Bookworms and... Booya! Chapter 9
I smacked off the alarm and rolled onto my back to stare at the ceiling. Today was the day. Youre going to do it, Sally. No stress. No worry. Just three simple words: I like you. It wouldnt be easy, I knew that, but itd be worth it just the same. I needed to be honest with him. He deserved it. I deserved it.
"Up, up, up, Sally," I mumbled.
I sat up, rubbing my face and eyes before kicking my legs out from under the blankets and dangling them over the side of the bed. I gripped the fitted sheet... and then I took in a deep breath, released it in a quick puff, and pushed myself up from the bed. Its time. I showered - body gel and loofa and everything - and dressed, towel-drying my hair before putting it back into a ponytail. Then I headed out of the dormitory to make my way to the Training Center. Every once and a while I looked around for Zell, but he must have already been inside. There wasnt going to be any Yo, Meg that morning. Well, at least not until I got to the Training Center.
I released a deep breath. Okay, Sally. Are you going to tell him before or after you start the lesson? I wanted to say it after, which meant that I should definitely do it before. I gave another nod. I can do this. Ill be more embarrassed than ever before, but I can do it. I stepped into the main entry of the Training Center to find Zell sitting on my stone with an intense look on his face. Could you look any more adorable? No.
"Good morning," I greeted softly.
Zell looked up sharply, and then his intense expression melted into a smile. "Morning." He stood. "You ready to get to work?"
I nodded as I came to stand across from him. "Yes." I gestured around us. "Are we going to do it here first? Until I get the hang of it?"
"You got it." Zell cleared his throat and rubbed at his tattoo.
My stomach lurched and twisted. "Zell?"
Zell looked up; his hand lowered. He tipped his head in a nod of Yeah?
"Are... Its just... Are you okay?"
"Me?" he asked, surprised. "Yeah sure. Why?"
"I-I dont know. You seem... I dont know. You look..." I shrugged.
Zell made a face and then instantly grinned at me. "Dont sweat it. Come on. Lets get busy."
He moved away from the stone and started talking about the move we were going to work on, what it was called, how it was done, and what was important to pay attention to. All I felt and focused on, though, was my stomach tightening up and my face going hot. I knew the time had come.
"Can we talk for a second first?" I knew Id interrupted, but I had to get it over with.
"Sure." Zell took a step closer and crossed his arms. "Sup?"
"Um..." I bit my lower lip, rubbing my palms on the sides of my sweatpants. Whats the best way to lead in to something like this? "Give me a second," I said softly. "This is hard for me." Hey. That was good. Let him know youre really trying.
"Sure, Sally. Take all the time you need."
I sent him a brief glance and immediately regretted it. Zells expression was serious, expectant, and intensely watching. I swallowed hard, lowering my eyes to the shoes on my feet as I clenched and unclenched my hands. I cleared my throat. "Zell, I..." Come on, Sally. "Zell, I... I really..." Oh brother. I could feel tears of frustration threaten. "Zell..."
Zell gave my arm a gentle squeeze. "Well you got my name down pat," he said in a laughing tone. Then he crossed his arms again. "I aint gonna bite you."
I gave a slight nod. Then I forced myself to raise my eyes to meet his. I tightly clenched my hands, so hard it hurt, and then said "Zell, I really, really--"
"Youre dead, Dincht."
I inwardly groaned as I turned, Zells expression lost to me as I saw Instructor Trepe head toward us with an expression of rage. Uh-oh. The prank! I looked back over at Zell. His expression wavered between laughter and uncertainty. "What did you do?" I whispered.
"And look, its the little conspirer herself right next to him," Quistis continued.
I gave a blink of shock and looked over at her again. "What?"
Quistis cheeks were flushed in anger as her eyes sparked. "Dont play innocent. I dont buy it."
"Quis, lay off," Zell said in a firm voice. "Sally had nothing to do with it."
"You think I was born yesterday? The Library terminal was the one used to send the email. I checked."
E-mail? I looked over at Zell again, but his frown distracted me.
"I cant believe you hacked the system just to do this to me!"
"Do what?" Zell asked as he lowered his arms to his sides. "Geez, Quis! What the hells wrong with what I did? It got you over there, didnt it? It got you two talking, didnt it?"
"No, it didnt. You know why?" Quistis asked, fists on hips. "I didnt go. I knew something was fishy the minute I saw the grammar. Squall was never that bad in English class. Thats when I checked the sending info on the assignment email, and that was when I saw it was sent from the library terminal."
"Save it," Quistis snapped with a harsh motion of her hand, "and butt out of my life. Just worry about your own problems," and she finished the statement with a couple finger jabs to his chest.
"I cant help it if Im worried about a couple of my friends," Zell retorted, still glaring.
I blinked. Ive never seen him glare before.
Quistis scoffed. "Worried? Ha! Youre just in it for the laughs. And you." She turned on me. I took a startled step backward. "Keep a better security lock on your terminal, Miss Regal, so that not every schmuck can walk in off the street and get in to the Network."
Zell took a step forward, capturing Quistis attention when he moved between me and her. "Quis, back off. It was all me."
"Yeah, and I suppose the whole thing yesterday was you, too?"
"Whatre you talking about?"
Quistis made a disgusted face. "You really are dense, arent you?"
I scowled and stepped out from behind Zell. "He is not," I retorted.
Quistis pelted my assurance with that flashing gaze, but I held it. "Oh, and this from the one whos been stalking him for three years but wont say shes secretly in love with him? Yeah. Thats rich."
Zells arms went quickly to his sides as he took a startled step backward. "What?"
Quistis scoffed again. "Worry about your own love-life before butting into mine, Dincht." She stalked off.
I felt the cascade of tears gather in my eyes, but I fought them back. The hand of dread that closed around my throat was going to be a little tougher to get rid of. Especially when Zell turned to face me. I couldnt meet his eyes, so I kept them on the ground as I wrung my hands. God...
Zell leaned slightly forward. "Sally?"
My eyes misted. The whole things ruined. "Y-Yeah?"
"You... You like me?"
"...I-I like you." It wasnt supposed to go this way...
"Like as in..."
I sniffed, wiping my nose with my sleeve. "As in crush. As in girlfriend / boyfriend. As in an amorous infatuation," I choked out.
The tone in Zell's voice made it sound like hed never thought it possible for a girl to feel that way. I wiped at my eyes and nose and face with my hands when I felt the tears start to escape my tattered hold. I nodded, still not able to lift my gaze from my feet. "Youre so cute and good and I love the way you try to be nice to everyone, except Seifer but even then you try, and how you help everyone before they even ask..."
I covered my face with my hands. You have to say it all, Sally! I lowered my hands to finally look up at him. Hed straightened again, leaning slightly back as he watched me with an expression of shock. "Ive liked you since that first time I saw you in class with your jokes and your smiles..." I had to admit that even though I sounded really pathetic, the confession must have lifted about 5 tons from my shoulders.
Zell looked this way and that, as if he were trying to find someone to rescue him, and then he leaned forward again. "Why didnt you say something sooner?"
"Sooner?" I choked out as I wiped more tears from my face. "Me? I didnt even want to ask you for help on the Fire Cavern, remember? I freaked when I thought I couldnt get you hot dogs. I-I couldnt even get m-myself to tease you at first..." My voice broke.
Zell moved forward, putting his hands out in front of him in an almost pleading gesture. "Sally, come on. Dont cry. Its okay."
I backed up. "No, its not." My voice hiccupped with tears.
Zell stayed where he was, lowering his arms to his sides. "Sure it is. So youre shy. Its not a crime. At least you told me, right?"
I sniffed and covered my face again to keep from seeing his eyes. "Just tell me and get it over with. Please."
"Tell you what? That I like you, too? That I think youre cool? That I wanna go out more?"
"Thats not funny," I sobbed.
"Who says Im joking?"
I sucked in my breath and blinked, slowly lowering my hands from my face as a wave of dizziness began to threaten. I looked up at him. His eyes were clear and honest. No grin. Just a serious expression. "What?" I choked out.
Then the grin came, making his eyes twinkle. "What dya mean what? Dontcha think a guy like me would wanna date a girl like you?"
"N-No." The wave started to rise, and I brought a hand up to my forehead as my footing wobbled. "I-I dont feel so good."
"Geez. You better sit down." Zell took a gentle hold of my arm to help me sit on my stone rather than fall. Then he sat close beside me with a hand on my back to make sure I didnt topple. "Just take it easy. Breathe. Okay. There ya go."
I closed my eyes. I made the confession of a lifetime... and he likes me too? Zell wants to go out with me? Do things like that happen? I opened my eyes to the view of his knee beside mine. God, I think Im going to hurl.
Zells free hand suddenly started searching the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. "Maybe you need to eat something. I think I have a candy bar-- yeah. Here it is." He held out a candy bar with peanuts and nougat and caramel. "Try and eat a little of this."
My stomach lurched. I shook my head again. "Im not hungry," I mumbled. The world started to spin a little less.
I gave a slight nod.
Zell tucked the candy bar away. Then he gave my back a couple of rubs. I closed my eyes again. This cant be happening.
"Guess I need to practice on that part a little," he said. I could hear the smile in his voice. "Oh well. I did better than Quis did with Zone, or with Squall. Heh heh heh," he chuckled. "Now that was funny. I know I wasnt there, but Squall tells a pretty good story. I can almost see the whole sad little thing."
Somehow I could feel him look over at me, but my mind was stuck on that one glorious phrase. Dontcha think a guy like me would wanna date a girl like you? I had no idea. I hadnt wanted to hope. Who likes having their fantasies ripped from them like that? I know I certainly didnt.
"Sally, are you gonna be okay?"
It was the first time in the world Id heard my name said like that. What made it so much better was that I knew whod said it, I knew I wasnt dreaming, and I knew Id finally told him. I gave a slight nod as I wiped away another tear. "Ill be fine," I whispered.
Zell gave my back another gentle rub, followed by several more. "Sorry about all this," he said. "I was gonna say something yesterday, but I wanted to talk to ma first, her being a girl and all. Wanted to make sure I wasnt nuts."
This time I looked over at him, my stomach and heart competing with flips and leaps of joy and disbelief. "Nuts? How could I not like you? You're... you're... you're Zell!"
Zell's ears flushed a little pink as he chuckled, momentarily meeting my eyes. "I know Im not the best with girls, Sally. Selph thinks Im clueless and Quis... well, you heard her." He shrugged and glanced toward me again. "I just take things too slow, I guess. You know? Take things as they go."
"B-But..." My eyes continued to watch his profile once hed looked away again. "B-But youre not too slow," I said in a choked voice. "Zell," I hiccupped through my tears, "youre just right for me. I wouldve never said anything if you hadnt... if you hadnt kept fooling around and being the way you are. I-I never t-take things as they go. I always think t-too much. You made me do this."
Zell sent me occasional glances. "And you did good, Meg. Ive had a lot of fun the past few days, cutting loose and being myself. Knowing I wasnt gonna catch any flak because of it. Its different when I hang out with Selph or whoever."
Zells hand began to continually massage my back. Tension vanished, and I thought my eyes were going to permanently roll back into my head.
"It was kinda weird at first," he admitted.
I examined his profile, noticing that his left hand was up by his face. "Weird?"
"Well... yeah. Because it doesnt feel weird."
I frowned slightly. "Im confused."
Zell lowered his hand from his tattoo to look over at me with an expression of seriousness. "I thought liking a girl would be... different. But I like you just as much now as I did yesterday morning... okay, so maybe more." Zell smiled. "And here I am hoping we can keep working out together, keep hopping the train to Timber every once and a while to play ball with your dad once I finally meet him, and hang out and laugh at each others stupid stories."
I blinked. "Thats good, right?" Is he really saying all this to me?
Zell grinned. "Damn straight. Youre a riot." Then his grin faded to just a whisper of a smile. "Youre really cool, Sally. All deep and brainy, but a lot of fun, too."
I flushed and looked away. "Im sorry it took me so long to get up the nerve--"
"Hey. Dont sweat it. I probably woulda freaked if youd said it back then."
"But still..." I lowered my head slightly as my cheeks burned hotter. "It sounds pathetic."
"No, it doesnt. Sally." I met his gaze, and he continued, "it sounds kinda determined to me. I like that." Zell tugged gently on my ponytail before wrapping his arm around my shoulders and drawing me closer. "Really, Meg. Its cool. Dont sweat it."
I wilted into the circle of that arm with a sigh. "This is why I like you," I whispered. "Youre so sweet."
Zell laughed. "Yeah? Well I really like you, too, but I gotta say I never thought a girl would get me, what with Selph and Quis always givin me dirty looks."
"Ive always got you," I whispered. I swallowed hard before hesitantly wrapping an arm around him. It felt nice. Of course, everything about Zell felt nice. "And I wont ever give you dirty looks," I finished.
"Its okay if you do. I dont mind." Zell looked over at me, meeting my silly smile. He grinned. "Come on. Lets take a walk around the Training Center. Wanna make sure youre not gonna pass out on the way to class."
"Take it slow. Ill be right here making sure you dont tumble." The arm around my shoulders scooted around my waist as the other hand went to hold my left and keep me steady. "There ya go," he said. "Take it slow."
The dizziness faded and, sad little fool that I am, I was sad to see it go. "Im feeling better," I said quietly, and I dont know why I felt I had to confess.
"Yeah, well, I wanna make sure."
So his arm stayed put. "Okay. Fine with me."
Zell laughed and I giggled. Then he sent me a glance. "You doing okay?"
I nodded. "But... Could... Could you keep holding me like this." I flushed bright red, meeting a sidelong glance. "It feels really... nice."
Zells responding smile was nice, too. "Sure." His eyes twinkled with that bit of mischievous spirit Id seen so many times before. "Now I know why you asked me to do the Booya on you yesterday. You were gonna tell me then, huh?"
I lowered my gaze to the ground and giggled. "Yes, only... I used up all my courage."
Zell laughed and gave me another squeeze. "I thought I was gonna get flipped or something."
"And you got kissed," I whispered.
He laughed again before grunting "Booya!"
I giggled and gave him a slight push. "Stop."
Zell did. So did I. "You want me to do the Booya on ya now?" he asked as he faced me.
I lowered my eyes and gave a slight shake of my head. I hadn't thought my face could get that red or that hot.
"Damn. I've been trying to get you to kiss me again. Remember the whole thing with that knuckle-noogie in Timber?" He chuckled. "Instead, I got punched."
I reluctantly met his gaze. "If I were more like you," and I could feel the red reach my hairline, "I wouldve kissed you a long time ago." I think I'm going to melt.
"Yeah?" Zell crossed his arms in a 'I dare ya' and said "Why dont you?"
I gazed up at him, hoping against hope that I wasn't really still sleeping. That my alarm wasn't going to go off... There's one way to find out. I grabbed my courage, shushed the Thrusteavis that fluttered and crashed against my insides, and stood on tiptoes to place a shy kiss on his cheek near his smiling lips. Wow. Then I looked up at him. He still smiled.
Zell leaned toward me, wiggling his eyebrows with a low "Booya."
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic