A/N: Okay, so. I don't imagine this fic will be very long. I just don't have the emotional, mental, or physical energy to start another really long fic, but I adore Zack to my core so this was really a story that I needed to tell. I have about eight chapters outlined now, but I think AT MOST it'll be ten. I hope this doesn't end up feeling rushed because of that but, what can you do? Shit happens lol. This chapter was originally going to include much more, but I'd like to keep the chapters around the same length for some consistency, and when I originally wrote this chapter it was double the length of chapter 1 so, I'm going to break it in two. Because of this, this chapter feels kinda boring and it feels like it ends in a weird spot. I apologize for that. I have a lot of chapter 3 written since I'm pretty much just splitting this one into two chapters so hopefully I can get that to you guys super soon and I don't lose your attention with this less-than-perfect chapter. Also, this is super minor but it's been bugging me. I had Bailey say in the last chapter "We've got that big science test." but then when I was writing this chapter I was thinking about it, where Bailey's at academically compared to Zack, it's highly unlikely that they'd be in the same science class. So, I changed it to "you've got that big science test." but to everyone that's already read that chapter, just pretend like that's what it said to begin with. Let me know your thoughts, either way, I thrive on feedback. 3
A little past eight that evening after his shift at the Easy Squeezy, Zack showed up at Bailey's door still in his work uniform, his backpack slung haphazardly over his shoulder and a foam to-go cup in his hand. He smiled at her and she stepped aside gesturing for him to come in, closing the door behind him once he was inside.
"Hey, Bail. Where's London?" he asked, turning to face her. Bailey rolled her eyes, a wry smile on her lips.
"She practically made a beeline out of here when I told her we were having a study session."
Zack smiled to himself at that.
"Ah. Should've guessed. Well, anyway, I brought you a smoothie. Your favorite: that acai pomegranate crap you love so much," he said, making a face as he handed the to-go cup to her, "and I put some banana in there too, since I know you like that." She smiled down at it as she took it.
"Thank you. Did you remember to-" she started, but he cut her off.
"Yes, I used sweetener instead of sugar," he interjected, "although I still don't get what your aversion to sugar is."
"It's bad for you," she stated matter-of-factly as she took a sip through the purple straw. She wondered for a second if he had even picked the purple straw as it was her favorite color, or if it had just been a coincidence.
"Sure, it's bad if you eat it all the time, but I think I've seen you eat something with sugar in it maybe once in the entire four years I've known you. I'm pretty sure a tiny bit in your smoothie wouldn't kill you," he responded as he plopped down into London's desk chair. She grinned at him as she took another sip.
"True, but knowing you, you'd fill half the cup with sugar," she joked as she sat down across from him in her own desk chair, "I'm fairly certain I saw you eating an eight-foot churro the other day."
He scoffed, half-heartedly rolling his eyes.
"First of all, it was only a six-foot churro. Secondly, I'm trying to cut back."
She raised her eyebrows at him skeptically.
"I said cut back, not cut out."
She shot him a teasing smile, taking another drink before setting it down on her desk. She grabbed her old chemistry notebook from the shelf above her desk as she opened it to the appropriate page. Zack pulled his textbook out of his backpack and handed it to her, and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes when she noticed that it looked like it had never been opened before. She moved her desk chair towards him and he followed suit, meeting her in the middle. She scanned her notes for a second, refreshing her mind of the material before she met Zack's gaze.
"Okay. What can you tell me about chemical reactions?" she inquired. His lips slowly spread into a sly smile and he opened his mouth to answer, but she held up an index finger to stop him. "If you're about to give me some sleazy innuendo instead of an actual answer, just save it," she warned, her tone serious but her expression lighthearted. He closed his mouth again, grinning at her as he rested his elbows on the sides of his chair, making a steeple with his fingers in front of him.
"Well, in that case, nothing," he responded as he lazily twisted his chair back and forth. Bailey's eyes flicked to the open textbook on her lap as she flipped through the pages.
"Okay. Not a problem. What about chemical bonds?" she questioned.
"Seriously? Ionic bonds? Covalent bonds? Anything ringing a bell?"
"There's a reason I failed chemistry the first time," he commented with a shrug.
"Okay," she said slowly, gathering her thoughts, "let's go back to basics then. What can you tell me about atoms?"
"I dated one freshman year," he quipped with a smirk. She glared at him, clearly unamused, and his smile swiftly faded.
"Nothing," he answered quietly.
"Okay," she said as she let out a sharp breath, "Then let's start there. Now, atoms are the basic units of matter and the defining structure of elements. Atoms are made up of-" she began, but she stopped when she looked over to see that Zack had picked up a pencil off of London's desk and was now slumped in his chair with his head back, trying, and failing, to balance the pencil on his nose. "Are you listening?" she questioned, the subtlest hint of annoyance in her tone. Zack grabbed the pencil and sat up straight again as he looked at her.
"Huh? Oh, yeah. You said something about how atoms matter," he acknowledged, turning his attention back to the pencil in his hand, sliding down in his chair once more. She peered at him for a beat, turning her head to the side to a degree.
"That's not quite what I said," she remarked, irritation dripping from her voice. He exhaled, sitting up straight as he looked at her.
"Okay, then what did you say?"
"That atoms are the basic units of matter. Every solid, liquid, gas, they're all made up of atoms. Now, the atoms themselves are made up of- Zack!" she snapped when she looked over to see he had gone back to fooling around instead of paying attention.
She knew that tutoring Zack was going to be a bit of a challenge, but she was starting to wonder if maybe it was going to be an even greater challenge than she had originally anticipated.
"What?" he retorted, his tone exasperated as he rolled his eyes.
"If you want to pass the test tomorrow, you need to pay attention," she asserted. He went back to staring up at the ceiling.
"I'm sorry, this stuff is just super boring to me," he mumbled. Her expression softened a bit.
"I get that," she replied, her voice somewhat calmer, "but, unfortunately, you have to pass chemistry in order to graduate." She kept her eyes locked on him, and they remained silent for a beat. "I really want to help you with this," she started, the sincerity dripping from her voice and etched across her face as she leaned forward towards him, "So, I'll try to find a way to make this stuff more interesting for you. However, I don't have the time to do that tonight, and since the test is tomorrow, you're just going to have to listen for now," she concluded, her expression genuine. Zack looked at her, staying quiet for a few seconds, clearly contemplating his options before he exhaled sharply.
"Okay, fine. I'm sorry. You have my attention. You were saying? Atoms are?"
She then spent the next hour and a half going over the material with him, but by the end, it almost felt like they were right back where they started. Zack groaned in frustration as he slouched down, putting his head back on the chair and covering his face with his hands.
"Okay, Bails, let's face it, there's no use. There's a reason why I'm failing most of my classes and there's a reason why Cody doesn't tutor me anymore. I'm just unteachable," he said as he slid his hands to his chest, locking his fingers together as he stared up at the ceiling. Bailey rolled her chair towards him so that their knees were touching, and she gingerly placed a hand on his knee as she leaned forward towards him, using her other hand to grip onto the textbook and notebook in front of her to keep them falling off her lap.
"You're not unteachable," she said gently, "it just takes a little bit more for you to get it, that's all."
He stayed silent for a beat. As much as he was trying to hide it, Bailey could still see the disappointment in his eyes.
"Listen," he began, sitting up once more and leaning towards her so that they were only a few inches apart, "you don't need to do all of this. I'll hold up my end of the deal, but you definitely don't need to go to all this effort. Let's just call it."
Her lips slowly spread into a smile, a determined look crossing her face as she sat up straight again.
"Don't think you're getting out of this that easily," she declared, "I don't quit, and deal or no deal, I've made it my personal mission to make sure you graduate come May."
The corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.
"Now, I know you know this. So, to review what I taught you at the beginning, atoms are?" she asked, looking at him expectantly.
"I don't know," he responded, his tone exhausted as he threw his head back, resting his arms on the armrests at each of his sides.
"Yes, you do. Atoms are?" she echoed. His eyebrows furrowed in thought as he remained silent for a second, clearly searching for the correct answer.
"They're basically the building blocks of stuff, right?" he replied with uncertainty. She grinned at him.
"Yes, that's pretty much it."
He shot back up, his eyes snapping to hers, his expression surprised.
She chuckled lightly.
"Seriously," she responded, and his excitement caused her to smile.
"And atoms are made up of?" she inquired, watching him.
"It's those funny-sounding words that kinda sound like croutons. Wait, it's not croutons, is it?" he replied. She bit her lower lip, holding back a laugh.
"No. Croutons are pieces of dried bread that you typically put on salads."
His face faltered.
"You're on the right track. Remember the acronym….P.E.N," she commented, trying to help jog his memory. His face lit up as he snapped his fingers.
"Oh! Right! Protons, electrons, and…" he trailed off, his face twisting as he clearly struggled to come up with the final answer.
"You know this," she encouraged, "Remember, they're the ones without an electric charge so they kind of sound like neutral…"
"Neutrons?" he responded in an unsure tone. Her lips slowly spread into a smile.
"You got it," she stated. An excited smile crossed his face. "See? I told you you could get it. You're smarter than you give yourself credit for."
He beamed at her and she felt a warmth spread through her chest. She watched him for a moment and she noticed then how exhausted he looked. He was smiling, but his eyes looked tired and his face showed how drained he was from the day. She twisted around in her chair to face her desk, and she opened the top drawer and pulled out a stack of index cards that were held together with a rubber band. She handed the index cards to him along with her Chemistry notebook.
"Here. Take these. Study them, live by them, and you will pass the test tomorrow."
He took them from her and placed them in his open backpack by his feet. While he did so, she spun around to her desk again, picking up her phone to check the time, somewhat surprised to see that it was only fifteen minutes until ten.
"We better stop here. London will be back any minute and it's only a little over an hour until curfew," she said.
"Oh, well. We wouldn't want to get caught breaking curfew," Zack replied in a mocking tone with a playful smirk as he shoved his textbook back into his backpack and stood up, not bothering to zip it closed as he threw it over one shoulder. Bailey rolled her eyes.
"Some of us aren't chronic rule-breakers," she shot back, returning his teasing smile.
"Might do you some good to break a rule every once in a while," he responded, making his way to the door, turning to face her once he reached it. She ignored his comment.
"So, what do you want to do about me?" she inquired as she opened the door for him. He looked at her, a hesitant look on his face.
"I haven't had a lot of time to think about it," he admitted, "Can I think it over and we'll pick it up again, say, Saturday? Noonish?" he suggested. She nodded in response.
"Fine by me. But, don't think my end of the deal is done already. I want to see you back here tomorrow. We've got an English paper to write," she stated sternly. He groaned, but she knew he wouldn't try to protest if she gave him her serious face and he didn't.
"Fine," he grumbled in defeat, "See you tomorrow, Teach."
He smiled at her, giving her a small salute with two fingers before he started out the door and down the hall.
"Later, Zack," she called after him, watching him go for a second. She shut the door once he disappeared around the corner, a small smile tugging at her lips.
Bailey and Zack spent almost every night together that week save for Friday, as Zack had made plans with Woody and Bailey felt that he more than deserved a break. Besides that, it had given her some time to catch up on some of the things she had missed during the week while she was tutoring him. When Saturday finally rolled around, Zack showed up at her dorm a few minutes after noon. They had the room to themselves again, as London usually spent the weekends either shopping or at the salon.
"So, where do you want to start?" Bailey inquired as she smiled at him. Zack crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back against the closed door as he looked at her with a thoughtful expression, remaining silent for a minute.
"Your end goal here," he started, taking a few steps towards her, "Is to get Cody to ask you to the Valentine's Dance, correct?"
She started fiddling with her hands, glancing down at them for a moment before she met his gaze.
"I suppose that is my ultimate goal," she responded.
"Okay. So, here's my plan," he said, throwing an arm around her shoulder, "You walk up to him. Do that hair flip thing that you girls do that I love so much," Zack continued, shutting his eyes for a second at the thought while Bailey crossed her arms over her chest, resisting the urge to roll her eyes, "Then, you look him in the eye and say: 'You. Me. Valentine's Dance. Whaddya say?'" he finished, letting go of her shoulder as he looked at her with a lop-sided smile. She stared at him for a moment, her expression unchanging.
"I am not going to do that," she declared, and his smile immediately disappeared.
"Because...it's…forward...and demanding," she stated, disbelief dripping from her voice. He exhaled sharply, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest.
"So, then just phrase it differently."
Bailey let out a deep sigh as she slumped down into London's desk chair.
"The problem isn't how it's phrased… I just… can't ask him. We're friends and I don't want to ruin our friendship or make things weird if he says no."
"Because this pining for him thing and dropping hint after hint has been working so well so far?" Zack deadpanned, narrowing his eyes as he sat down on the trunk at the foot of her bed. She blew air out her cheeks as she rested her chin on her arm on the back of the chair, disappointment crossing her face as she shrugged. "How about this? Why don't I just tell him you like him and you want him to ask you to the dance? Problem solved." Bailey stood up, her eyes going dark as she bent down to his level, moving so that she was only a few inches from his face.
"If you breathe a word of any of this to him, I swear I will punch you in the throat," she warned. He kept his eyes locked with hers for a beat, his face a mix of surprised and impressed.
"Okay. That was...aggressive," he said slowly, putting his hands up in surrender, "But also a little hot," he finished with a smirk. She stood up straight again, the heat rising to her cheeks as she turned away from him to collapse back into London's desk chair, the corners of her mouth tugging up ever so slightly.
"Yes, my ultimate goal is to get Cody to ask me to the dance, but that wasn't our actual deal. Our actual deal was that you help turn me into someone more desirable," Bailey stated, her voice calm once more, "And I already held up my end of the deal, so now it's your turn. So, where do you want to start?" she repeated. He kept his eyes on her for a minute, studying her. She resisted the urge to crouch lower in the chair in an effort to cover herself. From the way he was looking at her, it almost seemed as if he was searching for a flaw rather than sizing up all of her flaws, but Bailey convinced herself that that had just been her ego talking.
"I suppose we could try changing that whole farmgirl look you've got going on?" he suggested, his tone uncertain. Bailey furrowed her eyebrows and frowned, glancing down at her outfit for a second before she looked up at him again. Before she even had a chance to respond, he had gotten up and made his way to her closet, throwing open the doors as he started scanning the contents.
"What are you doing?" she inquired.
"Seeing what I have to work with," he responded matter-of-factly.
"You don't like the way I dress?" she questioned, the tiniest hint of hurt in her voice.
"No, I do! It's fine. And you look nice," he replied, his tone indicating that he was holding something back.
"But?" Bailey said as she stood up and moved to stand at his side.
"Okay, you asked me to help you become someone more desirable and well...the way you dress is nice, but it isn't...sexy," he said, getting quieter with each word. Her frown deepened, her eyebrows knitting together in offense. Normally comments like that didn't bother her much, but in this particular instance, it stung more than she initially realized.
"Well, that's by design!" she stuttered out, her voice a few octaves higher than normal. "And, what? Like your flannels are so hot?" she shot back defensively, gesturing to him. She felt a twinge of regret at her comment and sharp tone, but he was seemingly unfazed as an amused smile spread across his lips.
"I get a free pass because I'm bi. Flannels are practically in the handbook. Besides, I've got the looks, confidence, and charisma to pull it off," he concluded, counting the traits off on his fingers before gesturing to himself with an arrogant smile. Bailey rolled her eyes as she took a few steps towards him.
"Let's not forget your modesty," she replied flatly.
"I know! I really am just the whole package," he said sincerely as he went back to scanning the contents of her closet. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes again as she crossed her arms over her chest, letting out a huff. He looked over at her.
"Oh, c'mon. You literally just asked me- no, demanded me to help you, and now I'm trying to and you're getting upset. Do you want my help or not?"
Her expression softened as she met his gaze.
"First of all, I didn't demand," she corrected, rolling her eyes as she uncrossed her arms, "Yes, I do want your help. Please."
"Okay. So, this is just a part of it. I mean, c'mon, Bails, what the hell is this?" he asked as he pulled out a gray garment that was a combination of a skirt and shorts, with red stripes around the bottom of the skirt and around the outer V that made up the collar.
"What? It's my swimsuit," she responded with a shrug.
"Really? I thought this is what they used to cover the Fiesta Deck when it rains," he teased and she rolled her eyes, although she felt herself smiling in spite of herself. "Seriously, did you lose a bet?" She gave him a gentle shove. "Did you just go into the store and decide to get the ugliest thing there?" he questioned, a playful smile on his lips.
Admittedly, it wasn't one of her cuter articles of clothing. She shot him a look as she grabbed it from him, tossing it back into her closet.
"Okay, I get your point."
He went back to browsing her closet and his lips spread into a toothy grin as he glanced at her.
"Hang on a second. We have a winner ladies, and gentlemen," he announced as he pulled out a red and white flannel dress, with puffy short sleeves and a puffy skirt that fanned out at the bottom. He stared at her as he held it up to his chest, clearly trying to suppress a laugh.
"Why?" was all that he said. She rolled her eyes crossing her arms over her chest once more.
"What? My mom got that for me," she answered softly.
"Follow-up question: why does she hate you?"
Bailey exhaled sharply, fighting back a smile.
"Hey! It's not that bad," she remarked.
"It looks like something you'd wear to a lumberjack wedding."
She broke out into a grin then despite the fact that she was trying to stay agitated.
"Oh, do you go to a lot of those do you?" she joked, and he chuckled lightly. He smiled at her and she admired for a second how his smile showed in his eyes. She let out a sigh, pulling herself from her train of thought.
"So, what do you suggest we do then?" she inquired, "It's not like I can afford to get a whole new wardrobe." He looked at her thoughtfully for a beat, before returning the dress to the closet and grabbing her hand, leading her towards the door.
"Follow me," he said. She looked down at their intertwined hands for a second, before looking up at him again.
"Where are we going?" she demanded.
"We're going to see an expert," he answered without looking back.