Bookworms and... Booya! Chapter 6
Day Six - Ma Dincht
I set the brush down and pulled my hair back into a ponytail. Then I stared at the figure in the mirror dressed in a white Balamb sweatshirt and a pair of worn jeans. I'm going to meet Zells mother. I looked over at my freshly made bed. No. You're not sleeping. The urge to check had already made me turn the covers down twice. No me. Just sheets and a pillow. The figure in the mirror drew my attention again.
Then there was a knock. I blinked. It's really happening.
"Yo, Meg. You ready?"
I smiled, and my eyes crinkled at the corners. "Im coming, Zell! Hold on a sec!"
I grabbed my black brushed-denim jacket, a present from my mom, and opened the door. Zell was dressed in black jeans and a dark blue T-shirt with the usual Garden information of established, creed, and things of that sort in raised letters that varied in colors depending on the light.
I smiled. I actually felt a little more at ease around him. Very little, but it was a start. "Good morning," I said softly.
"Morning." Zell gestured to the jacket. "Youll want to put that on once we hit the road. I figured wed hoof it. Its not that far. I dont get why everyone has to drive. Its only a half hour walk."
I nodded with a serious expression. I looked over my shoulder at him as I closed the door behind me. "Okay. Do you have yours?"
He lifted his left arm to show a denim jacket with a quilted lining. "Got it. All set?"
I nodded again and fell in step beside him. Wow.
"You havent eaten yet, have you?"
I shook my head as I glanced over at him. Nervousness and excitement had filled my stomach since yesterday. "No. Why?"
"Theres this great place in Balamb - its in the hotel - and I figured you, me, and ma could have breakfast."
"That sounds great," I said quietly, meeting his occasional sidelong glances. "Ive heard a lot of good things about their fish."
Zell grinned and met my gaze head on. "Fish." He gave a shake of his head as he laughed. "Ill think of Raijin and that dog every time I think of fish, Balamb, and that hotel."
I smiled. "You tease him whenever you have the chance, huh?"
Zell wiggled his eyebrows at me. I giggled and looked away.
Zell nudged my arm. "You know what? We should get together to try and come up with some names for those cooler moves of yours."
I sent him a sidelong smile. "Like 'Booya?"
He grinned. "Yeah. Something cool like that."
"That would be nice. Id never know what to call them."
Zell made a face. "Tch! Whatever. With the story you told yesterday? You can come up with plenty, I bet."
Yes, but doing that with you would be more fun. And I so wanted to say that. I looked away. "I guess so, but I think yours will be cooler." Oh, Sally. Why dont you just admit it to him? Put yourself out of your misery and say Zell, I really like you. Is there hope? But I wasnt that brave. At least, not yet.
"Well hafta see what we can come up with. Then well take the list to Rinoa when she visits and see which one gets the most votes."
My eyes twinkled as I looked over at him. "Youre always so full of fun ideas."
"Tch!" But his eyes were laughing. "Squall and the others would argue."
I giggled, vaguely noticing the students that passed on either side of us as we headed down the main corridor toward the front gate. "They just dont appreciate it like I do." I flushed with the confession as I looked away. Man. I really am getting more at ease. Cool... I think.
"Nah. They just remember all the stupid stuff Ive done."
"We all do stupid stuff," I said quietly. Like not doing this three years ago.
"Yeah. I guess youre right." Zell looked over at me. "Where you from anyway?"
"Really? Thats where Squall, Selphie, and me had our first mission."
I nodded with a faint smile. "I know. You guys did really good, too. It was too bad the President wasnt on the train."
"Whore your folks?"
"They own the pet shop there."
"Hey. I was in that shop. We had to pick up some stuff for Angelo."
My smile remained as I held my jacket behind my back with both hands and stared at the ground. "Theyve got a nice little place, huh?"
"Yeah they do. Well have to take the train over and tell 'em how good you did on the Fire Cavern exam."
"Okay." But then Id have to explain youre just a friend. I didnt want to do that. It meant that I'd have to admit it to myself. I definitely didn't want to do that.
We passed through the Garden gates and hit the road toward Balamb. The air was chilly but felt good. It kept me awake, proving I wasnt dreaming. I took in a deep breath of the crisp air, releasing it with a smile. It was great. Like I was a new person. The Fire Cavern's behind me, graduation's a greater possibility ahead of me, and Zell's walking beside me to his mothers house while making plans to hang out more... But it needed to change. I knew it did. I enjoyed-- no. No, I really loved being his friend, but I really, really liked him. I knew I had to take that one step further outside my shell and ask that fated question.
I had to.
"Its a little chilly out here. You better put on your jacket," Zell said as he shrugged into his. "Mad toast my butt if I made you get sick." He took my jacket from my hands before I could protest. Then he stopped and held it out for me. "Here."
I swallowed hard, trying to persuade my heart back where it belonged as I slipped first one arm and then the other into the sleeves. Everything he did seemed to prove a little more what kind of a great guy he was.
"Thank you," I whispered.
Zell, I think Im falling in love with you. But I couldnt say that, could I? I briefly met his gaze and felt his grin... and then I looked away when we started walking toward the town of Balamb again. I really hate being shy.
"Say, maybe we could stop by the train station to see what times the trains are running to Timber. Who knows? Maybe we could slip in a trip there and back before tonight?"
Id die happy if we could spend the entire day together... "Alright."
Zell gave me a slight shove. "Whats the matter?" he asked with a laugh.
I reluctantly smiled - his grin always did that to me - and tucked my hands deeper into the pockets of my jacket. "Shock."
He laughed again. "No doubt. You passed and you beat Squalls score."
My smile waned a little, but I fought to keep it in place. No. Thats not it, Zell. Thats not it at all. "Yeah."
"Oh, and I talked to Headmaster Cid about that Network Admin spot we talked about. He said hell let you know. I guess he has to do some talking to people first."
I halted, looking over at him with a wide-eyed expression of amazement. "You talked to Headmaster Cid about it? Why?"
Zell shrugged. "Why not? You said youd like to do it, right?"
I gave a slight nod.
He grinned. "Okay then. Dont sweat the little stuff."
I blinked up at him. Dont sweat the little stuff? Like the answer you could give to my question. Like how much of an idiot Id sound if I actually told you how I felt. Dont sweat it? You've got to be kidding! I lowered my head and started walking toward Balamb again. Zell followed, but it took him a second or two. Youve got to do it, Sally.
"Geez, youre creeping me out," Zell said finally, and his voice sounded totally different than usual. "Sally? You okay?"
Zell had used my name, which made me glance over at him. He wasnt smiling. My throat tightened. "Im sorry. Im just thinking about some stuff."
"Duh," he said with a brief smile. Then the serious expression returned. "You need to talk about something?"
I looked away. Do I?
Expectation and dread rose up like Leviathan probably would. How does someone do something like this? I released a deep breath while adjusting my hands in the pockets of my jacket. I kept replaying the conversation wed just had, and the ones wed had over the past few days, and desperately tried to think of what to say next. I didnt want to ruin our friendship. I didnt think I would just by being honest, not really, but the possibility wouldnt go away.
"Yeah. I kinda do," I admitted. Too bad I won't.
"Okay. Shoot. Whats the problem?"
I took in another deep and slow breath, holding it for a long moment before letting it out and opening my mouth to speak... but nothing came out. The dread of rejection and humiliation-- I shut my mouth with a click. I really, really hate being shy. Its like a disease. A ball and chain. A locked door I cant open.
"I know," I whispered.
I whispered to keep myself from crying because I was so frustrated with myself. I couldnt get myself to say what I knew I had to say. I was freaking him out because of that, and... and I knew Id never say it. What do I do? There has to be something to get myself to say four blessed words: 'Zell, I like you.'
I swallowed hard, blinking at the ground as I fought the tightening of my throat that told of tears. I stopped walking, balling my hands into fists in the pockets of my jacket. He stopped, too, and his expression was probably expectant curiosity. Just do or say something!
"Zell..." I swallowed hard again. "Zell, could you do me a favor?"
"Could you show me your 'Booya?" What?
My fists tightened until my nails bit into my hands. I faced him, slowly raising my eyes to his. "Could you show me your 'Booya?"
Zell's expression showed amazement. "You mean do it on you?"
I nodded. Are you nuts? You cant really be considering this!
He rubbed the back of his neck, one fist on his hip as he gauged my face. "Sure, if you really want." Zell lowered his arm. "You gonna try and create a move like it?"
"No. I just want to try something." Really? Youre going to do this?
Zell grinned suddenly and set up. "What the hell. Sounds like fun."
I did the same as I tried to summon my courage. I knew I had to have some someplace. You just... youre just going to do that? Just like that? At least I'd go out with style.
He was his usual quick self, moving past my defenses without a problem to grab my shirtfront and pull me close... I closed my eyes and pressed my lips against his-- warm... The second lasted a blissful forever, and then he released my shirtfront and took a step back. Zells hands were still in the same position, and his face held an odd expression. I ignored the flames that burned my cheeks and forced myself to stand there, waiting.
Finally, Zell lowered his arms to his sides with a blink. "Ive never had it countered that way before," he said slowly.
I reluctantly smiled, but then it faded. What now? You know you have to say something. I gnawed my lower lip as I began to worry the bottom ribbing of my sweatshirt with shaking fingers. Dont you dare apologize, Sally!
Zell suddenly grinned. "Beats a fist in the mouth." Then he pointed at me, the laughter obvious in his voice and in the twinkle of his eyes. "Just dont think youll get away with that a second time."
I knew I couldnt, too. I looked into his twinkling eyes and his laughing face and heard the words I wanted to say fade to a murmur, my courage spent.
"Ive gotta tell ma," Zell said as he gave my arm a tug, urging me forward. "Shell get a kick and tell me it served me right."
I fell into step beside him. Why cant I do anything right? It should have been so easy... Tomorrow. Ill say it tomorrow. But I was only saying that because I didnt want anything to ruin the day wed planned. I want to meet his mother. I want to have breakfast with them. I want to take the train to Timber and have him meet my folks. I want us to share our stupid stories of life and laugh at each others less-than-glorious moments... There wasnt any guarantee Id be able to do that if I told him I had a monstrous crush. It would change everything.
"That was pretty slick," Zell was saying as he gave my arm a shoulder nudge. "Ill have to tell Selph. Shell probably give you extra credit." He grinned.
I nearly moaned. Extra credit? Who cares about extra credit? If you tell Selphie, shell tell Quistis, and then Quistisll know I like you. Then shell tell you-- Ill be mortified! Good word, too. "I-- Couldnt it just stay between us?" I asked quietly. "I dont want... What I mean is, I didnt do it to..." I cleared my throat and kept my eyes away from his face. I just wanted to kiss you for so long... "Please dont tell."
Zell laughed, giving my arm another nudge. "Okay, but Ive got to tell ma. Ill just make sure she knows not to blab. Hows that?"
I gave a slight nod.
"So that was the whole thing? You just wanted to see if you could beat me at my own game?"
Not hardly. But I didnt want to lie and say it was. If I didnt, though, hed ask. Wouldnt he? "No, but its not any big deal." Just my future of happiness. "Dont worry about it." Its my fault Im a chicken-wuss, not yours.
"You sure? Ill help, Sally, if I can. Its no sweat. Really."
I know, Zell. I know. I nodded, and my throat tightened. "I know, but I just... I just want to have fun today." Just one last day of fun before I confess all. Please?
"Cut loose, huh? Well, hey, no prob there. You should after your awesome score on the Fire Cavern." He stopped and faced me. After a moment, I faced him, too. He stuck out a hand. "Heres the deal: no school talk, no stressing, and no being responsible. Just fun, laughs, and food. Deal?"
My heart and soul warmed as I stared at his hand, so eager and inviting. Accepting, just like him. I dont want today to end. I want to be trapped in this day forever. Why cant that wish come true? Finally, I reached out and took a firm hold of his warm hand, giving a slow blink as we shook. Zell, I really, really like you... It shouldve been so easy.
"Deal," I whispered.
"Cool." Zell seemed to give my hand a brief squeeze before releasing it and motioning toward Balamb. "I dont know about you, but Im hungry. Lets hurry it up a notch."
We jogged the rest of the way.
"Yo, ma!" Zell bellowed as we entered his house.
"Zell?" Ma Dincht appeared from the kitchen, where shed apparently been cleaning the oven from the tell-tale smudges on her face and arms and the gloves on her hands. "What are you doing home?" she asked as she rescued her hands from the gloves grip. "And dont give me that nonsense about outdoor class."
Zell grinned as he motioned for me to come further in. I looked around with wide eyes. "Nah," he said. "Day off."
"And whos this little dear?"
I flushed and lowered my eyes to my clenched hands. "Sally."
"Sallys a friend, ma. Shes a candidate at the Garden." He looked over at me. "She just had an awesome score on the Fire Cavern," Zells eyes twinkled at me before he looked back over at his mother, "so I thought we could go grab some grub at the hotel to celebrate. She beat Squalls score!"
Ma Dincht smiled. "That sounds fun, Zell, but Im afraid I cant. The girls and I were going to head on over to Deling City and make a day of it. Im sorry, son."
Zell waved it away with a "Tch! Dont sweat it, ma. Sally and Ire gonna grab the next train to Timber anyway. Her folksre there."
"Oh." Ma Dincht smiled at me. "Good for you. So many of the kids dont spend much time with their folks." She looked back at Zell, but I kept watching her. My tension began to fade. "Do you think you could come for dinner later, Zell? Im sure well be back before it gets too late."
"Sure, ma. Just send an email or leave a message if youre not gonna make it. I can always rent a car to take Sally home that way, if it gets too late."
My stomach fluttered and my lips twitched with a smile. Youre going to have fun, Sally. Youre going to have some real fun with Zell Dincht!
Ma Dincht nodded. "Ill be sure to do that. Now," and she ushered us toward the door, "Ive got to get cleaned up before the girls get here, and youve got to feed this girl some breakfast." When we were standing on the threshold of his home, Ma Dincht gently pinched my chin between her thumb and forefinger. "If we dont have dinner tonight, Sally, come by and visit again. I like getting to know Zells friends."
"I will," I promised quietly.
"And call me 'ma'."
I smiled. "Ma."
She gave my chin another pinch before giving us both a gentle push toward the hotel. "Now get on with you and fill those young stomachs of yours. Have fun today, too."
"We will, ma. See ya later," Zell called as he backed toward the hotel while I walked forward. He turned and looked over at me. "If thats what had you bummed before, dont sweat it. Ma likes you."
I adjusted my hands in my pockets as I stared at the cobblestone walk at our feet. "Shes really nice. I like her, too." I glanced over, meeting his smiling gaze. "Do you think we might really be able to have dinner here tonight?"
Zell shrugged. "Theres no way to know. Her and her 'girls like having fun. They could be out all night."
I looked away. "Oh."
Zell gave me a nudge. "Hey. No stress, remember? I told her wed wait and then drive to Garden. If she makes it, she makes it."
I flushed. "Okay. No stress." Maybe it's good to put the grand confession off until tomorrow. Spending an entire day with him; learning more about him; getting to be more at ease around him... I sighed.
"None of that," he said with a grin and a firmer push.
I giggled and found myself pushing back. "It was a good sigh," I laughed.
Zell pushed again, nearly sending me toppling over, and quickly caught hold of my hand so that I wouldnt. "Whoops. Sorry." His expression adorably sheepish.
When Zell released my hand, I immediately stuffed it into my jacket pocket to preserve the feeling. "Its okay. I shouldve had my feet set better."
Zell laughed. "Youre catching on."
Then we were at the hotel getting a table on the back patio looking out onto the ocean. The view and the location and the company were better than one of my fantasy dates. I had a hard time keeping my brain believing this was reality.
We ordered breaded fish, homemade fries, homemade sauce, milkshakes, and a plate of pickles and olives. Not a very healthy breakfast, but who cared?
Then Zell pointed at me with a serious expression. "What was the big idea freakin me out before the whole 'Booya thing?"
My fantasy bubble popped, crashing me to the ground. "S-Sorry," I stammered as I lowered my gaze to the table-top. I picked at the tablecloth.
"Meg..." Zell released a quick breath. "Sally. Im teasing. Chill."
I lowered my head a little, still picking at the tablecloth as I sent him a glance. "Ive never been very good at knowing when someones joking and when theyre serious."
Zell tossed a sugar packet at me. It ricocheted off my nose to topple onto the table. "Im never serious."
I giggled and picked the sugar packet up from the table to chuck it back at him. He caught it. "Thats good to know."
Zell tossed the sugar packet behind his back to hit it with his other hand, sending it plopping directly into my water. We repressed howls of laughter as I fished it out and hid it under my napkin, looking this way and that for any sign of witnesses.
"Most of the time being serious just causes more problems," he continued with a slight smile as he lounged back in his chair. "I mean, I saw what it did to Squall - tore him up inside - and decided I didnt want that." Zell crossed his arms as he stretched his legs out in front of him. He met my gaze. "Im not saying lifes a joke waiting to happen. Its just not worth stressing over. Sure theres stuff that needs serious attention, like when we had to fight Galbadia Garden, or when we had to Assassinate the Sorceress, or things like that. But life is different." Zell shrugged, moving his gaze to his water glass. He uncrossed his arms and reached out to slowly rotate it. "Make every day count. Thats my philosophy."
I felt as if Id been inducted into a 'Zell Only room. My soul soared. "I know the others at Garden really appreciate it. I know I do. It helps me laugh. It reminds me to laugh." Wow. Did I just say that?
Zell grinned as he raised his eyes. "Tell that to Quis next time you see her. She says Im too dense to really understand whats going on and thats why Im joking around."
I waved a hand with a wrinkle of my nose, moving my water glass to wipe up the water ring. "It seems to me she needs to take your philosophy to heart, like Commander Squall has."
Zell laughed. "Shes just sore because Squall and Rinoa are working out. She didnt think it would last a month, what with the two being so different."
I blinked over at Zell. "What?"
"Quis sweet on Squall, but I know shed deny it," he told me. "She needs to get over it and go out with Zone. Geez. The guys got it bad."
"Zone? From the Owls?"
Zell nodded. "Yeah. You know 'im?"
"Not very well, but enough." I giggled, sitting forward in my chair to rest my arms on the table. "We should plot a set-up."
Zell laughed. "Quisd kill me, of course Id do it anyway just to see the look on her face." The waiter came with our order. Zell and I sat up as they set the plates in proper order. "We should do it," Zell told me. "Why dont we look him up while were in Timber today?"
I giggled again and promptly shook my head. "Zell... I dont think--"
"How come? Itd be fun."
I adjusted my plate in front of me, spreading the homemade sauce onto the fish. "Because..."
He dipped his fries in his sauce and then pointed at me with them. "See? You know itd be fun. Admit it. Setting her up on a blind date that she doesnt even know about? A perfect prank."
I sent him a couple glances. He met each one, and his smile widened each time. "Okay," I admitted with a laugh. "I admit it."
"Oh yeah," he exulted. "Were gonna get Quis good."
I smiled with a shake of my head, but I looked forward to the prospect of conspiring with Zell on anything.
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic