Zack and Whitney – a short story

Walking back towards the pool, nachos in hand, I looked down at my bikini to check nothing was hanging out that shouldn’t have been. I felt drops of perspiration on my forehead from standing in the queue to the cafe bar under the heat of the Mediterranean sun. My eyes clung to the shady spot on the other side of the pool as if trying to pull me there quicker. A stream of people that appeared to have just come from the hotel zipped their way past me, knocking me off balance. Hitting my elbow on something that felt like plastic, I turned to see the top layer of my nachos fall into the puddle of someone’s beer that I must’ve knocked over. “Damn! Sorry,” I muttered. Just as I bent down to wipe the mess, his voice caught me, holding me to the spot. “Don’t worry,” he half chuckled. I looked up at the golden sun-kissed face, dirty blonde hair, and hazel brown eyes looking down at me. Then, he was next to me, taking a napkin and soaking up the drink he had just paid for. I couldn’t help but stare at his bare chest, the slight curve of muscle revealed by his every move. A brush appeared next to me with familiar white trainers-one of the bar staff. “I’ll do the rest,” came a monotone voice from above.

As we stood up, I felt the boy’s eyes on me. Heating my cheeks. Awkwardly, I blurted out, “I’ll buy you another one.” Judging my offer, his mouth twisted in consideration. “Um, okay,” he looked away for a moment, “That seems fair.”

I followed him through the crowd that gradually flocked away, towards the deck chairs. The cafe bar was less busy now, with just one woman in a pink costume being served. The boy abruptly stopped and turned back to me, an inch away from my face. I felt smaller than usual as I looked up at him towering above me. “Wait, how old are you?” he trailed off, realising he didn’t know my name. “It’s Whit. Well, Whitney really, but everybody calls me Whit. I’m sixteen.” He gave me a look. Then I looked at the bottles of wine on display and remembered what my age meant. “Oh.” I put down my nacho remains and delved into my purse for some change. After I dropped a pile of my remaining coins in his hand, he returned a couple and handed me back my nachos. “I’d better let you order it. I guess you’re eighteen?” I smiled half-heartedly; slightly worried about how little I knew about the person I was buying a drink for. He smiled back crookedly, and with his eyes too, leaning in to whisper: “Actually, no. I’m seventeen. But shh!” He placed a finger to his lips. I laughed quietly; secretly relieved he wasn’t that much older than me. A wave of apprehension hit me, but I pushed it away, because, for some reason, I felt like I could trust him. Even if I still didn’t know his name.

He was up at the bar before I could ask, as the woman in pink waddled away with two ice creams. I moved out of the queue and stood at the side, crunching on the nachos as I watched him. He reached into the pocket of his dark blue shorts and got out something. But before I could see what it was, he turned around with two cokes in one hand and a bowl of nachos in the other. “I’m Zack,” he smiled, revealing his almost perfect teeth. One was slightly uneven, though mostly hidden by an overlapping tooth. “I thought since you dropped half of them, you’d want some more nachos. And please tell me you like coke?” his face was almost pleading. I nodded. “You didn’t have to-” I paused, unsure of what question to ask first. “Does this mean you want to sit with-“

“Yes.” He looked at me and handed me the coke. I smiled back nervously.

“I was just over there,” I pointed to my spot, which a family edged their Disney towels towards, my little sanctuary receding. I looked back at Zack, who was squinting in the direction of my dwindling space. “I think it’s being invaded.” He plonked his drink and bowl on the nearest table. “Okay here?” he was already sitting down, but I nodded anyway. “So, how come you didn’t get another beer?” I asked as I shuffled into the plastic chair. “Well, since I’m only seventeen, I can only get away with buying a beer every so often. And it was a different waiter. Didn’t want to risk it, you know.” I nodded, though I didn’t really know. “I’m kind of new to drinking. In case you didn’t already tell.” He explained.

“Well, I’m newer. If that makes sense.” My voice shifted, trying not to mumble. He looked at my coke and realised I still hadn’t drank any.  I looked down at the white plastic. My thighs were starting to stick to the chair. “Hey, are you okay?” he asked softly. I looked up and he was leaning towards me. Embarrassed, I felt my cheeks flush. “I don’t do this very often,” I admitted, “And my family are probably waiting for me.” That was a lie. My family were in the baby pool and probably would be for the rest of the day. And even though I felt the same feeling of trust, it was my parent’s voices inside my head pushing me away from this stranger. As I looked at him now, he was looking down this time, a look of sadness in his face. “I could swim for a little while, though.” He looked up. Swimming couldn’t hurt, could it?

“Sure” he stood up and held out his hand in a mock gesture of gentlemanliness. I took it anyway, laughing, his skin surprisingly cool against mine. 

Then, he pulled me quickly and we were underwater. My hand untangled from his and pushed the water away to find the surface. I blinked through the mop of dark wet hair that stuck to my face like seaweed. He had already begun swimming. Sweeping my hair out of my face, I followed him to the other side of the pool. Under the water, I could see the way his muscles flexed and curved to push himself forward. Tugging every so often at my dark green bikini, I tried to hide my insecurities. But that was pretty difficult as I struggled to find any securities.

Finally we were at the other end of the pool, which looped around with bridges to the cafes and sections for deck chairs and loungers. Zack flew out of the water, flicking his hair back like a wet dog and kneeling back down. We were in a shallow part so his upper body was still above water. “I didn’t say this before,” he said, still slightly out of breath, “because I didn’t want to sound creepy, but I’ve seen you before, Whit.” I frowned at him, urging him to explain. “I saw you with your family at the market the other day. You were wearing a white dress.” he scratched his eyebrow. I felt strange all of a sudden. How didn’t I see him? “You looked really pretty.” He said quickly, looking away from me and the clearing his throat. I felt a flush of excitement, embarrassment and pleasure all at once. “Thanks,” I whispered hoarsely.

“So, how long is a little while?” he asked, with a crooked smile. I smiled, not knowing whether to tell him the truth. I opted for something in between the truth and the lie. “I’ve probably got a couple of hours.” Which was true, as I didn’t have to meet them at the hotel lobby until then to go out for dinner.

“Have you been on any of the slides, yet?” he asked with a glimmer of mischief twinkling in his eyes. I shook my head. And again, he grabbed my arm and dragged me somewhere new. As we stepped out of the pool, I caught sight of my family. My breath quickened, but soon slowed to normal again when I saw my parents splashing my little brother and sister, completely oblivious to the outside world. Turning back to Zack, this time it was my heart going into overdrive. Attempting to hide the redness that was rushing to my cheeks, I squeezed his hand slightly and asked. “Where’s your family?” He gestured towards the slides, showing me where to go. Then, he turned to face me. “My brother’s gone out with some friends he met last night.”

“You’re just here with your brother?” I asked curiously.

“Yeah. He just turned nineteen and he managed to convince my parents to let him take me.” He flicked an unruly strand of hair out of his eyes and looked into mine wild with excitement. We had reached the top of the slide. It was one massive drop into the small patch of blue pool below.

“Are you okay?” he asked. I nodded, hardly processing his words, just fixating on the blue so far below. “You’re shaking!” The concern in his voice broke me from my daze of terror. “I didn’t know it was this high,” I mumbled. “Sorry, I didn’t think to ask,” he looked down, unsure of what to do. “It’s not as scary as it looks, honestly.” I twisted my mouth, trying to find some words, but all I could think about was the fear that took over my body. “I could go first, to show you. And then, I can catch you at the bottom,” he offered. I looked down again. Then, I heard the voices of people behind us, on their way to the slide. “Ok.”

He was gone in seconds. Swallowed by the crystal blue. Then, I saw his head bob back up. I forced myself on to the platform. Gasping for air, the fear choked me. I tried to blink it away, searching for Zack. But I couldn’t see him from the platform. In my head I counted. One…two… three! Blurring into a haze of green blue, the sky whooshed past as I plunged down. My hands were balled up fists, my heart racing faster than ever. As I hit the water, I felt Zack’s arms pulling me up. My muscles relaxed as he picked me up, his face painted with a smile that was shrouded by concern. “That was good,” I whispered, closing my eyes. I heard his laugh, but it felt distant.

When I opened my eyes again, I was lying down on a sun bed. As I lifted my head up, I saw the shadow from the umbrella above me covering all of my body except for my feet. The sound of splashing and laughter from the pool reminded me of where I was. Then, I remembered Zack. Where was he? I sat up, wondering what time it was. How long had I been here? I felt a rustle of paper under my leg. Folded in half was a note. I pulled it open hastily.

Whit,

Thanks for knocking my beer over. Today was fun. I’ll be here again tomorrow if you want to knock another of my drinks over. Sorry I had to leave you.

Zack

P.S. You look very cute when you’re sleeping

Smiling, I folded it back up, and again, until it was tiny enough to fit inside my closed palm. Then, I rested my head, placed my hand over my heart and closed my eyes.

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