Chapter 9: I love you, but
"See you in a couple hours," Harper told Alex as she left the loft on her way to her date with Zeke.
"You two lovebirds have fun, and keep it PG," Alex advised dryly.
"Oh, I'm not sure I can guarantee that," Harper said, pausing at the top of the spiral staircase and biting her lower lip. By occasionally making comments like this one, she was totally succeeding in convincing Alex that she truly liked Zeke and wasn't just using him to make Justin jealous.
"Ew, how do aliens even—" Alex began to ask. Harper, knowing where Alex was going—as she never could resist the opportunity to make an alien joke at either Justin's or Zeke's expense—,hurried down the steps without hearing the rest.
Maybe I should go easier on the guy now that my best friend's dating him, Alex thought, then snickered at herself, wrinkled her nose, and shook her head dismissively. Nah. She knew she wouldn't be able to hold back and was fine with it.
Harper caught the subway to Central Park. She sat smiling as she ran through different scenarios of her grand scheme. Each would end with Justin admitting he had always loved her and jealously insisting that she leave Zeke and date him. In a couple scenarios the gallant wizard would even propose matrimony after loudly confessing his love for the "sexy, well-dressed redhead."
She internally acknowledged that such outlandish declarations of love were implausible at best. Well, with the potion anything is possible, though,she told herself. No—you can't think like that. The plan is working, and I know Justin will soon open his eyes and admit his feelings. She was convinced that his continuing desire for her was not entirely in her head. Justin's increasing displays of jealousy convinced her all the more.
It'll just be a little while longer, just a little while longer, a little while, she repeated in her head without considering the irreversible consequences "a little while longer" might wreak on Zeke's sanity.
As her train neared Central Park, she continued to imagine more of these categorically impossible outcomes to her plan and couldn't resist letting out a romantic-film-worthy sigh.
She walked into the park and quickly spotted her nominal boyfriend splaying a traditionally checkered picnic blanket onto the grass under a shady maple. This had come to be known as "their spot," one which Harper herself had strategically chosen — less for the romantic value of the setting and more for its proximity to the A-line Subway station.
"You ready for a picnic at the most romantic spot in all of New York?" asked Zeke enthusiastically, from a distance.
Harper first thought he was asking sarcastically, then remembered this was Zeke speaking. It was decidedly not even the most romantic spot in the vicinity, though, let alone in all of New York: it was close enough to the edge of the park to constantly suffer the roaring and honking of angry drivers, not to mention the drunk homeless men who frequently stumbled through the area.
"Yeah, totally looking forward to it," Harper replied, finding it hard not to be sarcastic herself. She approached him and gave him a quick peck on the lips.
"Ha, you call that a fuckin' kiss?!" ridiculed the loud, raspy voice of a passing homeless man.
It appeared their "relationship" was inauthentic enough to elicit unsolicited comments like this one.
"Nosy bum," Harper mumbled to Zeke.
"He's right, though," Zeke consented, reaching both arms behind Harper's back and dipping her low while forcing his tongue inside Harper's mouth. He held her in this way for a good half-minute before pulling her upright and proudly exclaiming "I freaking LOVE this girl!"
"Yeah that's more fuckin' like it!" The voyeuristic hobo approved, still raspy.
"Now go to second base!" pleaded another onlooker from afar.
"Nah, skip to third!" called out a third.
The couple simultaneously blushed at the notion, Zeke looking to Harper while she made a dismissive gesture with her arm. Their relaxing date proceeded once the crowd had dispersed. It progressed predictably enough, with Zeke making film and television references and Harper inattentively nodding and smiling along.
Frequently, Harper would interrupt with questions about Justin's whereabouts, opinions, or endeavors. This pattern continued at the picnic and at the restaurant, with Zeke providing a quick answer to her queries and continuing to chat about science fiction, foreign dances, or "extraterrestrial" languages. Awkward silences were few and far between in conversations between these two.
Every time Harper mentioned the wizard, Zeke's stomach got more uneasy. Little did he know this response wasn't only psychological. His face reflected the emotions he was harboring, although Harper remained oblivious to his changing expression and asked about Justin once more, swirling her teacup, "So how often does he, like, work out?"
Zeke felt a strong abdominal pain burning at his core and hunched over slightly.
"Are you alright?" Harper asked, putting down her teacup.
"No, I'm really not," Zeke answered.
"I hope it's not the food," the redhead pushed her plate a couple inches away from herself with a frown, "that would be a surprisingly quick effect, though."
"Nope, not the food, I'll be fine," he stated in a plain but serious tone. "I'm just confused by your constant interest in Justin—we're supposed to be on a date. Not to mention you live with him."
Harper didn't know how to respond at first. Neither her actions nor her motives had ever been challenged by the light-haired boy since he had unwittingly drunk the love potion. It had, in fact, been nothing but compliments, apologies, and declarations of everlasting love. She stumbled over her words, "I—I was just wondering how he was doing."
Zeke continued, in a hurt yet calm manner, "I know you used to have a thing for him, and I've noticed that you act differently whenever he's around. It's almost as if you were trying to make him jealous."
For all of Zeke's aloofness, he was surprisingly attentive of actions, gestures, and surroundings.
"Zeke, I can understand why you might think that, but it is all in your head, I promise."
"I love you, Harper. I can't help but love you; I think I always will. I wanted you to come to my place tonight since my parents are out, and I still do, but first I really have to get to the bottom of this." He struggled to say all this through the pain.
The bill was settled and they left without saying much else.
The jealous pangs of pain began shooting directly up Zeke's spine into the base of his neck. Could this pain really be jealousy alone?
Having the same destination, and not having considered this before leaving the restaurant, they rode the same train to Tribeca without speaking. Awkward. Zeke's pain fortunately began to subside, if only somewhat.
Justin Russo opened his bedroom door upon hearing insistent knocking. Zeke Beakerman stood in front of him.
"Your mom let me in," he explained.
"You didn't take Harper over to your place?"
The wizard's face went from confusion to relief.
A/N: Hello all! I know I promised an update a LOONG time ago; I am a liar. Alas, it is finally here and hopefully y'all enjoy it. My job has been very demanding lately, but has just begun to wind down, which means more-frequent updates. Unless I'm lying again (small joke).
I felt the story was unfortunately losing the humor it had in the first chapters, so I tried to have some fun with this one (with limited success).