Let's Get Textual (Page 16)

“You okay with this flick?” Zach’s leaned in so close I can feel his breath on my cheek. If I were to turn my head, our lips would connect, and I’d melt into a puddle.

“Are you kidding me?” I grin. “This is awesome.”

“Everything is awesome.” He sings it, and I can’t help but laugh noisily. I’m shushed and given dirty looks by neighboring moviegoers, but I don’t care.

“Will you go on a second date with me?”

“We’re still in the middle of our first date, Zach. You can’t ask me that out of the blue.”

“I already did, and I refuse to take it back.”

“What if I don’t like you by the end of this date?” I volley back.

“You honestly think that’s possible?” His dimples poke through his smile, and I know right then I’m saying yes. “Say yes, Delia. Be wild. Do something crazy and fun.”

I didn’t play it safe with Caleb. We rushed into bed together, into an instant boyfriend-girlfriend thing. We didn’t date; we settled. Our relationship was like a new toy at Christmas—fun for a moment, then all the spark and glam was gone and we sat around collecting dust. We didn’t burn for each other, and I think that’s why it was so easy to fall apart.

Zach? He could be so much more, and I want to find out just how much.

“Yes, Zach.”

His grin is megawatt.

“On one condition.”

“Name it.”

“I get to meet Marshmallow first.”

“You’re on.”

Ten

“God, I f*****g love that movie. I’ve watched it more times than I’d like to admit.”

“It’s Chris Pratt, isn’t it? Even as a miniature plastic brick dude, he’s hot.”

“It’s definitely Pratt,” Zach agrees. “Have you seen the abs on that guy? They even make me want to swoon.”

“And that sense of humor?”

He grabs his chest. “You don’t even understand what it does to me.”

I chuckle and begin gathering up our trash. Zach bends down to help, our hands brushing against one another, heads bent close.

We pause, and our gazes meet for an instant. We’re sucked into a staring contest, a battle of wills. If either of us were to move only half an inch closer, our mouths would be fused together. I’m the first to tear my eyes away because we’ve been teetering on an edge the entire night—hell, our entire…whatever the hell this is. Our texts have skirted the line, and our brief phone conversations have too. I’m waiting for us to tip, to tumble over that ledge.

I want to, but I’m scared of the fall, too.

Zapping out of my haze, I say, “People danced! Can you believe that!”

“I can. We should have shown them our moves.”

I give him a surprised glance.

“I’ll have you know I’m an excellent dancer.” He leans closer and whispers, “Is the Running Man still a thing?”

“I think that died out, or evolved. I’m not real sure.”

He huffs. “Well either way, I could have killed it out there.”

“Sure you would have, Zach. Keep telling yourself that.”

We pack the cooler and fold the blankets, and Zach’s gentlemanly enough to carry it all back to the car himself.

He closes the trunk and walks me to my side, ready to open my door for me. “So, you want to head back home or…” He trails off, waiting for my answer.

I don’t hesitate for a second. I don’t want this date to end. “Or.”

“Yeah? Let’s go then. I have the coolest coffee shop to show you.”

He opens my door and I slide inside. “It’s a coffee shop…what makes it so cool?”

“Just wait.”

Rounding the car, he slips inside and revs the engine to life. It purrs, and though I don’t know much about cars, I know this one is expensive. The rich leather is cool against my touch and I reach down to flip the butt warmer on.

“Cold a*s?” He quirks an eyebrow up.

“My a*s is hot, thank you very much.” He grins and shakes his head. “This is a really good-looking car, Zach. I don’t think I said that before.”

“Thanks. It’s the only thing I really spent money on after I sold my company.”

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“I’m sorry, your company? As in you had your own business and it was big enough to sell? You weren’t always a ‘nerd wrangler’?”

He shrugs, his eyes focused on the road. “Not always, but it turns out I like being an employee more than I like being the boss. I mean, I’m still a boss in a lot of ways, but I don’t have to fire or hire people anymore. I don’t have to deal with all the s**t that comes along with being the big man.”

“That’s…huh. I’ve never heard of someone doing that before.”

“It made more sense to me. I work from home but I still have office hours, so I can shut down for a while. I wasn’t able to do that before, not even when I left the office.”

“I cannot imagine.” I shake my head. “I don’t work much with school, but I’d die not being able to leave work.”

“Where do you work? I can’t believe we haven’t gotten to that question.”

“A movie theater, actually. The Movie House.”

“Shut up!” He slaps his leg out of excitement. “That’s a cool joint. I love that you’re served food while watching the film.”

“I’m one of the waitresses there.”

“Want to know something funny? I was this close”—he holds his fingers out, pinching them together—“to taking you there instead of a movie in the park.”

“That would have been hilarious, and slightly awkward.”

“For you. I still would have had fun.”

“So self-centered, Zach.”

That f*****g dimple shows up again.

We’re quiet as he navigates us through the area I’ve lived in for the past few years. With my class load and work, I haven’t done much exploring. Despite that, I love the neighborhood.

It’s not long before Zach eases us into a parking spot.

“This is it.”

I glance out the window, trying to find it, but nothing screams coffee shop at me.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. You ready?”

“I guess,” I say, opening my door. I meet him on the other side and point a finger his direction. “But this place better be mind-blowing inside, because so far it’s as lame as you.”

“So not lame at all then, huh?”

“There’s that ego again, Zach.”

“Hey, you’re the one who keeps stroking it.”

I pause midstride, can feel my face heating with suppressed laughter. I glance to Zach, whose face has turned a pale green.

“That’s the worst thing that’s ever left my mouth,” he whispers. “I am so ashamed.”

The laughter finally escapes and I’m nearly doubled over, trying to catch my breath. Zach stands tall above me, eyes in slits as he watches me fall apart.

“Are you finished?”

I hold up a finger. “One sec.” Taking a deep breath, I stand up straight and run my hands over my hair in an attempt to smooth it down. “Thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome…I think.”

Zach leads us to a slender maroon door. He pauses in front of it, and I wonder if he’ll perform a secret knock.

“It’ll probably be rowdy this time of night. I didn’t think of that. Is that okay?”

“I thought coffee shops were chill?”

He rolls his eyes. “You’re in for a treat.”

The second he twists the knob and the door cracks open, my ears are assaulted with the ping ping of pinball machines.

My eyes go wide when we step inside. Painted a bright, light blue with various old school characters adorning the walls, it’s a complete homage to video games: Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda, Sonic, even Pong. There are at least ten pinball machines, a few skee-ball games in the corner, and big comfy-looking chairs circled around a bookshelf. The shop boasts the ability to play games and “be at the office” by providing noise-canceling headphones for anyone working to use.

We’ve hardly stepped foot into the building and I already love it.

“Welcome to Level Up,” Zach says. “If I ever need to get out of my place for a bit, I head down here to get caffeinated, play a few games, and do a little work. It’s become my home away from home.”

“I would have never known this was here unless it was pointed out to me.”

“They keep it hidden during the day, no visible signage unless you’re looking hard, but at about”—he checks the Donkey Kong clock hanging near the front counter—“well, now, they light up the outside. During the day, it’s an eccentric coffee shop.” He winks. “The nerds come out at night.”

Zach gives the barista a wave and leads us over to a high-top table that’s painted the same shade as the blue guy from Pac-Man. The stools are decorated as Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man, and I try not to read too much into the table he chose as he guides me to sit with a hand on my lower back.

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