According to You

By: Riley

Summary - Zack never had a reason to be jealous of any guys. Okay, there were the few that Maddie had been interested in, but that was a long time ago. He's older. More mature. So what is it about Riley's friend from home that he can't stand? Maybe it's the sheer discomfort on her face whenever said friend is around.

Chapter One: God Only Knows




Zack grinned and pumped his fist. A bend in the trajectory as the soccer ball rocketed towards the empty net was the icing on top of the cake. Now if only he could do it in a real game. If there had been a goalie looking to block his shot, they probably would've ended up getting smacked directly in the face. It his secret weapon, honestly. How many people would sit still with a soccer ball coming straight towards you? He'd been on the receiving end enough to know, firsthand, no one would.

Hands on his hips, Zack breathed a laugh, casually looking over his shoulder as he did so. He brushed his fringe from his face, only to end up poking himself in the eye. Zack winced, shifting his head away from the sudden sting. Okay, too casual. That was instant karma-as Cody would say. He didn't quite believe in karma himself or else he would've gotten retribution for every scheme he'd ever even thought of.

Zack turned away from the giggling girls behind him. Fast enough he felt a sharp pain in his neck. But he needed to play cool, so instead he pretended to focus on jogging over to retrieve his soccer ball from the back of the net. Ignored the raging fire that burned his cheeks. Typically, when he was at soccer practice he'd have the cross country, field hockey, and girls' lacrosse teams to look over. That afternoon wasn't typical. It wasn't even soccer season, lacrosse was the sport he currently lived and breathed. But he had to do something while he waited for Cody to finish his debate team practice. Or "Nerd Wars" as Zack called it.

It was a normal after school practice, with the boys running back and forth across the lacrosse field in a scrimmage, working on some new plays for their upcoming games. Most schools gave Spring Break as an actual break from school, but Boston had seen more than average snowfall that resulted in the students having more time off school than before. The days were tacked onto the end of the year, but the sports schedules needed to keep consistent for a bid at state championships by the end of the year.

Practice was ending; a few boys straggled behind, finding a soccer ball to practice taking shots on goal once the lacrosse equipment was put away. The practices of the other sports teams had wound down minutes before, people goofing off and standing around talking to each other as they gathered their things together.

And Zack and his teammates were certainly taking advantage of the situation to check out the girls' lacrosse team. An even bigger smile stretched across Zack's face when he noticed a few of the senior girls on the team had noticed his impressive goal—if he said so himself—and whispered to each other while looking at him every now and then.

"Come on, dude," Bob Stewart said, grabbing the ball form underneath Zack's arm. "We already know you can have every girl you want."

"Not every girl," Zack said. "Even I can't get Angelina Jolie."

"Like you'd even try if you had the chance." Bob snorted, spinning the ball between his hands. Then he dropped the ball to his feet and started to juggle it with ease. ""Why don't you let the rest of us guys have a chance?"

Zack placed his hands on his hips, watching his friend. Bob had certainly grown into his looks over the years. He'd cut back his mop of red hair so that it spiked in the front but was short all over, and he'd lost some weight while shooting up like a beanpole. If he were being honest, Bob was a great guy that any girl would be lucky to have. It seemed he and Barbara were on the outs again. But Barbara and Bob had been dating on and off since middle school and everyone knew they'd get back together at some point.

It always happened.

"So, Bob, how's Barbara?" Zack asked, making Bob stutter in his showmanship. The ball rolled off his feet and over to Zack, who quickly trapped it with his own. With a flick of his foot, Zack sent the ball to the top of his thigh. An evil grin slid over Zack's face. "Thought that'd get you."

"Many men have tried to take me down, Zack, and you're the only one that's managed to do so," Bob replied, folding his arms.

Zack paused. "Oh, right! And there wasn't Drew, Vance, Jolie, those girls on the soccer team, Barbara—"

"Okay, okay, I get it!" Bob waved his hands. "No need to bring up all of that stuff. The past is in the past and it needs to stay there."

"No problem. Just come over to the Tipton tonight and I'll whoop your ass at the new NBA game and we'll call it even."

Bob shook his head. "I'll say it once and I'll say it again, Zack. You're a lousy date."

"It's not a date. Besides, you couldn't keep up with me, anyway." Zack smirked.

Funny how something that used to cause him so much confusion and irritation was one of the longest running inside jokes he'd have with Bob. Bob was special, that much was sure. And Zack never thought he'd be friends with someone who was as much of a nerd as Bob was-it was different when he was a friend compared to being his own brother. They had enough in common that Zack steadily and slowly stopping making fun of him. Unless the time came for it, of course.

Zack's eyes trailed across the field towards the girls' lacrosse team once more. They sat in a circle, talking among themselves as they stretched their legs, first one way than the other. Nothing too out of the ordinary and yet there was a small flutter that moved through Zack's stomach. How typical. Cody's heavy sigh from behind him finally made Zack turn and take not of his brother. Cody sat on the nearby bleachers, staring hard at his watch. The same thing he'd been doing since arriving at the tail-end of Zack's practice.

"You got a problem?" Zack asked, voice dripping with irritation. He raised a hand. "Please, only if you have the time. I'm sure it's a long list." He held up his hand, starting to count with his thumb. "Starting with your allergies and ending with your incessant need to make your bed before you get in it."

"Are you ready to go?" Cody asked. He skillfully ignored Zack's jabs against him. There was only too much ammo he had to throw back against his twin brother and it wasn't the time to get into a battle of the wits. "You know you're my ride home."

Zack rolled his eyes. It was a conversation they had nearly every day, having to share one car—their father's old one which had seen better days—and didn't seem to be anything they'd stop arguing about. Zack knew it was only a matter of hours—the next day to be exact—until he was complaining about having to wait while Cody was in one of his many 'nerd meetings'. "Better than having to wait for you to come back smelling 'like a dump truck'," Cody would reply. He also insisted Zack sit on a towel to protect the seats.

"I haven't forgotten, Cody," Zack replied. He sucked his lips into his mouth and asked, "Why don't you just take the bus?"

"And subject myself to all of the germs and diseases those of Boston's finest are willing to tout around?" Cody shot back, eyebrows rising. "Do you know how easy it is to get the common cold because of…" Zack bobbed his head back and forth, barely listening to what Cody was saying to him. He rambled on and on until finally, Cody's change of subject caught his attention, "Come on, you know mom wants us home early today."

No, as a matter of fact, he didn't remember that. What did they need to be there early for? Or maybe it was something that she was saying over breakfast? She looked to be mouthing something to him but all he heard was the classic Peanuts teacher noise. Wah, wah, wah wah. It wasn't his fault, really, everyone knew he was half-asleep when he had to get up before noon. Saying anything to him before then was just grounds for it going in one ear and out the other.

Nothing a strong cup of coffee couldn't cure, and he certainly was not going to have any of his mother's coffee. If she could destroy what was supposed to be edible, then he didn't want to know what'd happen if he tried her drinks. It'd probably poison him. A heart attack from the caffeine alone. At least she didn't know about is Red Bull stash—or his habit of using the Tipton Employee Break Room to steal from a freshly brewed pot before Mr. Moseby caught him.

Cody watched his brother's expression then rolled his eyes, it was that glazed look again. Of course, he'd have to spell it out for him. "Grandpa Jim and Grandma Pearl are coming into town, we're having dinner…?"

Oh yeah!

Zack could feel his excitement start to rise. He hadn't seen his grandparents in years. Not since they left Seattle. And without the money to get plane tickets to fly there—and because their mother was 100% against being stuck in a car with her twin boys as they drove across the United States—they had to make do with emails and phone calls.

"Yeah, I guess you're right. We should be getting home then," Zack said. He picked up the soccer ball and spun it between his hands. Nodding over to Bob, Zack said, "Looks like I'm going to be kicking your ass later, dude."

Bob made a show of giving Zack the finger.

Zack and Cody both laughed and said goodbye to Bob—with Cody reminding him about their mathletes meeting—before the two walked towards the parking lot with Zack's lacrosse bag thudding across his back with each step. Zack pulled his keys form his pocket and swung his keys round his finger as he approached the girls' team, gently dribbling the soccer ball as he went. When they were close enough that Zack could hear small bits of their conversation—talking about something they'd seen on TV last night.

Cody eyed him warily then, seeing something mischievous in his brother's face shook his head. "No, Zack," he warned. "We have to get home."

Instead of heeding his brother's words, Zack grinned and planted himself on the ground. He brought back his right foot and kicked the ball straight towards the group with a warning of, "Head's up!" The girls, all freshman and sophomores-the senior girls had left only minutes before, stopped the ball and knocked it back to him, giggling lightly. Zack took the ball back and winked his thanks, making them giggle louder.

"Do you have any shame?" Cody asked, shaking his head.

"Ah, not really," Zack said honestly.

It was all just good fun for him, anyway. He wasn't doing anything more than flirting as he did with multiple people. If they didn't have a boyfriend they were fair he didn't have a girlfriend...Besides, he acted differently when there was someone he truly had feelings for. That's when he became a little nervous, put out his best lines, mentally quaked in his shoes as he tried to figure out where a conversation was going. On the outside, it was all charming smiles and confidence, but on the inside, he was as nervous as everyone else. Maybe even more so.

"You know, you could learn something from me." Zack nudged his brother.

"How not to date?" Cody guessed. "How not to have every girl absolutely hate me on sight? I could go on."

"Please don't."

Zack and Cody got into their car-with Cody letting out a yelp of annoyance when Zack dumped his sports bag onto his lap-and left the school to go to the Tipton hotel. As he drove along, Zack tapped his fingers against the steering wheel in slight annoyance. He'd had a good practice, had seen improvement in his lacrosse skills, to the point the coach had promised that he'd start the next game as front attackman, the position he'd been sharing on and off with another teammate who was just as good if not better than him.

He'd gotten the female attention he'd sought after but…not quite the one he had specifically been looking for. And that frustrated him more than he'd let on.

If Cody knew about it, he didn't say anything. Instead he buried his nose in his book, getting a head start on his homework for the next week, only lifting his head to bark at Zack's speed as he took corners and swerved into the parking spot at the hotel. They went through the lobby and hurried up to their suite. The moment Zack opened the door to the suite, he was enveloped into a hug so tight it felt that his back was breaking.

It could only be his Grandpa Jim.

Jim Kramer was nothing short of a strong family man. He'd do anything for his family and had proven it time and time again. When his daughters, their mother and their Aunt Martha asked to do something, he'd be there to help and support them every step of the way. Even from a young age their wanted nothing more than to be a singer, Grandpa Jim worked as hard as he could to make the extra money so she could get those singing lessons. He worked two, sometimes three jobs and while he would've preferred more time spent with his family, the opportunities he gave them was more than enough for him.

When their mother had announced she was pregnant, Grandpa Jim had immediately stated he'd work hard to make sure they all had what they needed to get by. It was no secret Grandpa im didn't like Kurt, he didn't necessarily look down on him, but told their mother time and time again it would take time for Kurt to grow up, time their mother didn't have to wait for with two new babies on the way. He was too much of a man to say 'I told you so' once his daughter appeared on his front porch asking for a place to stay. He simply loved her and her children as much as he possibly could, even when they moved to Boston.

"Grandpa Jim," Zack croaked, his face squished against Cody's, who also had been crushed within their grandfather's grasp. That was a little too close for comfort. "Grandpa, I can't breathe."

"Yeah, I like Zack and all, but this is too close for me, too, Grandpa," Cody added. He pressed his hands against his grandfather's chest and finally managed to suck in a deep breath of air when he was released, hearing his grandmother admonish, "Let them go, Jim. I know it's been a while, but we want to keep our grandkids alive, you know?"

Grandpa Jim immediately let go of his grandsons. He took a step back and reached out, ruffling their hair. "Ah, what's life if you don't spend it with your family?" He asked. The corners of his eyes crinkled up with the laugh lines that etched through his face. "And I haven't seen my grandkids in too long, Pearl. You can't expect me to not be excited."

He gave the boys another hug, but this time it was a much warmer and friendlier hug rather than the sheer burst of excitement that came forth. Then the boys moved to give their Grandma Pearl a hug as well.

Pearl Kramer was a woman who ran her household. She juggled the bills, made sure the house was tidy from top to bottom, drove her daughters wherever they needed to go, and willingly took in Zack and Cody when their mother needed someone to babysit so that she'd be able to advance her career. Nothing was better to her than being able to spend time with her grandsons. Even when their mother did everything she could to keep from moving back home when she fell on hard times, Jim and Pearl had been the ones to suggest them moving back before the thought had even crossed their mother's mind.

Their moving away to Boston had been devastating for all involved; Carey moved away from her support system to a job that may or may not work out in the long run, Zack and Cody moved and were ripped from their schools, and Jim and Pearl lost their only grandchildren.

"Excited, dear, not exhilarated," Pearl said. She swatted her husband's arm with a dishtowel then folded it along her arm. "I don't want my grandsons murdered before I get the chance to talk to them." She reached out to grab Zack's and Cody's arms. "Now, why don't you come sit down to eat? Dinner's on the table."


Zack and Cody both froze, exchanging glances. They both knew how much of a gamble it was to eat anything that wasn't take-out, something Zack made—which was as simple as heating up frozen food—or something extravagant Cody prepared. There had been a few cases of food poisoning. And it was the simple fact of bad tastes that left them with stomach aches, ducking beneath the table to spit food out into napkins, and sometimes the stray potted plant. They were very wary over the food they ate. To the point Zack could attribute part of his weight loss over the years to not eating so much because he was afraid of getting sick once more. When he didn't make himself sick.

Grandma Pearl gave the boys a conspiratory wink, "Don't worry, I cooked dinner this time."

"Thanks, mom," Carey said sarcastically from where she set the table. "I'll have you know that I've gotten better at cooking over the years. Right boys?" She turned to Zack and Cody for confirmation and they hemmed and hawed, avoiding her gaze. "Have I mentioned how much I love you two?"

"Not enough, honestly," Zack said. He ducked away from the playful slap Carey sent his way and sat at his spot at the table.

"So how long are you going to be here?" Cody asked his grandparents, unfolding his napkin and draped it over his lap. "I'd like to be able to show the new exhibits that just started at the museum."

Zack raised his gaze to the ceiling in a half roll of his eyes. "Cody, they're already old you don't want to bore them to death." He nodded his head over towards the window. "Why not just shove them off the roof or drown them in the harbor while you're at it."

"Should I be worried that we aren't going to make it back from our trip?" Grandpa Jim asked with a low laugh. "I don't remember taking out any life insurance recently."

"If that were the case, daddy, I'm sorry. But I'd get to you before the boys could," Carey said. She then shot Zack a warning look and said, "I'm sure your grandparents would love to see the new exhibits at the museum, Cody."

"That'd be lovely," Grandma Pearl agreed. "What about you, Zack? What would you like to show us while we're here?"

"Not his report card, that's for sure," Cody said. He twirled his fork around his finger and smirked. "Not unless he wanted you to feel shame and embarrassment for the familial association alone."

"Like how I feel about you every day of my life?" Zack shot back; Cody's smile immediately faded while Zack's smug smile widened. "Things were perfect those ten minutes I was an only child."

"I'm surprised you can count that high."

"Would you two stop it?" Carey asked, raising her voice. Her hands were folded tensely in her lap. "Geez, you've been at each other's throat like this for years. If I didn't know any better I'd say you hated each other."

Zack's eyes widened in surprise and when he looked over at Cody, he saw the same expression mirrored on his twin's. Intense confusion. Zack loved his brother, he'd do anything for Cody. The way the two spoke was just the way they spoke to each other. They built each other up as much as they tore each other down, keeping a good balance. There had been many times they'd been questioned by their peers whether they liked each other and said peers would end of surprised when they then saw the twins get along.

"No way," Zack defended himself. "Cody's the only one I can talk to like that." Cody nodded in agreement. "Who else would I do it to if not for him? At least I know he can take it." Then he eyed Cody for a moment. "Not very well, but he can take it."

"I'd hope you wouldn't speak to any girlfriends that way," Grandma Pearl said. She smiled warmly between her grandsons. "Such handsome boys, I'm sure you have all the girls chasing after you."

Zack opened his mouth to say another biting remark about Cody then cut off, noticing his brother turn away. A little bit of shame filled him. There were many things he could tease Cody about and he knew it wouldn't bother him. But there were others he knew were things that Cody was very insecure about and one of them was his dating life. It was no secret that, out of the two, Zack was the more popular one. It wasn't just due to his looks but from the way he talked and carried himself; with his head held high and speaking of the latest pop culture topics. Cody, on the other hand, preferred to talk about his studies and new things he'd learned. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, Zack had learned a lot by listening—or even half listening—to what Cody had to say.

But even he could see Cody's struggles to not come across so much of a nerd. As it was, no one else could call him that other than Zack. Instead, Zack said, "Nah, we don't have girlfriends right now." He ignored the strange look both Cody and Carey sent his way.

"I find that hard to believe," Grandpa Jim said.

Believe me, so do I, Zack thought. Then again, it wasn't through lack of trying.

"It's only a matter of time, you'll find the right girl," Grandma Pearl said with an encouraging smile. "Then you'll get married and give us the great grandchildren we've been waiting for." Her comment made Carey, Zack, and Cody equally choke on their bite of food.

"Mom, they haven't even finished high school yet," Carey said. "Give them some time to breathe before even thinking of that."

"You're never too young to start having a family," Grandpa Jim pointed out. He pointed his fork at her. "The most important thing is making sure it's with the right person you can see yourself spending the rest of your life with."

Carey rolled her eyes. "Thanks, dad."

Zack and Cody exchanged amused grins with each other. It wasn't every day their mother got the taste of what it was like to have her decisions commented on. Of course, they didn't like it when their grandparents—specifically their grandfather—had anything bad to say about their dad, but he'd seemed to warm up to Kurt over the years. They interacted well with each other but that didn't mean the comments with an 'I told you so' edge didn't come up every now and then. And he loved his grandchildren, knowing if Kurt hadn't been involved they'd never be around.

Still, with how many lectures Zack had gotten over the years he tended to enjoy watching her own lectures. Even Cody looked to be taking a sense of satisfaction from them as well, watching their mother squirm under her own mother's gaze. They finished dinner and had changed the topic of conversation to the next trip Grandma Pearl and Grandpa Jim were going to take to Appletown, Texas to visit Zack's and Cody's aunt—Carey's sister—Martha. Zack could see his mother slowly starting to become uncomfortable as she always did when speaking about her sister. She'd always felt inferior to her and hearing her parents gush about her didn't help.

At a lull in the conversation Grandpa Jim asked, "Carey, dear, is there any dessert?" Zack tensed at the request. They knew what that meant; every time one of their grandparents asked for dessert it was when serious conversations and lectures were about to be thrown around. Mostly with the topic of their future and comments of their current jobs and studies.

Carey practically leapt to her feet shouting, "I'll go get some! Maybe some ice cream?"

"Now, mom, you wouldn't want to leave them here by themselves," Cody broke in, quickly getting to his feet as he held out his hand. As if holding a rabid dog at bay. Which was almost true considering how fiercely Carey glared at him for stopping her. "They came to visit you. You're their daughter."

"No, they came to—"

"—And you know, this may take a while," Zack added. He reached out and shoved Cody back down into his seat. "And I know just the perfect place to go get some. So, Cody, why don't you tell them all about that…science thing you're doing. Better yet, talk about Yale and I'll just go run out and get dessert. Alright? Alright." He patted Cody on the shoulder then reached into his pocket for his wallet, pulling out a twenty and tossed it back to his brother. "I owe ya one!"

It was just as well. That twenty came from Cody's wallet.

Zack raced from the Tipton hotel and started the walk to the ice cream shop. Thankfully, the Tipton hotel was in the best location in the city, smack dab between the middle of the suburbs and downtown, close enough he coudl walk if he wanted. As much as he preferred the drive, he did enjoy walking through the city, it gave him time to clear his head. And he was running low on gas in the car and would prefer to trick Cody into paying for a tank of gas (like he had the past few times).

After a few minutes of walking, Zack arrived at the ice cream shop and started in. Then he glanced into the restaurant across the street and spotted a familiar face inside. He grinned to himself, his mood immediately turning around and he looked both ways before ducking inside. The hostess stopped him and asked what he'd need the second he stepped inside. Zack placed an order and stepped around the hostess, making it seem that he was going to the bathroom. His eyes roved around the dining patrons and the servers that fluidly weaved in and out of tables before he spotted her.

"Hey," he greeted, feeling his nerves strike as soon as the word left his mouth.

Riley Jackson turned to him and flashed a smile, before finishing the transfer of filled glasses to the empty table next to her. "Hey," she finally said, standing up straight. She smoothed her black hair from her blue eyes. "What're you doing here? I thought your grandparents were in town."

"Just getting some dessert," Zack said. He pointed over his shoulder. "Grandpa Jim was asking for some and—"

"—And you wanted to make sure you didn't get stuck with all their questions, yeah?" she broke in, the sweet sounds of her Australian accent reaching his ears. "Good plan." He'd told her many times of how he'd gotten blindsided by a lecture over dessert. She smirked. "But you do know they're just going to get you when you get back, mate."

"Yeah, but I take after my grandpa; once you fill me with food I don't remember much."

"You sure it's just 'cause of the food?"

Zack laughed at the jab against him. He could take it and he enjoyed taking it from her. Apart from Max and Cody she was one of the few who could do so and it was one of the reasons he liked her, though her smarts and memory were a plus. He'd remembered mentioning it to her once before about his Grandpa Jim's habits, a long, long time ago, and she'd remembered!

"You're in a good mood," he remarked. His eyes drifted around the restaurant, taking in the empty chairs. "Slow shift?"

"Just as hectic as ever, but I'm getting some pretty good tips. That seems to trump everything." It was then Zack noticed that her smile didn't reach her eyes. Every few seconds she looked over her shoulder towards the bathrooms, even when she moved to clear the empty table to next to her. "You said you were waiting for your order? I can check on it for you."

Is she trying to get rid of me? "I only just put it in, so…" Zack licked his lips and flashed a smile. Forced himself to say, "I know I can get on your nerves sometimes, but it sounds like you're trying to get rid of me."

Now she looked him in the eye and he could see the sincerity as she said, "I'm not trying to get rid of you, mate, I'm just stressed." Zack took a quick glance around the dining room once more. It wasn't that packed. As a matter of fact it looked like most of the patrons were on their last bites of food. She noticed his gaze and said, "Not because of that, it's—"

"Excuse me, mate, you're in my way."

Zack turned his head, noticing a teenage boy about his age standing behind him. His dark brown hair was styled in a shaggy cut, freckles spread across his nose, and lips pulled back into a calm smile. His eyes-a dark brown-held steady on Zack's though didn't radiate much life from them. Zack's gaze shifted to Riley seconds after the boy's did and he noticed a strange, almost annoyed expression come to her face.

Tension suddenly rising around them—Zack could swear he thought the temperature suddenly plummeted a few degrees—he figured it out quickly. This guy knew Riley and in a way Zack certainly didn't. And that wasn't good for him or his jealousy.

"Sorry." Zack took a step back and the guy went to the table she had just put the full glasses on.

"No worries," he replied.

Ah, so he was from Australia, too. Did he come to visit her? The slightly paranoid thought came to mind before he could stop it. Yeah, he had a thing for Riley, always had. Didn't mean she was his property. His mother had drilled that into his and Cody's head—that women weren't trophies to be won—even more since Jolie had left Boston years before.

Then the boy said to Riley, "I didn't mean to interrupt when you were at work. I just thought it'd be fun to surprise you."

Surprise her? Zack watched the exchange, felling his heart sink.

"I was surprised all right," Riley said. Finally she motioned to the boy and said, "Zack this is Ian Hernandez, Ian this is my,"—she paused for a second and Zack could clearly see something in her face change before she placed her hand on his shoulder and said with a smile (one he noticed did reach her eyes)—"my boyfriend, Zack Martin."

"Boyfriend, huh?" Ian repeated the words that had immediately flashed through Zack's head. But he could play a game when needed. No one had ever told him he was a bad actor. "It's nice to meet you." With a grin, Ian offered his hand and Zack shook it. Ian had a firm grip, Zack felt his fingers crush together. "I've heard a lot about you."

"And I…haven't heard much about you," Zack said honestly.

"Ah, I'm not surprised." Ian slid his hands into the pockets. "Riles doesn't really like to talk about home a lot but I'm sure you understand that." He pulled out his wallet and dropped a couple of bills onto the table. Then he all but ignored Zack, addressing Riley once more. "I'll catch up with you tomorrow, okay?"

"Tomorrow's not good for me," Riley said quickly.

"No worries, just give me a call. I'll see you. Hooroo."

Riley waved and tucked her hair behind her ears, letting out a long breath. She rolled her eyes and moved to clear off the table. She didn't speak to Zack or move to make a mention of who the guy was. That was alright, Zack was never at a loss for words.

Zack decided to diffuse the remaining tension. "Boyfriend, right?" He asked. "Or an ex? Can't say I'd blame you. If I ran into any of my exes—"

"—You mean half the population of Boston?" Riley asked, looking over her tip, holding the bills up to the light.

"—yeah, yeah."

"Trust me, mate, he's not my boyfriend and never has been," Riley said. She placed the tip into her pocket and turned to face him, folding her arms.

"Are you sure about that?" Zack asked.

"Just as sure as I am that you're not either," she replied with a teasing grin.

Now Zack grinned. "Now that we got that out of the way, I don't mind pretending to be anyone's boyfriend. I managed to 'date' some pretty good senior girls that way, and even got to date a rich girl by having Cody pretend to be her boyfriend when her dad didn't like me."

"That's a shock," Riley teased.

"I know. Who doesn't think I'm adorable?" He made a show of pouting his lips, making Riley laugh. His ego immediately inflated. Making her laugh was always good. "But since I did you a solid and helped you out, you can help me." Riley lifted her eyebrows. "Who is he?"

"He's a guy I know from back home," Riley explained. "And he decided to come to Boston to visit."

"To visit you or to visit your family?"

That made her pause for a long moment, as if she were trying to figure out the best answer. He had her. "I reckon I'm not sure. I didn't know he was even here until the boofhead showed up."

"You didn't seem so happy to see him," Zack prompted, realizing that was the tension he'd felt earlier that day. He'd gotten a lot of cold looks form her before, not one that was of complete annoyance of his mere presence. Irritation maybe, but not one that could quite literally kill him. "I mean, if he was your friend…"

"He's not really my friend either," Riley interrupted. She turned her gaze down to the table top, drumming her fingers against it.

Now Zack was completely confused. He wasn't her boyfriend, wasn't an ex, wasn't even her friend. And yet he had a warm response to her as if there was nothing going on between them at all. Zack could be slow on some things but he wasn't a completely moron.

"So, what is he?" he finally asked. It couldn't have been much of a secret. "Come on, you can tell me."

Riley lifted her head and studied him for a long moment, her blue eyes locking on his own. Then the corner of her lips turned up and she said, "I can't, actually." With a lift of her chin she nodded behind him, her eyes shifting, and added, "Your order's ready."

Zack twisted around to see the hostess waving to him, motioning to the knotted bag in her hand. It was probably the only time he wasn't happy with the presence of food. Just when he was getting somewhere. Zack turned back in time for Riley to chuckle, say, "Bye, Zack," with a light lift to her voice, and tuck her tray under her arm before disappearing further into the restaurant.

Zack watched her go, waited for what he knew was a good sign. Finally, he got it. Just before reaching the kitchen, Riley turned back and smiled, giving him a small wave, before disappearing inside.

Now he could go.

A/N: Don't worry, I'm still working on Intuition. I just couldn't wait much longer to work on my Zack-centered story. I hope you guys liked the beginning of it. At the moment, I'm thinking this will be set in the same universe/alternate universe as Save Me From Myself, Help Me Save Me, and Intuition but I haven't completely decided yet. Let me know what you think.

Also, for those that prefer canon characters only, I do have one-shots I'm doing that extend on scenes/themes from episodes we've seen of SLOZAC. Go to my profile to check it out.