for,” he responded as he stepped around her, continuing on his way.
“Okay, okay! You don’t have to help me woo your brother,” she said as she chased after him, quickly making her way to his side once more, “but...listen...you’ve been on a lot of dates, right?”
“Well,” he responded in a proud tone, a cocky look on his face. Bailey did her best to hide her repulsion.
“So, you know what guys are looking for in girls. In case you haven’t noticed I don’t exactly have that many...gentlemen callers.”
Zack halted as he let out a snort, trying, and failing, to stifle a laugh.
“Gentlemen callers?” he echoed in a mocking tone. Bailey rolled her eyes, now entirely fed up.
“Fine, just forget it,” she remarked as she started storming down the hall.
“No, no, wait!” Zack called after her, reaching a hand out to her, but she was already too far away for him to reach. She stopped, exhaling sharply, turning on her heel to face him. “You were saying? You don’t have that many gentlemen callers?” he repeated, his tone still teasing as he let out another laugh.
“I don’t know why I ever thought I could ask you for anything,” she growled, her eyes going dark as she spun back around, starting away from him once more.
“Wait, wait!” he declared, as he hastily went after her, his tone serious as he gently grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her towards him again, ”I’m sorry, I’ll stop. You were saying?”
She watched him for a moment, and she could tell by his facial expression that he was being genuine this time.
“I have a proposal,” she began. An inquisitive look crossed his face as he let go of her shoulders.
“You help me become someone more...desirable, and I’ll make sure you pass your classes.”
His curious expression only deepened as he looked at her.
“You’re already plenty desirable.”
She cocked her head to the side a little, her eyebrows furrowing as she narrowed her eyes.
“I just...I just mean that I’ve seen guys hit on you before,” he stuttered out.
“Yeah, one or two. But, have you seen how many guys hit on London or Addison?” she responded. His eyes snapped to the ground as he remained silent, as he couldn’t very well dispute that. “Please, Zack? You’ve gone out with so many girls, I know you know what guys like,” she implored.
He kept his gaze locked with hers for a beat, clearly contemplating her offer, and she made sure to give him her best sappy-eyed look. He let out a sigh of defeat.
“Alright, fine. Deal.”
A wide grin crossed her face, as she extended her hand out for him to shake. He was clearly resisting the urge to roll his eyes, smiling somewhat to himself at her formality. He clasped onto her hand and gave it a light shake before letting go.
“So, where do you want to start?” he inquired.
“Well, you’ve got that big science test tomorrow. Have you studied for it at all?”
Zack let out an obnoxious laugh as he gave her a skeptical look.
“I think you know me better than that by now,” he responded and she rolled her eyes.
“Right. Well, I think we should start there. Meet me at my cabin after your shift. We can start with me after that.”
“Whatever you say. Later, Bails,” he said as he started down the hall once more.
“See ya, Coach,” she responded with a smile as she watched him go.
Okay, so. I don’t imagine this fic will be very long. I just don’t have the emotional, mental, or physical energy to start another really long fic, but we all know I adore Zack to my core so this was really a story that I needed to tell. I have about eight chapters outlined now, but I think AT MOST it’ll be ten. I hope this doesn’t end up feeling rushed because of that but, what can you do? Shit happens lskdfj. This chapter was originally going to include much more, but I’d like to keep the chapters around the same length for some consistency, and when I originally wrote this chapter it was double the length of chapter 1 so, I’m going to break it in two. Because of this, this chapter feels kinda boring and it feels like it ends in a weird spot. I apologize for that. I have a lot of chapter 3 written since I’m pretty much just splitting this one into two chapters so hopefully I can get that to you guys super soon and I don’t lose your attention with this less-than-perfect chapter. Let me know your thoughts either way, I thrive on feedback. <3
A little past eight that evening after his shift at the Easy Squeezy, Zack showed up at Bailey’s door still in his work uniform, his backpack slung haphazardly over his shoulder and a foam to-go cup in his hand. He smiled at her and she stepped aside gesturing for him to come in, closing the door behind him once he was inside.
“Hey, Bail. Where’s London?” he asked, turning to face her. Bailey rolled her eyes, a wry smile on her lips.
“She practically made a beeline out of here when I told her we were having a study session.”
Zack smiled to himself at that.
“Ah. Should’ve guessed. Well, anyway, I brought you a smoothie. Your favorite: that acai pomegranate crap you love so much,” he said, making a face as he handed the to-go cup to her, “and I put some banana in there too, since I know you like that.” She smiled down at it as she took it.
“Thank you. Did you remember to-” she started, but he cut her off.
“Yes, I used sweetener instead of sugar,” he interjected, “although I still don’t get what your aversion to sugar is.”
“It’s bad for you,” she stated matter-of-factly as she took a sip through the purple straw. She wondered for a second if he had even picked the purple straw as it was her favorite color, or if it had just been a coincidence.
“Sure, it’s bad if you eat it all the time, but I think I’ve seen you eat something with sugar in it maybe once in the entire four years I’ve known you. I’m pretty sure a tiny bit in your smoothie wouldn’t kill you,” he responded as he plopped down into London’s desk chair. She grinned at him as she took another sip.
“True, but knowing you, you’d fill half the cup with sugar,” she joked as she sat down across from him in her own desk chair, “I’m fairly certain I saw you eating an eight-foot churro the other day.”
He scoffed, half-heartedly rolling his eyes.
“First of all, it was only a six-foot churro. Secondly, I’m trying to cut back.”
She raised her eyebrows at him skeptically.
“I said cut back, not cut out.”
She shot him a teasing smile, taking another drink before setting it down on her desk. She grabbed her old chemistry notebook from the shelf above her desk as she opened it to the appropriate page. Zack pulled his textbook out of his backpack and handed it to her, and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes when she noticed that it looked like it had never been opened before. She moved her desk chair towards him and he followed suit, meeting her in the middle. She scanned her notes for a second, refreshing her mind of the material before she met Zack’s gaze.
“Okay. What can you tell me about chemical reactions?” she inquired. His lips slowly spread into a sly smile and he opened his mouth to answer, but she held up an index finger to stop him. “If you’re about to give me some sleazy innuendo instead of an actual answer, just save it,” she warned, her tone serious but her expression lighthearted. He closed his mouth again, grinning at her as he rested his elbows on the sides of his chair, making a steeple with his fingers in front of him.
“Well, in that case, nothing,” he responded as he lazily twisted his chair back and forth. Bailey’s eyes flicked to the open textbook on her lap as she flipped through the pages.
“Okay. Not a problem. What about chemical bonds?” she questioned.
“Seriously? Ionic bonds? Covalent bonds? Anything ringing a bell?”
“There’s a reason I failed chemistry the first time,” he commented with a shrug.
“Okay,” she said slowly, gathering her thoughts, “let’s go back to basics then. What can you tell me about atoms?”
“I dated one freshman year,” he quipped with a smirk. She glared at him, clearly unamused, and his smile swiftly faded.
“Nothing,” he answered quietly.
“Okay,” she said as she let out a sharp breath, “Then let’s start there. Now, atoms are the basic units of matter and the defining structure of elements. Atoms are made up of-” she began, but she stopped when she looked over to see that Zack had picked up a pencil off of London’s desk and was now slumped in his chair with his head back, trying, and failing, to balance the pencil on his nose. “Are you listening?” she questioned, the subtlest hint of annoyance in her tone. Zack grabbed the pencil and sat up straight again as he looked at her.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. You said something about how atoms matter,” he acknowledged, turning his attention back to the pencil in his hand, sliding down in his chair once more. She peered at him for a beat, turning her head to the side to a degree.
“That’s not quite what I said,” she remarked, irritation dripping from her voice. He exhaled, sitting up straight as he looked at her.
“Okay, then what did you say?”
“That atoms are the basic units of matter. Every solid, liquid, gas, they’re all made up of atoms. Now, the atoms themselves are made up of- Zack!” she snapped when she looked over to see he had gone back to fooling around instead of paying attention.
She knew that tutoring Zack was going to be a bit of a challenge, but she was starting to wonder if maybe it was going to be an even greater challenge than she had originally anticipated.
“What?” he retorted, his tone exasperated as he rolled his eyes.
“If you want to pass the test tomorrow, you need to pay attention,” she asserted. He went back to staring up at the ceiling.
“I’m sorry, this stuff is just super boring to me,” he mumbled. Her expression softened a bit.
“I get that,” she replied, her voice somewhat calmer, “but, unfortunately, you have to pass chemistry in order to graduate.” She kept her eyes locked on him, and they remained silent for a beat. “I really want to help you with this,” she started, the sincerity dripping from her voice and etched across her face as she leaned forward towards him, “So, I’ll try to find a way to make this stuff more interesting for you. However, I don’t have the time to do that tonight, and since the test is tomorrow, you’re just going to have to listen for now,” she concluded, her expression genuine. Zack looked at her, staying quiet for a few seconds, clearly contemplating his options before he exhaled sharply.
“Okay, fine. I’m sorry. You have my attention. You were saying? Atoms are?”
She then spent the next hour and a half going over the material with him, but by the end, it almost felt like they were right back where they started. Zack groaned in frustration as he slouched down, putting his head back on the chair and covering his face with his hands.
“Okay, Bails, let’s face it, there’s no use. There’s a reason why I’m failing most of my classes and there’s a reason why Cody doesn’t tutor me anymore. I’m just unteachable,” he said as he slid his hands to his chest, locking his fingers together as he stared up at the ceiling. Bailey rolled her chair towards him so that their knees were touching, and she gingerly placed a hand on his knee as she leaned forward towards him, using her other hand to grip onto the textbook and notebook in front of her to keep them falling off her lap.
“You’re not unteachable,” she said gently, “it just takes a little bit more for you to get it, that’s all.”
He stayed silent for a beat. As much as he was trying to hide it, Bailey could still see the disappointment in his eyes.
“Listen,” he began, sitting up once more and leaning towards her so that they were only a few inches apart, “you don’t need to do all of this. I’ll hold up my end of the deal, but you definitely don’t need to go to all this effort. Let’s just call it.”
Her lips slowly spread into a smile, a determined look crossing her face as she sat up straight again.
“Don’t think you’re getting out of this that easily,” she declared, “I don’t quit, and deal or no deal, I’ve made it my personal mission to make sure you graduate come May.”
The corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.
“Now, I know you know this. So, to review what I taught you at the beginning, atoms are?” she asked, looking at him expectantly.
“I don’t know,” he responded, his tone exhausted as he threw his head back, resting his arms on the armrests at each of his sides.
“Yes, you do . Atoms are?” she echoed. His eyebrows furrowed in thought as he remained silent for a second, clearly searching for the correct answer.
“They’re basically the building blocks of stuff, right?” he replied with uncertainty. She grinned at him.
“Yes, that’s pretty much it.”
He shot back up, his eyes snapping to hers, his expression surprised.
She chuckled lightly.
“Seriously,” she responded, and his excitement caused her to smile.
“And atoms are made up of?” she inquired, watching him.
“It’s those funny-sounding words that kinda sound like croutons. Wait, it’s not croutons, is it?” he replied. She bit her lower lip, holding back a laugh.
“No. Croutons are pieces of dried bread that you typically put on salads.”
His face faltered.
“You’re on the right track. Remember the acronym….P.E.N,” she commented, trying to help jog his memory. His face lit up as he snapped his fingers.
“Oh! Right! Protons, electrons, and…” he trailed off, his face twisting as he clearly struggled to come up with the final answer.
“You know this,” she encouraged, “Remember, they’re the ones without an electric charge so they kind of sound like neutral…”
“Neutrons?” he responded in an unsure tone. Her lips slowly spread into a smile.
“You got it,” she stated. An excited smile crossed his face. “See? I told you you could get it. You’re smarter than you give yourself credit for.”
He beamed at her and she felt a warmth spread through her chest. She watched him for a moment and she noticed then how exhausted he looked. He was smiling, but his eyes looked tired and his face showed how drained he was from the day. She twisted around in her chair to face her desk, and she opened the top drawer and pulled out a stack of index cards that were held together with a rubber band. She handed the index cards to him along with her Chemistry notebook.
“Here. Take these. Study them, live by them, and you will pass the test tomorrow.”
He took them from her and placed them in his open backpack by his feet. While he did so, she spun around to her desk again, picking up her phone to check the time, somewhat surprised to see that it was only fifteen minutes until ten.
“We better stop here. London will be back any minute and it’s only a little over an hour until curfew,” she said.
“Oh, well. We wouldn’t want to get caught breaking curfew,” Zack replied in a mocking tone with a playful smirk as he shoved his textbook back into his backpack and stood up, not bothering to zip it closed as he threw it over one shoulder. Bailey rolled her eyes.
“Some of us aren’t chronic rule-breakers,” she shot back, returning his teasing smile.
“Might do you some good to break a rule every once in a while,” he responded, making his way to the door, turning to face her once he reached it. She ignored his comment.
“So, what do you want to do about me?” she inquired as she opened the door for him. He looked at her, a hesitant look on his face.
“I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it,” he admitted, “Can I think it over and we’ll pick it up again, say, Saturday? Noonish?” he suggested. She nodded in response.
“Fine by me. But, don’t think my end of the deal is done already. I want to see you back here tomorrow. We’ve got an English paper to write,” she stated sternly. He groaned, but she knew he wouldn’t try to protest if she gave him her serious face and he didn’t.
“Fine,” he grumbled in defeat, “See you tomorrow, Teach.”
He smiled at her, giving her a small salute with two fingers before he started out the door and down the hall.
“Later, Zack,” she called after him, watching him go for a second. She shut the door once he disappeared around the corner, a small smile tugging at her lips.
Bailey and Zack spent almost every night together that week save for Friday, as Zack had made plans with Woody and Bailey felt that he more than deserved a break. Besides that, it had given her some time to catch up on some of the things she had missed during the week while she was tutoring him. When Saturday finally rolled around, Zack showed up at her dorm a few minutes after noon. They had the room to themselves again, as London usually spent the weekends either shopping or at the salon.
“So, where do you want to start?” Bailey inquired as she smiled at him. Zack crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back against the closed door as he looked at her with a thoughtful expression, remaining silent for a minute.
“Your end goal here,” he started, taking a few steps towards her, “Is to get Cody to ask you to the Valentine’s Dance, correct?”
She started fiddling with her hands, glancing down at them for a moment before she met his gaze.
“I suppose that is my ultimate goal,” she responded.
“Okay. So, here’s my plan,” he said, throwing an arm around her shoulder, “You walk up to him. Do that hair flip thing that you girls do that I love so much,” Zack continued, shutting his eyes for a second at the thought while Bailey crossed her arms over her chest, resisting the urge to roll her eyes, “Then, you look him in the eye and say: 'You. Me. Valentine’s Dance. Whaddya say?'” he finished, letting go of her shoulder as he looked at her with a lop-sided smile. She stared at him for a moment, her expression unchanging.
“I am not going to do that,” she declared, and his smile immediately disappeared.
“Because...it’s…forward...and demanding,” she stated, disbelief dripping from her voice. He exhaled sharply, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest.
“So, then just phrase it differently.”
Bailey let out a deep sigh as she slumped down into London’s desk chair.
“The problem isn’t how it’s phrased… I just… can’t ask him. We’re friends and I don’t want to ruin our friendship or make things weird if he says no.”
“Because this pining for him thing and dropping hint after hint has been working so well so far?” Zack deadpanned, narrowing his eyes as he sat down on the trunk at the foot of her bed. She blew air out her cheeks as she rested her chin on her arm on the back of the chair, disappointment crossing her face as she shrugged. “How about this? Why don’t I just tell him you like him and you want him to ask you to the dance? Problem solved.” Bailey stood up, her eyes going dark as she bent down to his level, moving so that she was only a few inches from his face.
“If you breathe a word of any of this to him, I swear I will punch you in the throat,” she warned. He kept his eyes locked with hers for a beat, his face a mix of surprised and impressed.
“Okay. That was...aggressive,” he said slowly, putting his hands up in surrender, “But also a little hot,” he finished with a smirk. She stood up straight again, the heat rising to her cheeks as she turned away from him to collapse back into London’s desk chair, the corners of her mouth tugging up ever so slightly.
“Yes, my ultimate goal is to get Cody to ask me to the dance, but that wasn’t our actual deal. Our actual deal was that you help turn me into someone more desirable,” Bailey stated, her voice calm once more, “And I already held up my end of the deal, so now it’s your turn. So, where do you want to start?” she repeated. He kept his eyes on her for a minute, studying her. She resisted the urge to crouch lower in the chair in an effort to cover herself. From the way he was looking at her, it almost seemed as if he was searching for a flaw rather than sizing up all of her flaws, but Bailey convinced herself that that had just been her ego talking.
“I suppose we could try changing that whole farmgirl look you’ve got going on?” he suggested, his tone uncertain. Bailey furrowed her eyebrows and frowned, glancing down at her outfit for a second before she looked up at him again. Before she even had a chance to respond, he had gotten up and made his way to her closet, throwing open the doors as he started scanning the contents.
“What are you doing?” she inquired.
“Seeing what I have to work with,” he responded matter-of-factly.
“You don’t like the way I dress?” she questioned, the tiniest hint of hurt in her voice.
“No, I do! It’s fine. And you look nice,” he replied, his tone indicating that he was holding something back.
“But?” Bailey said as she stood up and moved to stand at his side.
“Okay, you asked me to help you become someone more desirable and well...the way you dress is nice, but it isn’t...sexy,” he said, getting quieter with each word. Her frown deepened, her eyebrows knitting together in offense. Normally comments like that didn’t bother her much, but in this particular instance, it stung more than she initially realized.
“Well, that’s by design!” she stuttered out, her voice a few octaves higher than normal. “And, what? Like your flannels are so hot?” she shot back defensively, gesturing to him. She felt a twinge of regret at her comment and sharp tone, but he was seemingly unfazed as an amused smile spread across his lips.
“I get a free pass because I’m bi. Flannels are practically in the handbook. Besides, I’ve got the looks, confidence, and charisma to pull it off,” he concluded, counting the traits off on his fingers before gesturing to himself with an arrogant smile. Bailey rolled her eyes as she took a few steps towards him.
“Let’s not forget your modesty,” she replied flatly.
“I know! I really am just the whole package,” he said sincerely as he went back to scanning the contents of her closet. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes again as she crossed her arms over her chest, letting out a huff. He looked over at her.
“Oh, c’mon. You literally just asked me- no, demanded me to help you, and now I’m trying to and you’re getting upset. Do you want my help or not?”
Her expression softened as she met his gaze.
“First of all, I didn’t demand ,” she corrected, rolling her eyes as she uncrossed her arms, “Yes, I do want your help. Please.”
“Okay. So, this is just a part of it. I mean, c’mon, Bails, what the hell is this?” he asked as he pulled out a gray garment that was a combination of a skirt and shorts, with red stripes around the bottom of the skirt and around the outer V that made up the collar.
“What? It’s my swimsuit,” she responded with a shrug.
“Really? I thought this is what they used to cover the Fiesta Deck when it rains,” he teased and she rolled her eyes, although she felt herself smiling in spite of herself. “Seriously, did you lose a bet?” She gave him a gentle shove. “Did you just go into the store and decide to get the ugliest thing there?” he questioned, a playful smile on his lips.
Admittedly, it wasn’t one of her cuter articles of clothing. She shot him a look as she grabbed it from him, tossing it back into her closet.
“Okay, I get your point.”
He went back to browsing her closet and his lips spread into a toothy grin as he glanced at her.
“Hang on a second. We have a winner ladies, and gentlemen,” he announced as he pulled out a red and white flannel dress, with puffy short sleeves and a puffy skirt that fanned out at the bottom. He stared at her as he held it up to his chest, clearly trying to suppress a laugh.
“Why?” was all that he said. She rolled her eyes crossing her arms over her chest once more.
“What? My mom got that for me,” she answered softly.
“Follow-up question: why does she hate you?”
Bailey exhaled sharply, fighting back a smile.
“Hey! It’s not that bad,” she remarked.
“It looks like something you’d wear to a lumberjack wedding.”
She broke out into a grin then despite the fact that she was trying to stay agitated.
“Oh, do you go to a lot of those do you?” she joked, and he chuckled lightly. He smiled at her and she admired for a second how his smile showed in his eyes. She let out a sigh, pulling herself from her train of thought.
“So, what do you suggest we do then?” she inquired, “It’s not like I can afford to get a whole new wardrobe.” He looked at her thoughtfully for a beat, before returning the dress to the closet and grabbing her hand, leading her towards the door.
“Follow me,” he said. She looked down at their intertwined hands for a second, before looking up at him again.
“Where are we going?” she demanded.
“We’re going to see an expert,” he answered without looking back.
I feel like I’m saying this every time I post a new chapter of anything no matter what fic it is but like. I feel like this chapter is kinda boring. But, in my opinion, things pick up after this so I hope you guys stick with me for just a little longer. Two things with my writing: 1) I like to remind everyone at every opportunity that the characters are bi unless stated otherwise and 2) I like to be super obvious with my writing and it kinda feels like I’m flashing a giant neon sign in a scene towards the end of this chapter but lskdf. What can I say, that’s just what I do. I said that a lot of this chapter was supposed to occur in chapter 2, but I split it up since it was double the length of chapter 1 and I wanted to keep some consistency but...I added a few more scenes so this chapter is still much longer than 1 and 2. I’m sorry for that. As always, please let me know what you guys think, even if it’s just a keysmash or an emoji or whatever. Comments/reviews keep me going.
Twenty minutes later, Zack and Bailey were standing in the beauty parlor, facing a very adamant London, who was sitting in a salon chair, her legs crossed, her nose stuck in the air and her lips pursed in scorn.
“C’mon, London. Please?” Zack pleaded.
“Nope,” London deadpanned.
“Why not?” Zack persisted.
“I don’t help people,” she stated as she coolly examined her freshly manicured hand. Zack sighed, rolling his eyes as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“C’mon, Zack, maybe we should just-” Bailey began, lightly putting a hand on his arm.
“Besides, look at her,” London interrupted, her face twisting in disgust as she gestured to Bailey, “it’d be way too much work.” Bailey’s eyebrows came together in annoyance, her mouth dropping open as she crossed her arms over in front of her, although she chose not to respond. She was pretty used to London’s insults at this point. Zack’s lips slowly curled into a smirk, a clever gleam in his eye.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. It would be too much work,” he began, his tone exaggerated, as he joined his hands together behind his back, and Bailey’s insulted expression deepened as she shot daggers at him.
“You do realize I’m standing right here?” she snapped, speaking more to Zack than to London.
“C’mon, Bailey, London’s right,” Zack said, shooting a look to Bailey, “There’s no way she’d be able to pull off something like this,” he concluded through gritted teeth, overemphasizing every word, his gaze still locked on her. London froze, her eyes snapping to Zack.
“Excuse me?” London retorted, her brows knitted together in irritation. Bailey narrowed her eyes, puzzled by Zack’s expression and tone before she quickly caught on to his plan, and realization dawned on her face. The two of them shared a subtle smile before turning their attention to London.
“Yeah. I don’t know what you were thinking, Zack. There’s no way London could achieve something of this magnitude,” Bailey remarked dramatically. London’s eyes darted to Bailey, her offended look intensifying.
“C’mon, Bails, we’ll just have to think of something else,” Zack announced theatrically, and with a shrug, he turned on his heel and started towards the exit. London huffed and stood up, her eyebrows furrowed.
“Hang on a second,” she demanded, and Zack froze, his back still turned to her. “I could do it,” she countered defensively.
“No, no. Just forget we even asked,” Bailey insisted, dismissively waving her hand as she went to join Zack at his side, “We’ll just go find someone else that’s more suited to the task,” she concluded and she and Zack took a few steps towards the door.
“Wait!” London called after them, and the two of them stopped. The three of them stood in silence for a beat, with Zack and Bailey subtly sharing a sly smile while London presumably contemplated what to do.
“I’m in,” London declared finally, and Zack shot Bailey a satisfied grin before they both spun around, making their way back over to her.
“So… What do you suggest we do?” Bailey inquired, meeting London’s gaze. London slowly approached her with a scrutinizing glare as she circled around her, examining her from head to toe. Bailey could feel herself getting self-conscious, but she resisted the urge to try to cover herself or make herself appear smaller.
When Zack had poked fun at her appearance earlier that day, Bailey knew that he was only half-serious, and if she was admitting things to herself, she often enjoyed their banter. But, knowing London, she knew her comments would be all serious and most likely twice as scathing, which caused Bailey’s insecurity to escalate with each passing second.
“We’ll start with the hair,” London announced as she stopped directly in front of Bailey, lifting the ends of her hair on each side of her face with a repulsed expression. “We’ll do lowlights, we’ll trim those nasty split ends, and you are in desperate need of a blowout.”
“Sounds-“ Bailey began, but London cut her off.
“Oh, I’m just getting started,” she interjected, letting go of Bailey’s hair as she began to pace, her high heels making a clicking sound on the tiled floor. Bailey and Zack shot each other slightly wide-eyed looks, and Bailey wondered for a second if Zack was also thinking that perhaps this had been a huge mistake.
“After that, we’ve got to do something about those badger claws you call fingernails.”
Bailey pushed her lips together for a second, taking a deep breath.
“Okay,” she responded slowly, trying her best to remain positive and polite despite the fact that she was being insulted.
“Then we’ll have to do something about your outfits. Anything to fix this whole farmgirl look,” London continued as she stopped pacing for a moment, her lips pursed together in distaste.
“That’s what I said!” Zack chimed in with a toothy grin, and he and London shared a laugh, as they started playfully poking fun at Bailey’s expense.
“Ha ha ha, okay,” Bailey grumbled, her face twisted in aggravation, and the two of them promptly ceased the teasing, with Zack’s smile immediately vanishing, while London just rolled her eyes. “Like I told Zack, it’s not like I can afford a whole new wardrobe here,” Bailey continued.
“Well, as much as you desperately need a new wardrobe, at least a couple of new outfits is better than this ,” London declared, her revolted expression returning as she gestured to Bailey’s current attire. Bailey bit her lower lip, biting back her words as it became increasingly difficult to hide her frustration.“Besides, it’s not just about getting you new stuff. It’s also about utilizing what you already have. And after that, we’ll work on your face. Now that’s-“ London proceeded, holding up an index finger, but Bailey put her hands up to stop her.
“Okay! No need to comment anymore, let’s just do it,” she interjected through gritted teeth, the best fake smile she could muster plastered on her face. She glanced over at Zack, who was now staring at the floor, chewing on his thumbnail, obviously trying to hide his amusement at the situation. He met her gaze after a second, and she shot him a dirty look, although she couldn’t help the tiniest grin tugging at her lips, which just caused his smile to grow.
London’s lips curved into a determined smile and she snapped her fingers twice before pointing an index finger to Bailey. A second later, Bailey was being swarmed by a half a dozen workers, who began dragging her into the heart of the salon. She shot Zack an uneasy look, her eyes practically pleading with him to help her, but he just grinned at her as he playfully waved goodbye.
“You know, London,” Bailey started, her eyes still locked on Zack, a crafty smile slowly creeping onto her face as she continued to get pulled away from them, “Zack was just telling me that he’d love to get your opinion on his appearance and what he could improve on,” she finished, and his eyes went round, his teasing smile immediately disappearing. London turned her attention to him, her face twisting in contempt once more.
“Where do I even begin?” Bailey heard London state, and she tried to stifle a laugh. She and Zack locked eyes again, and it was like they were having an entire conversation without actually saying a word.
“ Payback, ” she was saying by playfully sticking out her tongue and waving goodbye to him in the same manner he had just a few moments ago. He crossed his arms over his chest as he glared at her, determination flashing in his eyes.
“ I’ll get you back for this, ” he was saying, which only caused her smile to widen. She could tell from the gleam in his eye that he was only pretending to be upset with her, and just as she was pulled to a place where he was no longer in view, she could’ve sworn she had seen the smallest of smiles dance across his lips. She was then promptly thrust into an empty salon chair and the employees immediately commenced work on her hair and nails.
Bailey spent what felt like an eternity to her in the salon, getting lowlights in her hair, a new haircut, a blowout, and a full set of acrylic nails, with a fresh coat of cherry red nail polish. When she finally reunited with Zack and London a few hours later, the pair of them were engaged in a seemingly heated debate, so much so that they hadn’t even noticed she had returned. London was seated in one of the salon chairs facing the mirror as she applied a new coat of lipgloss, with Zack lounging in a row of chairs in the waiting area across from her, his legs dangling over one of the armrests.
“I’m just saying, being bi isn’t an excuse to dress tacky,” London argued, rubbing her lips together before meeting his gaze in the mirror.
“That’s the perfect excuse,” Zack disputed, sitting up a little, smacking the back of his hand into the palm of the other. London screwed the cap back onto her tube of lipgloss as she twisted around in the chair to face him.
“Then how do you explain me?” she countered as she stood up before gesturing to her outfit and jutting out her hip, an overconfident smile spreading across her freshly glossed lips.
“Who says your outfits aren’t tacky?” Bailey quipped, and their eyes flicked to her, a smile dancing across Zack’s face as he stood up while London glared at her.
“What’d you just say?” she snapped, and a wry smile appeared on Bailey’s face.
“I’m kidding,” she said, taking a few steps towards them, “We all know your outfits are the exception, not the rule.” London’s eyes moved from Bailey to Zack, but he just shrugged in agreement as he made his way to London’s side. London opened her mouth to respond, but Bailey interrupted her, knowing that if she didn’t change the subject soon, this disagreement could go on for a while.
“So, what do you think?” she asked, twirling in place as she dramatically flipped her hair over her shoulder. A satisfied smile crossed London’s face.
“Much better. You almost look decent,” she answered enthusiastically, and Zack set his mouth in a hard line while Bailey just grinned.
She knew in London’s world, that was meant to be a compliment.
Bailey looked at Zack then as she watched him expectantly. He noticed her looking at him after a minute, and he nervously shoved his hands into his front jean pockets.
“Uhh...” he stammered, his eyes narrowing a little as he examined her, “It looks...you look...good,” he concluded. “What did they change, again?” he whispered to London, and she and Bailey rolled their eyes.
“Never mind,” Bailey uttered with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“You do look good, though,” he said sincerely, and the corners of Bailey’s mouth quirked up. The three of them stood in awkward silence for a moment.
“So, what’s next?” Bailey inquired finally.
“Next is makeup. You desperately need to learn how to-” London started, and Bailey’s face fell as she took a deep breath, squeezing her eyes shut as she started rubbing her temple, steeling herself for a new slew of rude comments. Even though she was accustomed to London’s insults, she had taken quite a few of them today and they were starting to wear on her.
“To highlight…” Zack interrupted, and Bailey’s eyes snapped open again to see Zack stepping in front of London and raising his voice a little to try to drown her out, “Your natural beauty,” he sputtered, putting his hands out in front of him, “Right, London?” he finished through gritted teeth, shooting a warning look at London. London scoffed.
“Sure. That’s one way to put it,” she deadpanned, and Zack exhaled sharply as he and Bailey shared a look.
“Thanks for trying,” Bailey said to Zack, and she gave him a warm smile as she joined him at his side. London grabbed her purse that was hanging off the back of the chair she was sitting in just a minute ago and she gestured for them to follow her, leading them out of the salon and into a store a few doors down. She wove through the store, guiding the pair of them to a counter towards the back with glass cases underneath, stocked full of various cosmetic products.
“You know, it seems like you’ve got this covered, so I’m just going to go,” Zack said as he pointed a finger towards the door, “Text me later,” he said to Bailey, and he turned on his heel as he started back towards the front of the store.
“Oh, no, no, no,” London retorted, grabbing him by his shirt collar and pulling him back, almost causing him to lose his balance in the process, “You dragged me into this, so you’re not going anywhere. If I have to suffer, so do you.”
London pointed to an empty chair in front of the counter for Bailey to sit in and Bailey complied. Zack exhaled sharply, aggressively readjusting his shirt as he glared at London. The two of them stared at each other for a moment, and Bailey could tell from Zack’s expression that he was contemplating whether it would be worth it to try to argue with her or not. Finally, he let out a deep sigh of defeat as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“Fine,” he growled, and London just gave him a satisfied grin before she bent down and started perusing the products in the glass cases.
“How long do you think this’ll take, anyway? Like, ten minutes?” Zack estimated, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his jeans as he absentmindedly scanned the counter. London stopped what she was doing and turned her head to face him as she stayed silent. Zack looked over at her after a second when she didn’t respond. “Fifteen?” he said, the disbelief dripping from his tone, but London just continued to watch at him as she straightened back up, crossing her arms over her chest. “Twenty?!” he uttered incredulously, the horror showing on his face. An amused grin spread across London’s lips.
“You’re adorable,” she said condescendingly and she went back to picking out items. Zack let out a sharp breath as he slumped down into an empty chair next to Bailey, resting his chin in his hand.
Once London had compiled an assortment of products, she got to work applying Bailey’s makeup and giving her tips on how to hide some of her “imperfections,” to put it nicely. Zack did everything he could to entertain himself in the meantime, but after almost half an hour, Bailey could tell that he was getting restless. He anxiously bounced his leg in the chair as he let out sharp breaths every few seconds, his eyes scanning the shop for anything to distract himself. His gaze soon landed on an attractive blond that walked by, and his eyes stayed glued to her as she passed. A flirty smile crossed Zack’s face as he stood up and started after her, but London reached out and grabbed him by the collar just as she had done before, all the while keeping her eyes on Bailey.
“No,” she stated simply as she let go of Zack, and Zack once again bitterly readjusted his shirt, his eyebrows coming together in annoyance.
“Seriously?” he groaned, glaring at London, “It’s not like I’m of any help here.” London paused for a moment to meet his gaze.
“I told you: if I have to suffer, so do you,” she said before she turned her attention back to Bailey.
“Again, right here,” Bailey said flatly as she pointed to herself, but the two of them ignored her.
“But what’s the problem in me going to go talk to someone for a second? I’ll come right back,” Zack insisted.
“I know you, and no you won’t,” London replied sternly.
Zack let out a sharp breath, pushing the hair from his eyes before he crossed his arms over his chest, mumbling something about how London “wasn’t the boss of him,” despite the fact that he was pretty much obeying everything she said. He watched her work for a minute with a pouty expression, before a clever look appeared on his face, his lips creeping into a smirk. He hunched down next to her so that they were almost cheek to cheek, and she jumped back a little, surprised by the sudden close proximity. She glanced at him irritably out of the corner of her eye before she went back to brushing on blush to the apples of Bailey’s cheeks, now clearly trying to ignore the fact that Zack’s chin was practically resting on her shoulder.
“Whatcha doin’?” he singsonged in her ear.
“Putting on blush,” London answered, the tiniest hint of annoyance in her tone as she dipped a brush into a small compact that housed a pastel pink powder.
“What are you gonna do after that?” he continued, his eyes shifting to London for a second before they moved to the items on the counter behind Bailey.
“I’ll probably do lipstick next.”
Zack nodded in response before he straightened back up. He picked up a tool off the counter and started fiddling with it.
“What’s this do?”
“It’s an eyelash curler,” London replied as she closed the compact in her hand, placing it in a bag with a bunch of new makeup she had hand-picked for Bailey.
“What’s it do?”
London froze, a look of disbelief crossing her face as she turned to him.
“What do you think?” she said flatly, but Zack just shrugged, “It’s an eyelash curler, ” she continued, putting emphasis on the words. Zack stared at her blankly. Bailey put her hand to her mouth and glanced down at the floor for a second, trying to conceal a smile.
“It curls. Your eyelashes,” London explained, overenunciating every word and rolling her eyes as she turned her attention back to Bailey. Zack messed with it for a few seconds longer before he set it back down. London reached around Bailey to the counter, grabbing a brand new tube of cherry red lipstick, as she pulled the cap off and rolled the end a little.
“This will go perfectly with your new manicure,” London commented as she started applying it to Bailey’s lips just as Zack picked up London’s makeup bag and started rifling through it.
“Do you really need all these brushes?” he interrogated as he pulled out a fistful and held them up. London snatched the case from him along with the brushes as she forcefully threw them back in. She exhaled sharply, her patience now dangerously thin.
“Yes. They all serve a specific purpose,” she growled, flinging the bag back onto the counter before she returned to applying lipstick to Bailey’s lips. Zack reached for something else on the counter, but his elbow bumped into London’s arm and she let out a yelp as she accidentally smeared lipstick across the side of Bailey’s face.
“Zack!” Bailey exclaimed as she jumped out of her seat. Zack winced as he looked between the two with an apologetic expression.
“My bad,” he muttered, and London let out a huff as she turned to face him. She grabbed her purse off the counter, pulling out some money as she shoved it into his hand.
“Here. Here’s twenty dollars, go get me a vanilla soy latte from the coffee shop across the way,” she said, pointing to the exit.
“Twenty bucks for a latte?” he remarked in disbelief as he unfolded the bill in his hand, turning it over to examine it. London bit her lower lip in uncertainty as she pulled more cash out of her purse.
“Would fifty be better?” she inquired as she held up the money in her hand.
“Actually, London, what Zack meant was-” Bailey started, but Zack cut her off.
“Fifty’s much more reasonable,” he said, making sure he was loud enough to talk over Bailey as he snatched the cash from her with a greedy smile.
“Zack,” Bailey warned, her tone sharp as she shot daggers at him.
“Don’t worry, Bail, I’ll get you something too,” he replied, a sly smirk on his lips as he winked at her.
“Zack!” she barked, her voice a little more severe, but he continued to ignore her as he turned around and headed towards the door. She sighed as she glared at his back for a moment, as if her intense gaze would somehow will him to turn back around.
No such luck.
“Well, actually if you’re going to get me something, I really want an iced matcha-” she called after him, her tone returned to normal.
“Matcha green tea latte,” she and Zack both finished simultaneously.
“I know what you like,” Zack replied without looking back, dismissively waving his hand. London grabbed a tissue and some makeup remover off the counter as she got to work removing the line of lipstick from Bailey’s cheek.
“We’re not going to see him again,” Bailey mumbled as she watched Zack disappear around a corner.
“I know,” London responded, and after a second they shared a playful smile.
Once London had finished with Bailey’s makeup, she started taking her through the store, all the while picking out numerous articles of clothing and piling them into Bailey’s arms. After London had buried Bailey under a mountain of clothes that made it almost impossible to see where she was going, she led her into a dressing room area that had a few hot pink ottoman’s scattered about, along with a full-length mirror and a smaller room with a curtain in which to change. Bailey carelessly tossed the pile onto one of the stools and London sorted through them, putting a few outfits together for Bailey to try on. She handed them to Bailey, and Bailey went behind the curtain to change.
“So, what are you doing all of this for?” London asked suddenly, “Zack mentioned something about a bet?”
“Not so much a bet… More like a deal,” Bailey corrected, slipping out of her jeans and into a miniskirt, emphasis on the mini.
“And the deal was?” London inquired. Bailey paused, biting her lower lip as her gaze flicked to the floor for a moment.
“Well, Zack needed help raising his grades so I promised him I would help him and in exchange, he’s helping me… change my image,” she explained.
“And why would you go to Zack, of all people, for that?” London interrogated. Bailey stayed silent for a beat. She knew London was going to keep grilling her until she got the full answer, but the more Bailey thought about it, the more ridiculous she felt about the whole thing.
“Well, it’s not just my image. Zack’s a guy, he’s been on a lot of dates. I just thought he could help me become more…” Bailey began, trailing off before she could finish.
“More…?” London pressed. Bailey started pulling on a pair of strappy heels as she spoke.
“Well, now that I’m about to say it out loud, it sounds kind of silly, maybe even a little shallow, but he’s helping me become more…desirable,” she finished her voice barely above a whisper by the end as she threw open the curtain and met London’s gaze.
She was expecting London to scoff or laugh or poke fun at her, maybe even hit her with a biting remark, but she didn’t. A delighted expression crossed her face as her eyes scanned Bailey.
“Much better,” London remarked. Bailey stepped in front of the full-length mirror, examining herself for a second. The outfit was a bit flashier and more revealing than something she would’ve picked for herself, but she didn’t exactly hate it. She guessed it was somewhat of an acquired taste; something she could see herself getting used to eventually. London’s smile faded a little as she met Bailey’s gaze in the mirror.
“You never really cared before what you looked like,” she started, and Bailey sucked her lips in for a moment as she tried to ignore that back-handed compliment, “So, why the sudden insecurity?” she finished, an intrigued expression etched on her face. Bailey took a deep breath as she turned around to face her, all the while contemplating her answer.
“I just… Kind of want to be noticed, you know? I mean, have you ever noticed how many guys flirt with you in comparison to me?”
“Well, duh, I’m me,” London replied with a cocky smile as she dramatically flipped her hair over her shoulder. Bailey pressed her lips into a thin line.
“Now, when you say that, do you mean that you want to be noticed by all guys or just one specific guy?” London inquired. Bailey nervously tucked a stray hair behind her ear as she took a seat on one of the hot pink ottomans.
“I’m not saying it wouldn’t be an added benefit if a certain guy were to start taking more notice of me,” she answered slowly.
“So, you could say that all of this is for Cody,” London commented, a hint of disdain in her voice. Bailey exhaled sharply.
“Not… entirely,” she retorted, “I told you what it was for, his attention would just be an added benefit.”
London pursed her lips in thought.
“Did you ever think that maybe the reason why it seems like to you, that guys don’t notice you as much as me, isn’t because they aren’t, but just because you’ve been too busy noticing Cody not noticing you that you haven’t noticed all the other guys noticing you?”
Bailey squeezed her eyes shut for a moment as her mind tried to decipher London’s words. Her forehead creased as she looked at London, now clearly confused.
“What?” she breathed.
“Never mind,” London responded as she started rifling through the pile of clothes. She hesitated after a moment, turning a little to face Bailey. “What is it about Cody that you like again?” she inquired. Bailey’s eyes snapped to her.
“Why do you ask?”
“Curiosity,” London answered, but Bailey could tell by her tone that there was more to it than that. Bailey stayed quiet for a minute as she considered her answer.
“Well…” she began, biting her lower lip in thought as her mind wandered to the object of her affection, a blissful smile spreading across her lips. “He’s cute. Smart. Sweet,” Bailey recounted, her tone wistful and her eyes sparkling as she pictured him in her head. A look of doubt crossed London’s face and Bailey was pulled from her daydream, a curious expression now etched on her face. “You don’t think so?” Bailey asked, her tone a little harsher than she intended.
“It’s not that, it’s…” London said, trailing off.
“It’s?” Bailey insisted. London bit her lower lip.
“It’s nothing. Never mind.”
“No, you started this. What are you thinking?” Bailey demanded, and London exhaled sharply, her eyes locking with Bailey’s.
“Well… It’s just… Whenever you would describe the traits that you look for in a guy, they don’t really match Cody to me,” London explained. Bailey narrowed her eyes, an inquisitive expression on her face, prompting London to explain further. “For one, you say you like guys that are athletic. Definitely not Cody. Outdoorsy type? Still not Cody. Tough, but with a soft heart-“
“Aha! There! Cody has a soft heart,” Bailey interjected, her tone triumphant as she pointed to London. London rolled her eyes.
“Fine. But the tough part?” she countered. Bailey’s face faltered.
“Romantic…” London continued, but Bailey interrupted again.
“Okay, so that’s what? One out of-“ London began as she started counting on her fingers, her eyes rolling skyward as she tried to calculate the number of traits she had mentioned.
“I get your point,” Bailey said flatly. “Since when do you listen to me, anyway?” she added, a tinge of annoyance in her tone. London rolled her eyes as she let out a sharp breath.
“I listen to you sometimes ,” she remarked. Bailey’s eyes flicked to her lap as she started fiddling with the hem of her skirt.
“In any case, it’s not like I was, or am, expecting to find someone with all of those exact traits.”
London let out a “hmm,” and Bailey could feel herself getting more irritated with each passing second.
“I suppose. But, if you were to ask me, I’d say your ideal guy sounds more like-”
“There you guys are!”
Both girls jumped at the noise as the pair of them turned to see Zack standing in the doorway holding two to-go coffee cups in his hands, one holding a hot beverage that was presumably London’s vanilla latte, and the other one an iced green beverage, which Bailey assumed was her matcha green tea latte.
Bailey’s heart skipped a beat as she remained frozen where she sat, her mind stuck on London’s words, her eyes glued to Zack.
“Took you long enough,” London grumbled as she took her drink from Zack.
“There was a long line,” he responded with a shrug.
“You’ve been gone almost an hour,” London shot back.
“It was a really long line.”
London rolled her eyes as she took a sip. Zack turned his attention to Bailey then, and she stood up as he handed her the other cup in his hand.
“Thanks,” she breathed, although she was having trouble focusing on what she was doing considering her mind was too busy trying to figure out what name London was about to say.
“What?” Zack questioned, and Bailey was pulled from her train of thought.
“You had a really intense look on your face,” Zack replied.
“Oh, sorry. Just lost in thought.”
Zack nodded in response. His eyes started scanning her, and she could feel herself getting self-conscious again, the longer he stared.
What do you think?” Bailey questioned, her tone much timider than she intended. His eyes flicked to hers.
“Permission to speak freely?”
“You look hot,” he responded with a playful smile, and Bailey let out a light laugh, the heat rising to her cheeks. She could see London rolling her eyes out of her peripheral vision, but she chose to ignore it. After a moment, Zack’s smile began to fade and an odd expression crossed his face. Bailey’s face faltered as she glanced down at her outfit.
“What?” she asked, her eyebrows knitted together.
“It’s nothing,” he replied, but she could tell from his expression that he was lying.
“What is it?” she pressed.
“Do you like the changes?” he inquired suddenly, and Bailey blinked, somewhat taken aback by his question.
“The changes… Do you like them?” he echoed. Bailey thought it over for a minute. She loved the changes to her hair, and she liked the way the cherry red lipstick made her lips pop, but if she was being honest, the outfit was way too tight, the heels were uncomfortable, and she hated the acrylic nails.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Then it doesn’t matter what I think,” Zack said simply. Bailey cocked her head to the side as she stared at him.
“But, you are thinking something. So, what is it?” she interrogated. Zack exhaled sharply, pushing his lips into thin line for a moment.
“Well, what?” Bailey urged.
“You don’t look like you,” he mumbled. Her shoulders dropped as she blinked, somewhat thrown.
Wasn’t that sort of the point?
“So, what? I don’t look hot normally?” she countered, crossing her arms over her chest and Zack let out a sharp breath.
“You know that’s not what I meant. It’s just that normally-”
“Zack,” Bailey interrupted, as she gently grabbed his shoulder, a smile spreading across her lips, “I’m just teasing.”
He smiled at her, but his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes like it normally did. She smiled back, but she could feel a pit beginning to form in her stomach, his comment stuck in the back of her mind.
Bailey wasn’t quite sure what she was expecting come Monday morning. She had worn one of the outfits London picked out for her; a mini skirt and a plain white t-shirt paired with a jean jacket and a set of strappy heels. The skirt was a bit shorter than something she would’ve gotten herself, but it wasn’t too extreme or revealing. She had styled her hair in soft, casual curls that cascaded down her shoulders and gracefully framed her face. She had swiped on the all-too-expensive mascara and cherry red lipstick London had somehow convinced her to buy. She thought she looked nice. Pretty.
Still, there was a nagging feeling deep down inside of her, those words Zack had said when he first saw her, stuck in the back of her mind.
You don’t look like you.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror for a beat.
Wasn’t that kind of the point?
She shook the thought from her mind, taking a deep breath as she grabbed her backpack off the floor and started out the door. She made her way to her homeroom class, stopping in the hallway just short of the doorway as she inhaled, steeling herself to go in.
She wasn’t really sure what she was expecting there either. As ridiculous and unrealistic as it sounded, she guessed that she half-expected one of those big reveals in one those cheesy teen movies, where the protagonist walks in in slow motion and the majority of the class stops to stare as they walk by.
That isn’t exactly how it had played out.
Her entrance had garnered a few looks, but otherwise, most of the other students paid her no mind, as it was Monday morning, and they were too tired, too bored, and too unhappy to be there to pay her any attention.
Nevertheless, she did end up grabbing the attention of the one person she truly wanted to. Zack and Cody had been standing side-by-side near Cody’s desk, and both of their eyes were glued to her when she walked in. She had even managed to get a double-take from Cody.
“Hey, Bailey,” Cody said with a smile as she walked by, “new look?”
She stopped near his desk on the way to her own and she smiled at him.
“Yeah, do you like it?” she asked as she twirled around in place to give him a better look and she could feel his eyes examining her.
“Definitely! You look nice,” he said with a grin. Her heart skipped a beat and she could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. “Did you get lowlights?” he inquired as he studied her hair for a moment. Bailey could see Zack rolling his eyes out of her peripheral vision.
“I did. Just wanted to try something new,” Bailey responded.
“It looks good on you.”
Butterflies started fluttering in Bailey’s stomach and she thought for a second that her heart might actually beat out of her chest.
think of her new look, Zack?” Cody questioned as he shot a look at his twin. Bailey and Zack both shared puzzled expressions.
“I think she looks good?” Zack replied, uncertainty in his tone.
Ms. Tuttweiller strolled into the room then and she instructed everyone to begin taking their seats. Zack and Bailey said their goodbyes to Cody as they started towards their desks.
“What do you think that was about?” Bailey mumbled to Zack.
“It’s Cody. I don’t pretend to know nor care what goes through his mind,” Zack whispered back as they both sat down.
Bailey pushed that last part of her interaction out of her mind, focusing instead on the part where Cody complimented her new look. She felt giddy and dizzy in the best way.
“Just a reminder to everyone,” Ms. Tuttweiller announced, “Submissions for the Young Aspiring Writers Competition need to be submitted to me by end of the school day Friday.”
Bailey scribbled that little reminder in her notebook before finally willing herself to stop replaying her encounter with Cody so that she could focus on class. Still, she couldn’t help the small smile that now felt permanently etched on her lips.
Lmao I really started this thinking I’d have it done by Valentine’s Day, March at the latest, and here it is. Six months later. Anyway, I don’t know, I kinda hate this fic at this point? Like, I just don’t think it’s my best, like I think I can do much better, but whenever I try, it doesn’t come out right. I don’t know who’s still here and if anyone is still interested, but if you are, please let me know. I’ll finish it if it still has interest, but if not, I’ll use that time and energy to focus on other projects.
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.