"Zack, that was really something special," Keziah said as she walked down the steps of the café. She turned around when she reached the car. "I can understand why you love this place," she said. Zack smiled. "I had a feeling you’d appreciate the raw talent," he said.
She smiled and folded her arms over her chest. "How’d you know I liked jazz?" She asked. "You forget I was in your room and your music room. There was an Esperanza Spalding cd on your piano and your father has a Jonathan Butler collection," he said. Keziah shook her head with amusement. "You’re very observant aren’t you?" She asked. Zack smiled and dropped his eyes shyly. He played with the car key. "Well, you were right, Zack," she said and he looked at her. "That was really exceptional," she said. Zack smiled and started walking closer to the car. He paused suddenly, the key in his hand and his finger on the unlock button. He looked at the car then at Keziah. She raised her eyebrows. "What now?" She asked.
Zack put the key in his pocket. "It’s still early, you wanna, uh.... You wanna walk for a while?" He asked. Keziah studied him, wondering what had changed. She smiled again then looked around the quiet street. It was a typical, quiet Sunday afternoon. Almost sunset. "Sure," she said and pushed herself off the car door. Zack smiled and she fell into step with him as they walked down the street. There was a park nearby with lots of tall trees growing around that part of town. It was a beautiful place to take a walk, she could understand that's why Zack wanted to do. For a few steps, they said nothing but Keziah enjoyed the silence. There was a total new feel to it. She turned to look at him.
"You know, so much has happened since you got here, Zack. The school year isn’t even a term old and so much has happened," Keziah said, wondering what her own point was. Maybe she just missed the sound of his voice. Zack smiled at her. "Oh, yeah? I hope that’s a good thing now," he said. Keziah looked away and felt a faint smile on her lips.
"It’s been interesting and even though I didn’t realize it at the beginning, it was always good." She looked at Zack again. "You’re a really good person, Zack." She pulled up her shoulders. "I’m sorry it took so long for me to realize that," she said. Zack laughed.
"You know, you’re the first pretty girl I’ve met that hasn’t fallen for me on the spot," he said.
Keziah looked away, feeling a little embarrassed. "I’m not that pretty," she said dropping her eyes and feeling the sting of the past come back to her.
"Why do you always say that?" Zack asked. Keziah looked at him and sighed.
"I’ve always been the awkward girl in my class. I had glasses, my hair was always in a ponytail or pigtail and worn back, I could talk to people, couldn’t look them in the eye, plus you know, the whole thing with my parents. Kids are curious and confused and that makes them say things and do things that aren’t very nice. I was teased at school every day. I said stupid things because I couldn’t talk to people and got laughed at for that. I bumped my head or toe around every corner and against every desk." She took a breath. "I was sort of emotionally bullied. The other thing was Annabelle. I always felt expected to live up to her. Life comes easy to her. She’s spontaneous and beautiful and just. Well she’s everything I’m not," Keziah said and didn’t meet Zack’s eye.
"So what’s so bad about that?" He asked. Keziah looked at him. He smiled a little and pulled up his shoulders. "Look, Todd is an idiot. He had an opportunity with an amazing girl and he gave it up for a tramp," Zack said. Keziah laughed a little. Some part of her felt like she should defend her cousin but it wasn’t that strong anymore. "And you weren’t bad looking - ever. Awkward, yes, that I remember," Zack said. Keziah laughed a little. Zack smiled with amusement. "You always teased me too," Keziah said. Zack looked away. "You were always different from other girls, even at that age girls seemed to be around me a lot. You intrigued me because you weren’t all over me like they were. You rather talked to Eric and refused to acknowledge me. I didn’t know how to handle a girl like you so I followed everyone else." He shook his head. "It was stupid, I know but I think we’ve both grown a lot since then and I think you’d agree when I say we grew for the better," he said and looked at her. Keziah felt something different inside of her. An attraction but it felt nothing like a crush and it didn’t feel like it was going away soon either. She nodded and smiled, suddenly feeling lighter.
"True. Look, I’m sorry about the way I treated you when you first got here. I was a total jerk and didn’t give you a chance. I just assumed you were the same guy from when we were younger," she said. Zack got a distant look in his eyes.
"Can I make a confession that I might regret later?" He asked. Keziah giggled a little.
"I’m listening," she said. "When we were younger... I-ya...." Keziah laughed at his stutter. "Just say it, Zack," she urged. He didn’t look at her but grinned. "I had this crush on you," he said, still not looking at her. Keziah raised her eyebrows. "Really now?" She asked, a little stunned and not knowing what else to say. Zack closed his eyes for a heartbeat too long and shook his head, not saying something for a while but Keziah could see a million thoughts flash through his eyes. She looked at him skeptically.
"What else do you wanna tell me?" She asked.
He smiled again. "Is it that obvious?" He asked. Keziah pulled up her shoulders.
"Well you’re still not looking at me," she said. Zack chuckled nervously. "Tell me," Keziah said gently. Zack blinked again.
"When I got here. Well, seeing you again. I hate singing in front of a crowd," Zack said suddenly.
Keziah’s brow wrinkled but she still couldn’t stop smiling. "Then why’d you sing at the ball?" She asked. He looked at her. "Because I knew you would be," he said and held her gaze. Keziah blinked, feeling flushed but refreshed at the same time. She looked away, a bit uncomfortable under his gaze and wondering what to reply to that statement.
"I guess that crush never died out," he said. Keziah blinked again, feeling her smile fade as his words sunk in. She felt his fingers entwine with hers. She looked at their hands and felt her heart accelerate. Zack sat down on a park bench and gently pulled her closer. She sat down next to him. "Look, I don’t expect you to feel the same but I just want you to know that if I were Todd, there wouldn’t have been another thought in my mind other than asking you out. Todd was a total moron because he had a chance to get you and he completely screwed it up and uh," Zack trailed off.
"I guess that’s what I’ve been hoping of getting since I met you. Just a chance," he said with a little smile. Keziah smiled back and gave his hand a light squeeze. She looked away and saw the sun setting. She dropped her eyes and bit her lip, wanting to say something but not finding the courage to. For the first time ever she was afraid to tell Zack what was on her mind. She felt him stand up next to her and let go of her hand. Keziah looked up at Zack with surprise. He stuffed his hands into his pockets looking a bit down but tried to hide it.
"I, uh, I should probably take you home now, huh?" He asked. Keziah smiled and stood up as well. "Zack, you’re screwing it up," Keziah said, feeling her fingers tremble slightly. Zack smiled. "What?" He asked.
"Your chance," she explained and took a step closer to him. She looked up at him. "You’re screwing it up," she said, her heart pounding.
Zack closed the gap between them and slid his arm around her waist, leaning down to kiss her. Keziah held her breath and felt his lips touch hers in a moment of pure bliss. She closed her eyes and put her arms around his neck.
Zack drove Keziah home after they had walked back to the car but parked a street away from hers so he could walk her home. "I’m not ready to let this night end just yet," he said and took her hand as they walked. Keziah could just smile. Just being this close to Zack and knowing how he felt about her was enough to send her heart into overdrive. "It’s hard to believe I was so miserable just a few hours ago," she said and shook her head. Zack squeezed her hand. She looked at him. "I should’ve known I’d fall for you. All the signs were there and I was just too dazzled by some guy that treated me like..." Keziah blinked and looked away. "Like I thought you would..." she realized and looked at him again.
Zack was still smiling. Keziah shook her head again. "I’m sorry, that was so stupid," she said and laughed. Zack was quiet again. Keziah looked at him. "What now?" She asked. Zack turned to her and smiled. "Did you just say you fell for me?" He asked. Keziah felt her mouth fall open a little as she searched for what to say. She laughed again and pulled up her shoulders.
"I suppose I did," she said. He looked at her for a while. Keziah rolled her eyes as she saw him wonder what to say again. "Zaaaaack?" She asked. Zack laughed.
"I’m sorry, I’m kind of new to this," he said and smiled. "I’m just wondering if this is a good time to ask if I can take you out again sometime," Zack said.
Keziah laughed a little. "I think this the perfect time for that," she said. Zack’s face brightened. "How about Friday?" He asked. Keziah nodded. "And... I was also wondering if I could get one more kiss before we reach your house and your father threatens to kill me for kissing his daughter," Zack teased.
Keziah giggled and stood on her toes, putting her lips against his. She felt him cup her cheek and her heart pound against her ribs. She couldn’t imagine anyone, not even Todd, making her heart pound the way Zack did. There was a gush of chilly wind and Keziah pulled back and rubbed her arms. "You’re cold," Zack said, looking amused.
Keziah smiled shyly and nodded. "I forgot my jacket in your car again," she said. Zack smirked and looked up. They were three houses away from her house and the car was around the corner. "I’ll be right back," he said and ran off, disappearing behind the corner to get her jacket. Keziah thought of calling after him and telling him it was alright, the jacket wasn’t that important anyway but she knew he wouldn’t listen. When Zack came back around the corner, he didn’t have her blue jacket in his hand but a black and gray stripped hoody.
Keziah laughed. "Uh, that’s not mine," she said, pointing at it. Zack smirked again and put the hoody around her shoulders. It smelled like him. Like clean male sweat and fresh deodorant. Keziah smiled as it warmed her. He leaned down again and kissed her. She smiled and closed her eyes when she felt his hands go around her waist again. Her hands were on his shoulders a while later and the hair on the back of her neck had raised. He broke the kiss and smiled at her. "It is now," he said. She giggled and put her forehead to his, going through the day’s events in her mind. She wanted to be with Zack, more than anything and she knew she would. For the first time ever she knew nothing would come in the way of this one. He was different and that turned out to be the reason why she fell for him.
Keziah walked out of the house the next morning. She had fallen asleep with Zack’s scent on her shoulders and it was still fresh in her memory. That was probably why everything looked so much better that morning. She walked towards the car and waited for her mother, feeling her phone vibrate in her pocket.
She checked the text.
:: Still can’t stop thinking about yesterday. ::
She smiled at the text, knowing it was Zack.
"So it’s you and Zack now?" She looked to where the voice came from and saw Todd standing by the low wall between their houses. Keziah dropped her eyes shyly and saw the text on her phone again. She smiled. "Yeah." She looked at Todd again, suddenly not feeling anything for him anymore, just pure happiness. "I guess so," she said and could hear the smile in her voice. Todd stared at her for a while then shifted a little, looking slightly annoyed.
"Well, I guess that’s how it works, the nice girls always fall for the bad boys," Todd said. Keziah raised her eyebrows then laughed. "Well I guess this case was different," she said and heard the front door open. She looked over her shoulder and saw her mother appear. Her mother greeted Todd warmly and unlocked the car doors for them.
"Look, Todd, you and Annabelle, you two deserve each other. I give you full permission to have her. She’s a gorgeous girl and I’m guessing she’s completely your type," Keziah said as she lowered herself into the car. Todd seemed a bit stunned. "I’ll see you at school," Keziah said and she and her mother drove off.
When they got to the school, she looked out of the window and almost jumped out of the car when she saw Zack and Eric standing by the gate. Zack and Eric walked closer. "Good morning, misses Jones," Eric said. "Morning, ma’am," Zack said with a smile. Keziah laughed and her mother smiled at the two of them. "Morning, boys." She looked at Zack then back at Keziah. "You take good care of my daughter now," she said and winked. "Mooooom," Keziah groaned.
Zack laughed and looked at Keziah. He entwined his fingers with hers and made her heart skip a beat with his smile. "Oh, I intend to, ma’am," he said.