“Huh?” His head snapped around as the sound of his name finally broke through, calling his attention back to the present.
Zayne’s mind had been far away, daydreaming about Victoria and their date that night. It had been nearly impossible for him to focus on work at all that afternoon. Thankfully only about ten minutes of his shift remained.
“I know you’re out in a little bit, but Table 12’s ready.” His manager continued. “As soon as you take care of it, you’re free to go.” She assured him. “Felix just clocked in, so he can wash everything up… We just need it cleared. Okay?”
It was all Zayne could do not to roll his eyes. “Sure.”
Number 12 was the biggest table in the restaurant, reserved for large parties who called ahead for seating. It was usually a huge pain to pick up after them… The bigger the party, the bigger the mess. All he could do was hope that today would be different.
As he left the kitchen and approached the dining area, the sounds of clinking silverware and distant conversation reached Zayne’s ears. Though he could not yet make out what they were saying, he could tell they were speaking English… With American accents.
Great. American tourists. Fantastic. Zayne knew there were plenty of perfectly pleasant tourists from the US… But unfortunately, he’d met enough loud and obnoxious ones to realize that some stereotypes held a lot of truth. Of course, the waitstaff never seemed to mind. They loved serving Americans… They always liked to leave big tips, apparently.
But no one ever tipped the dishwasher.
With a small sigh, Zayne crossed into the dining room, where the first bits of discernible conversation finally reached his ears.
“Yes, we did.” A male voice said. “You need to lighten up, Carly. Don’t you remember when we first visited Windenburg? Mom and dad let us do our own thing the whole time, we barely saw them. Don’t you remember?”
As he drew closer, the family at Table 12 finally came into view. Zayne’s first thought was relief — the table wasn’t nearly as messy as he’d been expecting, despite having two kids in the group. His second thought was surprise that these people didn’t give off the look or demeanor of most tourists he encountered.
And the third was that the girl in the beige sweatshirt was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen in his entire life.
For the first time all day, all thoughts of Victoria fled his mind. Zayne tried his best not to stare as he got to work clearing their plates and silverware.
The older woman (Her mom? He wondered. He could certainly see a family resemblance) turned to address the man who was speaking. “Well, you have a say about your son, Vito, but you can’t decide if Hope’s allowed.”
God, this is Tante Joce all over again. Zayne was almost amused by it all. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who had to deal with overprotective parents.
“Mom! That’s totally unfair!” The mystery girl spoke at last. Even her voice was beautiful. “How is Aslan allowed to go and I’m not!”
“Aslan is a little older.”
“But a lot dumber.”
As the boy she’d insulted cried out in indignation, Zayne could not suppress a chuckle. Damn, this girl tells it like it is! He snuck one last look at her (Hope? Hadn’t that been what her mother had called her?) before heading back to the kitchen.
I have to talk to her. He decided as he dumped the plates in the sink and began removing his apron. Just say hi, at least. Zayne couldn’t quite explain why, but he just knew he’d regret it if he didn’t.
As soon as he’d punched out, Zayne snuck another peek into the dining room, searching for the girl. The rest of her family was still sitting there, but both she and the boy she’d been talking to were gone. Huh. Guess she convinced her mom after all…
As he stepped through the front doors and out into the bright sunshine, Zayne was relieved to catch sight of the girl lingering on the sidewalk. The boy was nowhere in sight. He hesitated before approaching her, taking a moment to appreciate how perfectly her jeans hugged her lower body. Holy shit…
At last, Zayne took a deep breath and stepped forward. “Hey.” He called out, trying not to stumble over his words. “Finally managed to escape, huh?” Damn it. She’s gonna know I was eavesdropping! Smooth, Zayne. Smooth.
She turned around to face him, and seemed completely unperturbed at the thought of him listening-in on her family’s conversation. “Joys of family trips.” Her laughter lit up her entire face. “They’re not always this overprotective…”
Zayne couldn’t help but laugh as well. “Don’t worry, I’ve been there… Trust me.” He shook his head. At least we have something in common. “My aunt used to be like that all the time. But I don’t live with her anymore, so I haven’t had to deal with it for a while.”
“Oh really?” The girl seemed to hesitate for just a moment. “You live around here?” She asked at last.
Zayne fought to hide his excitement that the girl had taken such an interest in him. He nodded and gestured somewhat vaguely to his left. “I’ve got an apartment just around the corner.”
“You mean, your own apartment?” Her surprise was evident on her face. “I thought you were my age.”
He hadn’t even thought to consider how old this girl actually was. Zayne looked her up and down for a few moments, savoring the opportunity to enjoy the view. She was definitely younger than Victoria, that was for sure. Maybe even a bit younger than him… It was hard to say.
“Depends on how old you are… I might be.” He said at last, with a smile that was almost teasing. Not that it matters. Zayne almost wanted to say. You could be forty for all I care. You’re still the most beautiful girl in the entire world. “I guess I kinda moved out earlier than most people do. It’s pretty cool.” He hoped that was enough to impress her.
“Aren’t you worldly…” Her voice was sarcastic as she spoke, but Zayne could have sworn he detected a hint of pink in her cheeks. The sight filled him with a strange feeling he could not quite name.
“Yup, that’s me. Mr. Worldly.” He teased, giving her a small wink. Talking to this girl was so easy. Effortless. What the hell? Where is this coming from? “Oh, and speaking of worldly… if you’re really looking for a chance to explore a little, just keep in mind that all the best places in Windenburg aren’t anything you’ll find on a map.” His lips curled into a smirk, recalling the girl’s desire to explore the city. “I mean, all those tourist traps are nice enough, I guess… If you aren’t up for a little adventure.”
What was he even implying? A personal tour or something? Zayne wasn’t even sure… The words just came out of his mouth. Crap. Victoria. He couldn’t forget about their date.
“If I wanted to see the old town square, I would have stuck with the parental tour.” She let out a small laugh that sent a flurry of butterflies through his stomach.
“Ah, the town square. Thrilling.” He joined in her laughter. “And what was next on the agenda? The Bluffs? The Ruins? The Von Haunt Estate?” Zayne rattled off the names of the most overrated tourist spots in the city.
“Got a whole day of family fun at the Von Haunt Estate tomorrow.” She rolled her eyes, but never lost her dazzling smile. “That’s the whole reason we’re here, you see. My aunt’s getting married there.”
“Cool… Congratulations, I guess.” He replied. “Unless the guy’s a total jerk or something. In that case, my condolences.” Zayne added with a chuckle.
He hesitated for a moment before continuing. How many chances in his life would he get to hang out with a girl as beautiful and amazing as this one? Maybe a personal tour wouldn’t be so bad after all? Swoop in and save her from her boring family and give her a chance to see Windenburg before she goes back home…
“Listen, I’ve gotta run pretty soon… But if you get sick of hanging out with your family tomorrow… Well, I can think of a few places around the city you might wanna see. If you’re up for it?” He offered at last.
“I suppose it’s the only way I can find out if you’re all talk, Mr. Worldly.” She beamed at him, and Zayne felt his heart skip a beat. “Though I don’t even know your name… Running off with a stranger, my mom would have a heart attack.”
“Ha! Well we can’t have that, can we?” His smile widened. He’d been so caught up in their conversation that he hadn’t even realized they’d never been properly introduced. “I guess you can call me Zayne… Though I’m kind of digging ‘Mr. Worldly’ right now.” Zayne laughed. “And you are…?” He’d already guessed at what her name might be, but he didn’t want to be weird.
“Hope.” She replied, confirming his suspicions. “Obviously I have to work on an equally sweet nickname for myself.”
“I’m sure I can think of one or two.” He assured her with a wink. Though he’d managed to keep his cool and casual demeanor, inside Zayne felt like dancing. Singing. Screaming. Now he didn’t just have one date lined up… He had two. “So, Hope… What time should I swoop in and rescue you tomorrow? Obviously you’ve gotta be there for the ceremony, but…?”
“Let’s make it 8. I’m sure everyone will be distracted enough by the festivities at that point.” Hope replied.
Zayne’s lips stretched into a smile. “Perfect. See you at 8 then.”
“See you tomorrow.” The way she smiled at him made him weak in the knees.
It was all he could do not to skip the entire way home.
The next night, Zayne still felt like he was on cloud nine as he headed down the winding country road toward the Von Haunt Estate.
His dinner with Victoria the night before had been amazing. She’d laughed at all his jokes and told him interesting stories about life in the United States. And at the end of the night, when she gave him a hug, she held him for a very long time. Longer than he was expecting, at least. That had to have meant something, right?
But despite how well his date had gone, Zayne couldn’t help but feel distracted the entire time. He just couldn’t get Hope out of his head… And he was dying to see her again. Zayne knew how foolish it was, of course. This girl lived half a world away from him. She was only visiting for her aunt’s wedding. After tonight, who knew if he’d ever see her again?
As he drew closer to the huge manor, Zayne did his best to chase the thought away. It wasn’t worth worrying about anyway. For now, all he could do was make their time together count.
Even from across the road, Zayne could hear the sounds of music and laughter coming from the Von Haunt Estate. He couldn’t be sure whether it was coming from inside the building or behind it. Maybe both? Zayne had only ever been to one wedding in his life — his Onkel Auggy’s, back when he was very young… So he wasn’t exactly sure how these sorts of things worked.
Zayne tried to remain as low-key as he could as he approached… Based on what he’d heard yesterday, he had a feeling Hope hadn’t told her family that she was planning on bailing from the wedding so early… And that they probably wouldn’t be too happy if they knew, either. Better not let anyone see me…
His eyes scanned the front of the building, searching for any sign of Hope, but the entire front porch was completely deserted. Zayne checked his phone. It was 7:59. Where was she? He shifted uncomfortably as he waited. It was so awkward, standing there alone in the darkness. What’s taking her so long?
At 8:01, Zayne decided to investigate.
At first, he considered heading up the porch steps and peering in through one of the windows, but that felt too risky. What if someone saw him? Instead, he decided to take his chances out back where, now that he was closer, he was certain he heard voices.
Feeling a bit ridiculous, Zayne used the hedge for cover as he snuck his way around the side of the estate.
It took him only seconds to find her.
Jesus. She’s perfect. His eyes drank in the sight of her. She looked amazing… Even more gorgeous than she had yesterday — like a girl straight out of the pages of a magazine. And the bride she was speaking to was beautiful as well. Her aunt. Zayne remembered. He watched as the older woman wrapped her niece into a warm hug.
A feeling of guilt washed over him at the sight. They looked so close, so happy… Clearly it meant a lot to Hope’s aunt to have her there on her special day.
With a pang of regret, Zayne couldn’t help but remember his cousins‘ special day — the birthday celebration he’d skipped out on in favor of some stupid party with his friends. No matter how much he tried to justify it to himself, deep down, Zayne knew it was wrong. He made a mistake. And he couldn’t take it back, no matter how much he wanted to.
What if Hope ended up feeling the same way? She wouldn’t be able to take it back either. How could he let her hurt her family by abandoning them like he had? How could he pull her away from them on her aunt’s wedding day — a day that would only happen once in her life?
Just like the girls will only have one 18th birthday in their lives… Zayne’s heart sank at the thought.
Was lying to his family truly worth it? Upsetting his aunt? Hurting his cousin? It was too late to answer those questions now. It was too late to change things anyway. But he found himself left with a more important question…
Would tearing Hope away from her aunt’s wedding be worth it?
He let his gaze travel over her beautiful face one last time.
Zayne would never know the answer.
A HUGE thank you/shoutout to ThePlumbob for writing all of Hope’s dialogue and actions for this chapter (mutual readers will recognize their conversation from her legacy, when we saw it from Hope’s perspective!). For anyone who doesn’t already know, Hope is a character from her amazing (and almost complete 😮 ) Bloomer Legacy.
I had SO much fun with this collaboration, and I encourage any of you who haven’t checked out The Bloomers yet to do so! It’s definitely one of my favorite legacies out there, and having the beautiful Hope spend some time on my hard drive was truly a pleasure ❤