Bookworms and... Booya! Chapter 8
Day Six - On the Way Back to Garden
I snuggled into the warm embrace with a smile. "If this is a dream, dont wake me up," I mumbled.
Chuckle. "Got to. Were here."
I frowned and moved my hands slightly under my cheek. "Nuh-uh."
Another chuckle and a gentle nudge. "Come on. Or Im letting the train take you back to Timber."
I moaned my complaint but opened my eyes just the same. Zell stood over me with a smile as he crossed his arms and slightly shook his head. I gave him a silly smile and adjusted my arms around my jacket as I snuggled it closer. "Hey."
"Hey yourself, sleepy head." He gestured to the left. "Come on. The conductors getting ancy."
I took in a deep breath and stretched before sitting up and rubbing my eyes with the back of my hands. I yawned. "Okay, okay," I said through it. Then I stood, scooping up my jacket.
"Better put it on. I think its raining."
I shrugged into it, still drifting in and out of the dreamworld Id left - and visions of Zell and me having fun and laughing and hugging and kissing... yeah. I definitely liked that part. "Where we off to now?"
"If there isnt a message from ma saying she cant make it back in time, I figured wed watch T.V. or something."
"And if there is?" I asked as I followed Zell from the train.
"Then well hoof it back to Garden before the big storm hits."
Zell looked over at me. "Unless you want me to rent a car. Its no big deal."
"Walkings fine," I told him. Its just that I dont want this day to come to an end, is all. Up to that point the day had been a surreal experience from one moment to the next. I stared at the floor under my feet as we made our way down the stairs. It sprinkled more than rained. "I dont mind getting wet. I dont melt."
"You know whats really fun?"
I shook my head as I looked over at him. Besides you and your sense of humor and your grin and getting you to laugh? "No. What?"
"Swimming in the rain."
"Really? Ive never done that before." Visions of Zell in blue swimming trunks danced in my head. I flushed and lowered my gaze.
"Its a trip. Too bad you didnt bring your suit. We coulda swum around a bit."
I nodded with regret. "Maybe I could come back another day? We could do it then." Did I just ask that?
"Hey. Thatd be cool."
We hurried our step a little bit to his house, and I closed the door after me as he went to the computer to log in and check his email. Please oh please dont let there be an email
"Oh yeah!" Zell exclaimed. "I think shes coming. No email."
Yes! "Im glad. Im looking forward to having dinner with her. After all, you had lunch with my mother."
Zell swiveled around in the computer chair, spinning full circles while grinning that same boyish grin Id grown to love ages ago. "Your moms a riot. And those stories about the animals from the shop? I was laughing so hard I thought Id fall out of my chair!"
I shrugged out of my jacket to put it on the coat rack close to the door. Then I sat tailor-style on the floor in front of his chair. I couldnt help it. I was a floor-sitter. "Her and dad have tons of those. Sometimes shell email me them. Ive thought about making a book for the junior classmen."
"Hey, thatd be sweet," Zell said as he stopped spinning. "You should send it to Timber Maniacs, too, and see if he knows someone whod publish it. I know theyd sell."
I examined an ink spot on the knee of my right pant leg and scratched at it. "Ill think about it some more, but Ill probably do it."
Zell spun around in the chair once more. Then he leaned his elbows back against the computer desk. "So... What dya wanna do? T.V.? Video games? Too bad its raining. We coulda gone fishing or something."
Zell didnt strike me as the fishing type, though. I gave a shrug, still picking at the ink spot while only occasionally sending Zell a glance.
"I might have a new Combat King magazine we could look at," he said as he stood. "Ill go up and check in my room. Hold on a sec."
Zell ascended the stairs to his room, and I sighed before looking back to my worn jeans. So many thoughts were dancing around in my head that I didnt have a chance to completely think one before another was pushing its way through. My life couldnt get any better. Well, except for graduation if I passed the field exam.
I looked up. Zell hadnt come down yet.
I smiled, giving a shake of my head as I stood to hover at the bottom of the stairs. "Zell?"
"Yo, Meg! Check it out!"
I waited for him to come downstairs so I could... When he didnt, I hesitantly began the climb. Oh my gosh. It seemed to me like I entered the shrine of a... well, never mind. Zell sat on his bed intensely reading an article in the promised Combat King magazine. I self-consciously cleared my throat, shifting my weight from one foot to the other as I wrung my hands in front of me. I stayed near the doorway.
"What?" I asked after another clearing of my throat.
"They published my submission!"
Inhibitions and boundaries were forgotten as I hurried over to his side, sitting on the bed close beside him as I pulled the magazine closer to my side. "Where?"
Zell pointed several times in quick succession to the left side of the page where I read the verbal description of the move and the pros and cons of it, just as Zell had described to me and my mom over lunch that day. "See? They published it!"
"How cool is that?" I asked with a wide smile. Then I threw my arms around him to give him a tight hug. "Congratulations!"
Zells left arm went around me to return the embrace. Then, when my sluggish brain realized what was happening, I pulled back as calmly as possible. Once his arm had left the now very warm section around my waist, I scooted a fraction of a measurement away from him.
"This is so sweet," he said, seemingly oblivious to what had happened.
Whew. "It is, isnt it? Are you going to send in another one?" I asked calmly.
Zell looked over at me with a grin. "Damn straight! I get 500 gil each time they accept a submission."
I blinked. "Really? Wow. Maybe I should start submitting?"
Zells expression grew thoughtful. "You know? Thats not such a bad idea." He closed the magazine after another moment, sending me a momentary point. "Tell ya what, when we meet tomorrow to start naming your better moves, we can start putting together a submission packet."
Im getting together with Zell tomorrow, too? I smiled. "Okay. Sounds like fun." Be still my beating heart.
Zell stood and headed for the doorway of his room. "Come on. Ive got two magazines downstairs we can look at, too. I think I saw a couple moves thatd be perfect for you."
I gave a slow, happy shrug of both shoulders as I released a quick breath and surrendered to another silly smile. I stood to follow after him. "Cool." That word couldve described my entire day that far. Actually, it didnt do it justice. I dont think I had the words in my vocabulary for a description of the day.
So, Zell and I lay opposite one another on the floor, our heads occasionally brushing against each other when we pointed at articles here and there. We shared viewpoints and critiques of the moves published. We shared opinions on moves that shouldnt have been published. I found out who his favorite submitter was and why. I found out who his favorite judge/master/whatever was and why. I also found out just how smart he was. Id always suspected he knew a lot, especially about what he taught at Garden. Id seen that when hed given me the lesson. When we discussed the articles in the Combat King, I saw it on an even grander scale. Zell was smart.
"What about this one?" I asked, pointing at a move that combined a few different kinds of leg/feet moves.
"Here. Let me see." I turned the magazine around and tapped the page. "Which one?" he asked.
"This one," I said as I tapped again.
"Hmm. You know, I think thats a good one to try next. Your coordinations on the high side, so you should pick it up really fast."
Attack of the warm fuzzies... I turned the magazine back around. "I need to find more fist combos, though."
Zell flipped through the pages of his most recent Combat King. "I thought I saw one in here... yeah." He turned it around and tapped. "Itll take longer to master than the other one, but I really think you should give it a shot. It does a good job of combining body strength and balance with speed and dexterity. The only thing youd need to watch would be the contact. We need to work on your focal points a bit, but youll get it quick enough."
The door opened. Zell looked over his shoulder to give his mother a grin. "Hey, ma. Have fun?"
"Hello, Zell. Hello, Sally," she greeted as she shook out her coat and hung it next to mine. "Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. What about you two?"
"Of course," Zell said as he sat up. I gathered the magazines and handed them to him. He took them and straightened them in his hands. "This is Meg and me youre talking about."
Zell stood, watching me out of the corner of his eye as I did the same. Then he looked back over at his mother. Well that was weird.
"Yeah. Short for MegaPhoenix. She gave me one of those a while ago. Remember that whole thing with choosing between Headmaster Cid or Gardenmaster Norg? It was then."
"Oh. Then youve known her for a while," Ma Dincht observed as she hung up her scarf.
"Well, almost. So whats for dinner?"
Ma Dincht laughed. "Let me change out of my wet clothes, Zell. And in case you havent noticed, Ive been simmering a pot roast all day. If you and Sally could cut up some potatoes and add them to the crock pot, that would help. Dont forget the carrots and celery, too." And then she was up the stairs and closing the door to her room to change.
"Pot roast! Ohh yeaaah!" Zell exulted, and he hurried in search of the aforementioned crock pot. He found it in the right corner of the kitchen. He removed the lid to take a deep whiff of the slowly simmering meat inside. "Ma makes the best pot roast. Here. Take a whiff."
I leaned slightly over the crock pot and closed my eyes as I took a sniff of the fragrant aroma of spices, juice, and meat. My mouth practically started watering there into the crock pot. "Oh my gosh. That smells good."
"Dont I know it." Zell turned for the fridge to grab three potatoes from a basket on top. "Here. Wash these and cut them in half."
I took them and moved to the sink. "Then Im to put them in the pot?"
"Yup. Ill get the celery," he said as he opened the fridge and bent inside, "and cut 'em up," he finished in a muffled voice. "Celery with pot roast rocks."
"Shouldnt we have another green?"
"Yeah. Probably. I wonder if she has any... hmm... do you like broccoli?"
"Strange as it sounds, I do. She has some?" I finished washing the potatoes and moved to the counter near the crock pot to cut them in half with a knife from the knife holder beside the toaster. I carefully put them into the crock pot.
"Yeah. Fresh, too." He straightened, celery in one hand and broccoli in the other, and gestured to the cabinet at my feet. "Grab me a pot, will ya?"
"Sure." I opened the cabinet to pull out what I believe is called a 'dutch oven. I straightened to hand it to him, but then pulled it back again with a smile. "Youve kind of got your hands full, Mr. Dincht."
Zell grinned. "Yeah. Just a little."
I giggled. "You want some water in it, right?"
"Yeah. About half an inch." He moved to where Id been standing once I moved to the sink. Then he set the celery and broccoli onto the counter. He wiped off the knife Id used for the potatoes and started picking and choosing the stalks of celery lucky enough to go into the stew. He looked over his shoulder at me. "Got it?"
I nodded and brought the pot back over. "You want me to break apart the broccoli and put it in?"
"Perfect. Oh, and you better turn on the stove. It takes a little while to heat up. Go ahead and put the pot on it, and you better get the lid. Dont want all that steam getting loose."
I nodded again, doing as I was told and enjoying every minute of it. So, he cut up the celery as I broke up the broccoli, both of us putting the unused stalks back into the refrigerator. We didnt talk much, but I didnt care. The silence and the crunch, crip, crack of the celery and the broccoli was good enough for me. After all, I was helping Zell Dincht make dinner. Who needed conversation?
The celery went into the crock pot, the broccoli remains were thrown away, and then we cleaned the counter, washed our hands, and drifted back into the living room to wait for his mother. Before she came down, Zell remembered a website he wanted me to see and ushered me over to the computer. So thats where we were when Ma Dincht came downstairs and took over the preparations, me looking over Zells shoulder as he pointed and talked and discussed the website and how it did a great job of displaying fighting techniques, etc, etc.
Ma Dincht praised our kitchen duties, thanked us for cleaning up after ourselves, and then promptly teased Zell by accusing him of not cleaning up after himself unless there was company. He denied it with a grin in my direction, and then remembered another website that had a better search engine. So I was back to looking over his shoulder, leaning in a little more this time, as he typed and pointed and talked.
I was in heaven.
At dinner, Zell told a couple more stories from his adventures with Squall and Selphie and the others against Sorceress Ultimecia. Then he was pushing for me to tell the story of my adventure with the Fire Cavern. I did and Zelld been right. Ma Dincht did love it. When I finished, Zell laughed and said Id added more fancy stuff the second time around, and then he laughed harder when I blushed. Ma Dincht gave him a poke while telling him to "leave the girl alone," to which he gave an innocent "who me?" look.
Did I already say I was in heaven?
Then it was time to go back to Garden, and I found myself enveloped in a warm hug by Ma Dincht while promising to visit again soon.
"Hey, Sally," Zell said as we made our way to the door, "could you head on over to the car rental to see what they have? I gotta talk to ma."
"Okay. Bye, ma," I said again with a wave and a smile.
Then I left the Dincht home with a deep sigh and a content smile as I stuffed my hands in my pockets. Wow. Nobody will believe Ive spent the entire day with Zell Dincht. That Ive teased and laughed. That Ive tickled and smacked and pushed. That Ive been more myself than I thought possible. Why should they? I dont even believe me.
I snuggled deeper into the warmth of my jacket as I walked toward the car rental station. Tomorrow wouldnt be so bad. Not after today. I liked him. It wasnt a big deal. He liked me, too. So I liked him as more than a friend. That wasnt a big deal, either. We had fun together, and I really doubted that would change when I told him how I felt.
I stepped up to the window of the rental place. "Hi. What do you guys have available to rent tonight?"
"Where you headed?"
"Back to Garden."
"Oh. Well we have a car specially reserved for SeeD use."
If it was anything like the train car, it was probably ritzier than anything Id seen before. "Really? Wow. That would be great."
"Ill just need to see your ID and then," he pulled out some paperwork, "just fill this out. Then youre all set."
"Oh." I looked down at the paper as I dug for my ID. I took it out, set it on the counter, and then picked up the pen to start filling out the paper.
"Youre a candidate?"
"Uh-huh," I said as I continued to fill out the paper.
"The cars only for SeeDs. Im sorry."
"Oh," I said again. I looked up and gnawed on the inside of my lip. "Well, what else do you have?"
The man turned to his computer and typed a few letters. "Lets see..."
"Whats the matter? The SeeD car gone?"
I looked to my right to see Zell approaching. He was slipping into his jacket. "I cant rent it. Im only a candidate."
Zell made a face before stepping up to the counter. "Yo, Henry. Come on. Stop doing everything by the book and give us the SeeD car. Geez."
The man named Henry laughed as he turned to grab the keys from the wall on the opposite side of the office. "I didnt know she was with you, Zell. Cut me some slack. Here you go."
Zell took the keys. Then he sent the guy a salute. "Thanks, Henry. Later."
We piled into the pale blue economy car and buckled up. Then we left Balamb. I snuggled my hands deeper into my pockets as I stared out the window at the dark night with the bright stars and glistening water.
I nodded with a sigh before sending Zell a little smile. "Yes, but its a good tired. Ive had a lot of fun today. Thanks for asking me to come along."
My gaze moved back outside. I actually felt comfortable. I wasnt stressing or worrying or wondering or anything like that. I just sat there enjoying the view and the company and the memories I had. It was nice. Im not saying I was cured of my shyness. No. Thats something a person wrestles with their entire life, but I felt comfortable. And that felt nice.
"You up to working out tomorrow morning same as last time?"
My eyes met his sidelong glances. "Of course. Are we going to try some of those moves we saw in the magazine?"
"Maybe one, but I dont want to overdo it. Weve got to keep testing you for the field exam coming up. If I overload you with new moves and stuff, youll freak out and flunk. Well, maybe not flunk, but youd freak."
"Okay. Just one then. Thats okay."
"Then, after class, Ill meet you at the library."
My eyes widened. "Really? Why?"
"Weve got to come up with some names for those moves, remember? And weve got to start figuring out which ones were going to submit to Combat King."
Oh my gosh. "Thats right. Okay." It couldnt get better.
Gardens brightness loomed in front of us then, and my stomach settled clear to my spine. I didnt want the day to end. Zell pulled the car into the parking lot and got out, coming around to my side as I struggled with my seat belt.
"I think Im stuck," I said absently once hed opened the door.
"I cant get the belt undone."
"Here. Let me see." Zell leaned into the car and over me, examining the seat belt as I sat back further into the seat and closed my eyes. Oh boy... "What the hell?"
I opened my eyes and looked over, but his head was in the way. "Whats the matter?"
"The button wont go in all the way, but theres nothing blocking it. Hmm... Geez. Come on, you stupid little..."
I stuffed a giggle behind a strategically placed hand and looked away. "Sorry about this," I said when I trusted my voice.
"Nah. Not your fault-- there. Okay. Free to go." He straightened and promptly bumped his head on the door frame. "Ouch!" He glared at it as he rubbed his head.
"Are you okay?" I asked as I carefully got out of the car.
"Yeah. Geez. I knew there was a reason I didnt like this car."
I giggled aloud that time, tugging his arm and gesturing toward the entrance to Garden. "You want to stop by the Infirmary and get some ice?" I asked once he started walking.
"Nah. Ive had tougher bumps than this and lived to tell about it."
Thank goodness for that. We entered Gardens main corridor and turned right toward the dormitory. "Thanks again for today, Zell."
"No sweat. Thanks for inviting me to lunch with your ma. It was fun. Too bad your dad couldnt come, though. That wouldve been a riot playing ball with you and him."
"Ive still got to go swimming in the rain with you in Balamb. So well just have to make a day to play ball together when I know my dads going to be in Timber." Way to go, Sally!
"Sounds like fun."
But something didnt sound right. I sent him a sidelong glance. Zell had started lightly rubbing his tattoo. Uh-oh. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Zell seemed to shrug something off moments before sending me a grin and a nudge. "See you bright and early tomorrow morning, Sally. Okay?"
I nodded. "Okay."
Then he headed away at a jog. I stopped at the corridor that led to the dormitory and watched him until hed moved out of sight. Then I released a slow breath and turned, quietly heading toward my room and the sweet promise of tomorrow.
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