Let's Get Textual (Page 39)
I glance to Zoe.
She holds her hands out. “Wasn’t me.”
“Does it say who it’s from?”
The delivery driver looks nervous for a moment before finally shaking his head.
“So what you’re saying is yes, but you were paid handsomely to keep that info private?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that.”
“What about nonverbally?”
“I was given specific instructions not to relay information in any way. The…donor said you’d try to ‘woo’ the information out of me and to stay strong.” He uses air quotes and everything. I adore this kid.
“Fine. You win. Hand over the pizza.”
Once he leaves, I take it inside and place it on the coffee table. Taking a seat on the couch, I sit there watching it like it’s a ticking time bomb.
“It’s not going to bite you,” Zoe eventually says.
“I know, but what is it?”
“Yes, but what does it mean? It is from Zach…right?”
She shrugs. “I’m assuming so.”
“So it’s safe to eat?”
“We just had dinner!”
I scowl at her. “It’s pizza. You don’t turn down pizza—especially free pizza!”
“Fine. Then eat it. I’m headed to bed.”
She goes to her bedroom, and I don’t move until I hear the door click shut.
Is this a peace offering? A goodbye gift? What the hell does it mean?
Finally, after what feels like hours, I open it…and burst into laughter.
Artfully arranged, the pepperonis spell out GAME ON.
And I know exactly what Zach is saying to me.
I stare up at the discreet building, watching and waiting.
Like the first time I came here, there’s nothing special about it. It’s plain and blends in with every other building on the street.
In fact, it’s like it doesn’t exist, like the dark red door leads to nowhere.
But I know it doesn’t.
I know it leads to someplace magical where you can forget all your troubles and just…be.
In five, four, three, two, one…
The sign illuminates.
Level Up is officially open to the night crew, and tonight, I’m part of it.
I push open my car door and approach the building. My palms are sweating and with the way I’m perspiring, I’m finding it difficult to believe it’s December.
Hand on the door, I pause.
This is it, the moment I’ve been waiting days for.
He’s going to be behind that door, and he’ll either forgive me or forget me.
I’m hoping for the former, and refuse to accept anything else.
Taking a deep breath, I push it open and step into the noise.
“Welcome to Level Up!” the now familiar barista calls from behind the counter. “Your usual?”
I nod, and he busies himself making my drink.
My eyes fall to the Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man table we occupied the first time we came here.
There he sits, eyes on me.
I can’t breathe. My throat goes dry, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth.
In the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t been that long since I last laid eyes on him, but I swear, my body awakens for the first time in too long as his green eyes rake over me.
When he finally meets my gaze, his signature dimples appear, and my knees threaten to cave on me.
“Order up for Delia!”
Pulling myself from his stare, I grab my drink and slide the barista his money.
“Keep the change.” I turn around and am surprised to find the table empty.
I scan the room, and he’s not here. Did I dream him?
Defeat cascades over me. My shoulders slump inward and I can feel the tears coming on.
Home. I need to go home.
As I’m about to turn, I feel it.
“I’ll play you for a kiss.”
A tingle runs straight down my spine and the shiver it leaves behind is visible.
“I don’t think this is a good place for that.”
“No? And why is that, Delia?”
“Because I’m certain once I start kissing you, I won’t be able to stop.”
He grabs my elbow and spins me around. We’re standing so close that I have to arch my head back to meet his eyes.
“Hi,” I say breathlessly.
“I see you received my message.”
“And I see you received mine.”
“I’d like my goat back, Delia.”
“I’d like to say I’m sorry.”
He releases me and takes a step back. “Let’s play for answers, shall we?”
I don’t verbally answer him. Instead I make my way to the skee-ball wall and set us up for two games. We each grab a ball and make our first play.
“I’m sorry I didn’t trust you more,” I tell him.
“Why did you jump to the conclusion that it was me who sent the photo?”
“On the screen, the sender was ‘Z’.”
“I can see why that would send you into a tailspin, but you should have known better, Delia. I’d never do that to you. I’d never do that to anyone.”
We throw another ball. He scores a hundred points. Ass.
“Do you…” I don’t know how to phrase this, but I need to get it out there. “Do you know who sent the photo?”
“It’s being taken care of.”
I drop my ball and give him my full attention. “What does that mean, Zach?”
“It means my father had to pull me off my brother because I wasn’t capable of pulling my own hands from his throat. It means he’s done with baseball for the season. It means he’s in an enormous amount of fucking trouble, Delia.”
I can’t help it—I start crying.
He gathers me into his arms and the weight I’ve been carrying around slips away. I missed this. I missed being close to him, touching him.
I feel horrible for what he’s experienced with his brother because of this, and I hate to think about how his relationship with him will change.
“Who told you?” I ask through the tears.
“Caleb. I like that guy. Sucks for him that I’m never letting you go.”
I laugh. “I’d choose you any day.”
“Because of my ass?”
“Because of your ass.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, placing a kiss on top of my head.
“You’re sorry?” I pull away and peek up at him. “For what?”
“For not deleting the picture ASAP. I should have. You told me to delete it and I shouldn’t have waited a second longer to do so. This is all my fault.”
“No,” I say with determination. “No fucking way. This is your brother’s fault. He’s the one who immaturely sent out that picture of me. This is my fault for blaming you, but none of this is on you.”
He hangs his head. “I can’t accept that.”
“Well too damn bad. You’re going to have to.”
“You don’t get to boss me around, Delia.”
I raise a brow in a challenge. “Watch me.”
He laughs, and I can’t believe how wonderful the sound is to my ears.
Resting his forehead against mine, he says, “I missed you, you know.”
“I missed you like you wouldn’t believe.”
“You have to promise me that if anything—and I mean anything—happens where you’re worried I’ve betrayed you, where you’re worried I’m not being the person you think I am, you need to confront me. Don’t throw out accusations and fly off the handle. Talk to me. We’ll work through it. Besides, chances are you’re just being so crazy again.”
Without having to ask, I know he’s referring to Zoe’s tirade distraction method during our goat retrieval mission.
“That damn Zoe.”
He chuckles and steps toward me. “I’m still going to want my goat back, by the way.”
“We’ll see, Zachary.”
“But do you promise, Delia? Do you promise to trust me and talk to me? Don’t shut me out and push me away because you think you’re right about something.”
“One, I am always right, that’s just a fact.” He shakes his head. “Two…yes, I promise. I know I’ve already said it, but I am so, so sorry I didn’t come to you about it…but you try seeing your boobs plastered across a stranger’s cell phone and see how you feel.”
“I have great boobs, so I wouldn’t be too offended by it.”
I roll my eyes. “Ass.”
“That’s great too.”
He reaches out and touches my bare skin for the first time in over a week, his fingers brushing over my cheek. My breath catches in my throat and I’m frozen to the spot.
His eyes have turned serious, and I’m nervous to hear what he’ll say next.
“I know you said I don’t need to say it, but I do. I’m sorry this happened to you, Delia. I’m sorry you were so violated, and I’m really fucking sorry it was by my brother. I’m not sure I can ever forgive him for this. My parents are threatening to rip him out of school entirely. It’s been a wreck of a few days.”