CHAPTER EIGHT

When she got into Doug’s truck on Monday, she was surprised to see Ferris was not with him, and inquired to where he was.

“Oh, he wanted to be picked up second for some reason, saying he had to finish a project really quick but…” Doug trailed off, as if he didn’t believe Ferris but couldn’t quite call him out on it either.

She shrugged, and sat in the passenger seat until they arrived at Ferris’ house, where he jumped in almost immediately, forcing her to slide over into the middle seat and sit right next to Doug. That was when Zoey believed she had figured out Ferris’ plan, but couldn’t say anything about it when Doug was right there. Plus, she couldn’t really complain, even after Ferris shot her a sly look. He then began to talk to Doug in a louder way than normal, as if he still had something up his sleeves, starting with a commonplace, “how are you today, Doug?”

“I’m fine, how are you?” was Doug’s response, sounding a little guarded, and paling and looking a little horrified when his best friend smirked at him, but trying to keep driving calmly.

“Well, I’ve got this nagging cough actually,” Ferris started, and Doug let out a huge sigh.

“Ferris if you start this I will kick you out of the car,” he warned.

“Hear me out, it sounds like this : YOUSHOULDASKHEROUT,” Ferris fake coughed, covering his mouth as if embarrassed but it was more likely to hide his snarky grin.

Doug gripped the steering wheel, teeth clenched, and mumbled, “I am going to punch you in the arm.”

“Now why would you do that? YOUSTILLLOVEME,” Ferris fake coughed once again, and Doug was silent for a moment before growling, “Ferris, I am serious.”

“So am I, listen to it, do you have any flowers I could eat for a sore throat? ORFORABOUQUET,” he coughed once more, and Doug shot him the dirtiest glare at a red light, finally causing Ferris to laugh but stay quiet about the coughing.

Zoey tried to slink down farther and farther into her seat, also shooting Ferris dirty looks. She wasn’t sure if the teasing was meant for her or for Doug, and that was just going to convolute this whole thing, especially sitting next to him for the rest of the drive. As soon as they got to the school, she went to jump out of the truck when Ferris moved, but she felt a hand on her arm, from Doug.

“I hope you have a better day today,”he told her, referring to the fact that she had become a pseudo celebrity over the whole kidnapping and finding Rebecca, after all, she had been missing for like, a year.

She gave him a shy nod that she hoped didn’t seem dismissive, and walked off, to find Zabrina or Aisha, trying to ignore the warm feeling on her arm where he had placed his hand and hoping that warmth wasn’t coming across her face either. She heard Ferris laughing as soon as she reached the doors to the school, figuring Doug had hissed something at him, but she didn’t turn around. She had classes to go to and emotions to figure out. She needed advice. She texted Aisha and asked if they could speak over the break in between their first classes, alone. Aisha was dating Stacy so she knew all the ins and outs of dating. Could this become dating? she thought, trying to focus on what the teacher was saying. Aisha agreed to meet with her, and when she did she was smiling smugly.

“What’s with that look?” Zoey asked, shooting her a suspicious look.

“Oh no-no, we’re focusing on you. What was so urgent that you needed advice for?” Aisha reprimanded her for trying to stray from the topic. They headed outside near a tree, but Zoey decided she had better make her case by a park bench instead, in case Doug could hear what the tree heard or something. She didn’t explain this thought to Aisha, who didn’t mind sitting on a bench instead, but wondered to herself if it was an idea birthed by flurried nerves or actual logical thinking. Folding her hands on her lap, then unfolding them, and then sitting on them, Zoey tried to think of what to say.

“Aisha, you’re dating Stacy,” she began, feeling embarrassed already for not having a better grasp on the situation. She was now convinced that her friends had been talking about this situation when she wasn’t around, and had been waiting for her to come to them for advice.

“That’s a very accurate statement, but I hope not what you wanted to ask me… we have been dating for quite awhile if you’re just noticing now, I’m a little concerned,” Aisha joked, giving her friend a smile. Zoey relaxed slightly.

“How do you know if someone likes you? Do you think Doug likes me? Would he go out with me?” Zoey blurted, leaning closer to her friend with the final question. It felt good to get it all out there, but then she knew she couldn’t backpedal at all.

“That last question you need to ask him, but if you do, I think he will say yes. He kind of dotes on you, if you hadn’t noticed already,” Aisha told her, putting her hand on Zoey’s shoulder to reassure her. “At lunch, if you ever forget to grab a drink, he just brings you water without asking if you need it. Which to me seems a little strange, but is a definite sign that he cares.”

Zoey wondered for a second if this attention was because he liked her or felt guilty, but brushed it aside. She’d been muddling over that question for a long time, and part of her knew that she would only find out the answer if she actually asked him. She knew she had to have enough faith that he at least liked her as a friend. She thought that all his friends seemed to like her that much, and felt she could be fairly confident in that idea. She was chewing on the inside of her cheek, she realized, and stopped, but just started picking at the peeling paint on the bench instead. She wondered if Doug could hear what they were saying again, through the grass this time, but she knew that he wouldn’t be creepy enough to do that. Besides, if he had, she knew she wouldn’t want to date him anyway, but knew he wasn’t the kind of person to use his powers for frivolous gossip.

“How should I ask him?” she asked, looking at her phone to make sure she still had a moment before class was about to start. She noticed she had a text from Rebecca’s new phone but figured she could check it after.

“You can just do it after classes; it doesn’t have to be a big deal, especially if you’re nervous. Adding another layer to it will just make you more anxious. Where would you ask him to a date?” Aisha asked, obviously way better at planning these things than Zoey.

“Um, the movies maybe?” Zoey asked, looking a little lost.

Aisha nodded, trying to reassure her, “you know, Zabrina has been wondering when you were going to admit to yourself that you should ask him out, I think movies are a fine idea. It’s a relaxed setting.” Zoey gave her an unsure look, and Aisha chuckled. “It’s true, we think you guys are cute together, so give it a shot!” she added.

They were out of time by this point, and had to run back to their classes, which unfortunately passed by very quickly. Soon, it would be time to ask. She informed her friends at lunch of her plans, but didn’t see Doug, instead having to text him to make sure he was still able to drive her home, wondering where he was, and if he was upset about this morning. She would have to do it before they headed home, before Ferris was there, and if it all went downhill, Zabrina was going to wait nearby to drive her home instead. She guessed that if Ferris really was trying to encourage this, he would be late showing up to give her time to do it. It was a fairly well thought out plan, she thought.

Brie did have some doubts to cast upon the whole idea, but Zoey figured it was to keep her grounded, or that’s what she told herself. Perhaps the others hadn’t been including Brie in their planning, and so she wasn’t as up to date on the situation as they were, since they seemed very excited about the whole idea.

            When she saw him standing by his truck, her heart was in her throat a little. Okay, a lot. Ferris was not in sight, so she figured it was the perfect time to ask without his jabs. Her heart remained firmly planted in her throat, and she wondered if this was going to have an impact on her breathing or speech.

            She walked up, footsteps sounding so loud on the asphalt, secretly glad that her legs weren’t shaking and wondering how their friendship seemed so easy before. Considering this, she paused wondering if she should just pretend she never thought of this, and just keep their friendship the way it was. Then she internally frowned at herself for even thinking about backing down. She must have externally frowned a little bit too, and in the direction of Doug’s truck, because he gave her a confused look and then looked over the auto as if trying to see what she saw. Blushing, she looked back up at him, and tried to smile.

            “Listen, I want to talk to you about something?” she asked, wincing because she sounded so unsure.

            “Sure, but can I ask you something first? I have been meaning to ask you since this morning,” he asked, as if he didn’t want to interrupt but was clearly nervous about something. He was normally so polite, it must be important for him to interrupt.

            She calmed down suddenly, only to become a little nervous about what the news might be. “Is something wrong?” she asked him. She had texted Rebecca throughout the day, but what if she was unwell? Zoey didn’t know her all that well yet, but she hadn’t been in the best condition when they rescued her.

            “No, no, nothing is wrong, I was just…” he trailed off and cleared his throat, looking down at his feet. “I was wondering if you wanted… to go out sometime? To maybe the new botanical garden that opened up across town? Or to eat? Or both?” he asked, green eyes looking slightly terrified. Her shoulder sunk as the weight of asking slipped out of her, and he sucked in a breath, noticing. “Unless you don’t want to, of course, I understand it’s a difficult decision to make, and well, you know why,” he told her, eyes darting to the side.

            She realised how her reaction had been taken, but only managed to ask, “Like a date?”

            He looked further to the side and she heard him mumble, “yeah, that was what I was intending.”

            She paused, feeling awful for doing so because he was probably holding his breath. “Yes, ah I’m sorry I was taken off guard so much. I was planning on asking you out just a few seconds ago! It’s like, the pressure just came off,” she told him and he visibly relaxed, smiling at her.

            “That’s great, we can discuss when a good time is for you on the way ba-” he began, but was quickly interrupted as Ferris leapt out from behind the truck, tucked behind the back wheel so they couldn’t see him.

            “FINALLY YES!” he shouted, startling both of them. “He’s been mooning over you since like this time last year, it’s about time he actually asked you out,” he chided, earning a serious glare from Doug.

            Zoey was slightly thankful for the interruption as it gave her a moment to text Zabrina that she was good to go before she got in the truck, trying not to grin too widely. Knowing that he had been interested in her for an extended period of time lifted a weight from her chest as the two bickered back and forth and Doug told Ferris to mind his own business. She was also glad for the slightly unorthodox date suggestion, even if she felt like he chose the place because he would possibly feel more at home with the plants in the garden.

            Zabrina was sending her cheerful texts and trying to make suggestions for what Zoey could wear at the same time. She was also trying to text her mom to inform her she had a date while dodging questions from her mother about Doug and how her mother hadn’t known there was something new happening in her life. They agreed to go an hour after school tomorrow, which gave her the chance to put on something cuter than school clothes for the date, and that they would go get ice cream or something afterwards. Ferris gave them smug grins the whole time until Doug dropped him off at home first.

            “Okay, have a nice day, Ferris. Goodbye,” Doug told him gruffly, eyes narrowed. It was strange to see their roles reversed like this. Zoey was trying not to laugh at it.

            “I am going to your house, Doug,” Ferris told him, feigning innocence.

            “Then you can fly the rest of the way,” Doug told him, smirking. Zoey let out a chuckle and Ferris rolled his eyes.

            “I have to go check on Rebecca anyway so I’ll meet you afterwards,” Ferris claimed, as if this had been his plan all along. Zoey watched him charge to the side, picking up speed a little before he leapt and changed, beginning to fly off from the jump, and very quickly disappeared from sight.

            “Is he showing off? I mean he does have a car,” she asked, after he had gone.

            “Not really, flying is quicker than driving,” Doug told her, beginning to pull away. She noticed how much he was smiling and thought how cute it was. She was glad to be going on a date with someone who was just as excited to go on a date with her.

            She went home, only to have to deal with more questions from her parents but in all they were excited for her too. Her mom wanted to help in choosing her outfit and Zoey tried to politely decline, not sure what her mom meant by that but knowing she would try to pick something slightly too formal for the ‘occasion’. Her mom meant well, however, Zabrina knew her best, and so she trusted her to know the best outfit for her to wear.

            Zoey was nervous when Doug came to pick her up after school the next day, but in a good way. She had chosen to wear a casual grey dress that went down to her knees with pink ballet flats and a grey-rose sweater. She hoped she didn’t look too formal, but figured it was fairly cute, and he had seen her dressed normally so far. She slipped away from her parents and into his truck, not sure what to say. He was wearing a long sleeved shirt, which was somewhat dressed down from his usual look, but that difference in itself was what made it endearing. While they drove across town, she decided she had to make small talk. Even if she was nervous, which she didn’t think was necessary because they were friends and they knew each other, but telling herself that wasn’t actually fixing any of it.

            “If this goes well, I guess we’ll owe a double date to Ferris and Rebecca,” Zoey suggested, which earned a grin from Doug. She realized after she said it that saying “if it goes well” might have sounded a little skeptical but he hadn’t picked up on it in that way.

            “When I told her we had planned to go out that was the first thing she asked me. She’s actually really excited to be friends with you,” he told her, sounding sincere. He glanced to the side when he said this, trying to check her reaction.

            Zoey was pretty excited for that too, as they had been texting back and forth a little bit, and she felt that Rebecca was pretty sweet. She felt bad she hadn’t become friends with her before she was kidnapped, because it seemed like they would have gotten along. There was a bit of shame for not recognising her right away from the missing posters despite going to the same school. She figured she could make it up by becoming a good friend now, and that she shouldn’t focus on that today.

            Zoey glanced out the window, happy that today was such a good day, weather wise and feeling just a little bit pleased that she was going on an actual date. She figured the fact that he had magic dragon powers would also be a bragging point if she was actually able to talk about it, but then she had to think about what just crossed her mind. She didn’t really picture him as less human despite these things, and that kind of surprised her. She expected most people did feel that way about him, mostly being from JARGON, but the ones whose humanity she questioned was theirs. She thought to tell him this but then thought better of it. This was a date and he might think she was worried about JARGON if she brought them up. She just decided to make pleasantries as they drove, commenting about the weather and teasing him a tad for choosing to take her to a garden.

            When they arrived at the botanical garden she was actually quite impressed, the facility was new and really expansive. She jumped out of the truck when they got to the parking lot and stopped to get a map of the gardens. He walked up behind her, waiting while she looked at it.

            “I hope we don’t get lost. The areas of the map are categorized by the type of plants they have in each area,” she told him, head still buried in the pamphlet.

            There was a pause, and he dryly replied, “Somehow I think I’ll be able to figure out where we are,” he was trying not to laugh, but she looked up at him and smirked.

            “You thought I was serious?” She paused to place a hand dramatically over her head, “I must become an actor.”

            He snickered and they headed towards the entrance to the gardens.

            “I have a weird question,” she asked him quietly when they started walking down the path.

            “You seem to really like those. But so do I, so go ahead,” Doug told her, turning his head to one side slightly.

            “Can you talk to trees or hear what trees are saying?” she asked him very seriously, and he paused to look at her, making sure this wasn’t a joke.

            “Not all trees, but this small shrub is chatting my ear off,” he joked. She rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay. I think I know what you mean. If I really focus and the plants come from me I can sometimes get an inkling of what’s happening around the plants but really don’t put a lot of hope into that. If I fight by throwing a cactus and it explodes against something I wouldn’t want to feel that either. It’s not pain, because that isn’t how plants work and it would be distracting to notice every bit of damage they took. It doesn’t work like that for the others either, I think it’s because I work with living things,” he reported, making sure nobody was listening to their conversation. He looked a bit embarrassed and Zoey changed the subject.

            “Tell me about some of the plants here, I bet you can’t name them all!” she told him daringly.

            “Okay, if I told you them all we’d be here all day, but I will point out my favourite ones if you want, and if you want to point out ones I could tell you abou-” he was interrupted as she dashed towards one pointing haughtily and asking,“okay wise guy, what’s this?”

            “That’s sassafras.”

            “And this?” She asked, pointing to another one in a separate garden.

            “It’s a crocus, but it is barely up out of the ground.”

            “And this!” she cheered, as he smiled.

            “That’s an oak tree.” He smiled back, shaking his head.

            They walked around the garden like that, noticing different interesting plants along the way, and each hoping the other was having as much fun as they were. She noticed a little waterfall area with more succulent plants growing near it, and pointed out that even Melanie would find that pretty cool. Near the end of their trip, they each bought an ice cream and ate it while sitting together on a bench under one of the oak trees.

                   “So, was this a pretty good day?” he asked, looking at the ice cream.

                   “Yes, it was definitely good enough to convince me to go on a double date with Rebecca and Ferris,” she told him, leaning her head onto his shoulder a little bit as they watched the people walk by.

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