Let's Get Textual (Page 15)

“Nah. I’m not real hung up on age and all that crap. I mean, I’d have an issue if you were underage…” He trails off, raising his brows like I’ll confess to lying about my age.

“I promise I’m twenty-one and old enough to know all about orange soda.”

Zach grins and his dimples appear once more. “But you’re not, so we’re good,” he continues like I never spoke. “I can’t believe we’ve never talked about it. I feel like I know you, but I don’t know you—not the basics anyway.”

“All in good time, I suppose.”

“Fair enough.” He takes another drink. “What’s your major?”

“Journalism.”

He tilts his head, sizing me up. “I can see that. Do you know where you want to work when you graduate?”

“Did you?”

“Not a damn clue.”

“What do you do now?”

His lips lift again as he reaches into his back pocket. Pulling out a worn leather wallet, he slides out a business card and hands it over.

I laugh as soon as I read it.

“Zach Hastings, Nerd Wrangler.”

“Check us out, learning things about each other.” He pauses and his face scrunches up in concentration. Then he shakes his head and mutters something.

“What?”

“I was going to say wink but then I thought maybe I should just wink. Then I deemed it all stupid. It’s taking me a little while to grow accustomed to not having to text everything. Like, I want to pull my phone out right now and send you a text of my next thoughts.”

“Don’t do that. It’s creepy.

“I know. Woe is me.”

I chuckle and scan the rest of his card. “You design apps?”

“I do, and wrangle the other nerds together and make sure they’re getting their work done, hence the awesome title.”

“What kind of apps do you work on?”

“Lots of kinds. Fashion, coupons, games—you name it, we do it.”

“How’d you become an app developer?”

“I was kind of a nerd in high school.”

I squint, trying to see it. “You’re lying.”

“What? Nerds can’t be devilishly handsome with pert a***s and chiseled features?”

“You are unbelievably modest too.”

“I know.” This time he does wink and I roll my eyes.

“It’s surprising, is all. You don’t, ya know, seem the type.”

“Well, guilty as charged. I began studying computers early on in life and the apps thing was a result of that.”

“What was the first app you created?”

Zach grimaces. “I’ll sound like a tool.”

“Tell me anyway.”

“I created this…well, in its basic form, it was a dating app for assholes. You could rate people on their looks and how dateable they were.” He shakes his head, and I can tell he’s still upset with himself after all these years. “It was such a shitty thing to do and I regretted it the moment it was live. I’m not even sure why I did it. I wasn’t the hottest guy around, had no business making that app. I had self-esteem issues out the a*s, so why I believed it would be okay to make it easy for kids to put each other down is beyond me.”

He takes a drink and shrugs. “Anyway, it took a week before word reached the principal. I was in serious trouble, suspended for a week, but I deserved worse. I can’t even count the number of times I witnessed a student crying over their ratings, the number of people who stopped eating in the cafeteria, or the dirty looks I received. The app haunted me for months and I felt so shitty about it.” He hangs his head. “It was a stupid, juvenile thing to do.”

“Did you learn from your mistake?”

“And then some. I created a club that’s still thriving today once I returned to school. It took weeks for people to see I was serious about it, that it wasn’t a gimmick. I truly felt horrible about the animosity I created in the school.”

“What kind of club?” I ask.

“Embody Positivity. It’s there for students who don’t feel like they belong, for anyone having issues with a fellow student, issues at home, whatever. It’s a bubble of positivity. There are all kinds of rules for how you’re allowed to act or talk inside the bubble, ya know, no negative speech and no excessively negative attitudes. You’re there to build yourself and others up, that’s it. I hate the action that created it, but I am beyond happy with the end result.”

“That sounds like a remarkable place. I wish we’d had something like that in my high school. Could have protected so many kids.”

He nods. “I feel like it does.”

“So!” I clap my hands together, changing the gloomy subject to something much more appealing. “Who’s getting grape and who’s getting strawberry?”

“You pick. I’m fine with either.”

“Strawberry for me then.” I grab the sandwich with a big G on it and hand it to him. “Doritos and PB&J? That sounds…odd.”

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“You ever had them together before?” I shake my head, and Zach drops me a grin that makes my insides do flips. “Well, prepare to be stunned.”

He unwraps his sandwich and opens the bag of Doritos—family size, because apparently he’s a smart man. Then, like a total weirdo, he puts the Doritos on the sandwich.

“See? Now you.”

“I don’t know…”

“Trust me. Try it out. Do one or two small chips right on the corner. It’ll change your life.”

I twist my lips back and forth, contemplating this barbaric method of PB&J consumption. “Just the corner?”

“Yep. A chip or two. It’s delicious, I promise.”

Unwrapping my sandwich, I frown. “You made it wrong.”

His brows furrow. “The PB&J?”

“Yes!”

“How…” He tilts his head, a frown lining his lips. “How do you make PB&J wrong?”

“You didn’t put enough peanut butter on it. You’re supposed to put it on both slices of bread. That way the jelly doesn’t leak through. That’s it!” I throw my hands over my face. “We’re over. We’ll never make it if you can’t make PB&J the right way. This is a travesty!”

He titters. “That is simultaneously the most ridiculous and the most ingenious thing I have ever heard.”

Zach reaches toward me, and the moment his fingers collide with my body, a shockwave pulses through me. If I weren’t already sitting, I’d be knocked flat on my a*s.

He lets out a gasp, and I know he feels it too. His fingers graze against my skin, the touch hot and soft and not enough.

He lingers a moment, and it feels like he wants to flip my hand over and hold it.

I want that too.

All too quickly, he takes his hand away, busying himself with unwrapping his own sandwich.

“The movie should be starting soon,” he comments in attempt to distract us both.

“What are we watching?”

“On the schedule for tonight is Transformers. I hope that’s okay.”

“The first one? Isn’t that movie kind of…old?”

“You know, I’m not sure. The calendar just said Transformers.”

I shrug. “Guess we’ll see.”

“Will you take a bite already? I’m on pins and needles over here.”

Right, my sandwich—I’d forgotten I was holding it. I bring it to my mouth, self-conscious knowing Zach’s watching me, and take a bite, chips and all.

The texture is…strange, but not unpleasant.

I swallow and turn toward Zach. “I’ll hand it to you, it’s edible. The peanut butter and nacho cheese together make an interesting flavor.”

“See? I started out eating Doritos on the side, but it wasn’t long before I was putting them on my sandwich. Now I can’t eat peanut butter without Doritos nearby.”

“Where did the idea to mix them come from?”

“You remember those crackers your parents would put in your lunch? Those cheese and peanut butter cracker things? That’s what sparked the idea. I loved them, so figured why not. Haven’t looked back since.” He winks. “Guess you’re not the only genius.”

“Genius, huh? I wouldn’t go that far for you.”

“Ouch.”

I stick my tongue out then take another bite.

“So, Delia…”

“Zach?”

“Can you believe we live so close to one another? It’s very…convenient.”

“You’re on the south side of town?”

“The very edge. About thirty minutes away with all the long-a*s stop lights. Technically speaking, I live in another town, but I’m right there on the line between them.”

“Convenient, indeed.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please!” An older woman appears at the front of the crowd, her hands raised in the air, waving to get everyone’s attention. “There’s been a mix-up. Tonight’s movie is not Transformers. Instead, we’ll be showing The Lego Movie. Enjoy!”

As soon as she’s clear of the screen, the film begins rolling.

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