Zack was the one who pieced it all together.
He was with Billy in physics on a sunny Wednesday morning. The teacher had just finished handing out a new problem set for the class to complete and told them they could work with others if they wanted. So Zack got up and plopped down right in the seat next to Billy’s, scooting closer and making sure not to disturb the neat pencil organization on his desk.
“Hey, Billy,” said Zack, pulling a ballpoint pen from out of his pocket.
Billy looked up and over, a bright, happy smile appearing on his face when he saw Zack. “Oh, hey! Do you want to work together?”
“That’s exactly what I’m here for,” said Zack, turning his attention down to the worksheet. “Let’s do this.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to use a pen to do math problems?” Billy asked him. “What if you make a mistake?”
“Easy: I don’t.”
Billy scoffed. “That’s impossible. Everyone makes mistakes.”
He glanced down at the line of pencils along the edge of his desk, and for a second looked like he was actually considering offering Zack one. But Zack sensed his discomfort and stepped in to say, “Whoa, it’s okay. Keep your pencils, I’ll just cross out anything I mess up on and make a mess.”
“Oh, okay,” said Billy, sounding a little relieved, but also very skeptical.
They settled easily into their normal routine. Usually whenever partner assignments happened Zack and Billy would be lost in their own world in the corner of the classroom, blocking out the sounds of chatter from the other students and completing the problems in comfortable silence.
Billy was a physics genius, and Zack was a little bit less of a genius but could still hold his own, so they didn’t really need each other’s assistance. Sure, sometimes Zack would lean over and ask Billy a quick question, or Billy would nudge Zack and check a couple answers with him, but for the most part Billy’s presence simply kept Zack motivated enough to finish the assignment, and Zack’s presence made Billy feel safe and at peace.
Zack was about halfway through the front page when he heard Billy start tapping his foot.
It was quiet, but it was persistent and carefully measured. The hand that Billy wasn’t using to write had begun to rub at his jeans near his knee, like he was trying to keep himself from doing something.
Without realizing it, Zack started to click his pen in time with the beat Billy’s foot was tapping out.
Billy perked up, and whatever resistance he’d been harboring evaporated then. He took another pencil into his left hand, and then just—started drumming. He tapped the ends of the pencils on every surface—his leg, the wooden desk, the metal bar connecting the desk to the seat.
Zack grinned, equal parts surprised and impressed, and kept clicking away on his pen. The two boys made eye contact and Billy smiled, wide and joyful.
Just as Billy started getting more complicated and rocking out for real, the teacher called them out and told them to stop making so much noise.
Zack ducked his head, shooting Billy a glance out the corner of his eye. “I didn’t know you could do that,” he said.
“Well, I can,” said Billy sheepishly, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Sometimes I get really jittery. Drumming helps cool me down. And I like how steady I can make the beat, because I get to control it however I want.”
“Can you do the real thing, too?”
“Yeah. I got a little set back at home.”
“That’s awesome, man,” said Zack, nudging Billy with his shoulder. Billy looked down, looking a bit proud of himself. He checked his watch.
“It’s 10:12,” he told Zack. “We have 4 minutes and 28 seconds of class left to finish this.”
“Race you,” said Zack.
Billy stared at him. Zack laughed and started scribbling away on his worksheet.
A little over a week passed after that incident.
Zack was in the hallway right before school started, walking to class with Jason and Kimberly. The boys were flanking her when out of nowhere she grabbed them both by their backpacks and ushered them into a side hallway.
“Kim—what—” Jason said, disoriented, because he’d just been interrupted mid-sentence.
Kimberly didn’t answer, not until she’d pushed them into an empty classroom and closed the door shut behind her.
“Sorry,” she said, leaning back against the door. “Just saw a couple girls from cheerleading coming down the hallway. I don’t know why, but they’re out trying to get me this week. Didn’t really want to face them this early in the morning.”
“Oh,” said Jason. “Well—we can just stay here, I guess, until the bell rings.”
“Thanks,” said Kim gratefully.
Zack spun around to take to take a good look at his surroundings. “Where are we? Is this the orchestra room? I’ve never been here before.”
“Huh.” Jason turned as well. “There’s a keyboard back there. I wonder if it works.” He dropped his backpack to the ground and started walking over. Zack and Kim shared a look before following after him.
“Do you play?” Kim asked while Jason ran his fingers over the buttons at the top, looking for the switch to turn it on.
“A little bit,” he replied, pressing the power button and plopping down on the seat. Kim and Zack stood in front of the keyboard, and Jason grinned up at them. “Watch this.”
He pressed at the keys. Chopsticks.
It was a simple tune but he played it the whole way through without making a mistake. When Zack was little his mom hadn’t been able to afford piano lessons for him so he was impressed.
“Didn’t know the school’s football star had some hidden musical talents,” Kim teased him.
Jason shrugged, grinning bashfully. “I like how it sounds. I don’t know much, everything I play I had to teach myself.”
“Not bad, not bad,” said Zack, moving over to pat Jason on the back.
“Do you know anything else?” asked Kim.
“Well—” Jason began.
The bell rang.
“Ah, looks like I’ll have to show you guys some other time,” he said, standing up.
“Boo.” Kimberly made her way to the entrance of the room, the boys right behind her. “Thanks for staying with me, guys. I owe you one.”
“What are friends for?” said Zack, wrapping his arm around Kim’s shoulders. She laughed and put her arms around both Zack and Jason, and they headed to class.
hey can I come over?? im bored
ok thx! I’ll be there in 10
not unless you agree to help babysit the brothers
yeah yeah yeah. o leave ur window unlocked too pls
“Hey,” said Zack with one leg inside Trini’s room and one leg outside.
Trini was sitting on her bed, reading a chapter from the textbook in her lap. “If you trip and crack your head I’ll laugh at you.”
“That’s mean,” sniffed Zack. He pulled his other leg in through the window and then hit his head on the top of the pane. “Ow!”
Trini managed to stifle a laugh with considerable difficulty.
Zack grumbled, slipping into Trini’s room and pushing shut the window behind him. He hopped into Trini’s bed, rocking the mattress with his big body.
“And I’m the crazy one in this friendship?” Trini asked. She still hadn’t looked up from her reading.
“You have friends?” asked Zack.
Trini smacked him with the textbook. “Get out of my house.”
“No,” said Zack. “Where are the little brothers?”
“Playing outside. I think they’re coming back in twenty minutes,” Trini answered.
Zack whistled, rolling onto Trini’s legs and wrapping himself around her. “You’re not exactly doing a good job of babysitting them then, are you?”
“Shut up.” Trini rolled her eyes but shifted so that they could both be in a more comfortable position. Zack pushed himself up on his elbows and saw something in the corner of Trini’s room.
“Dude,” he said. “You have a guitar?”
“Uh, maybe,” said Trini, and she finally pushed aside her textbook so she could look awkwardly down at Zack. “Bass. But yeah.”
“That’s awesome,” said Zack. “Dude, what a coincidence—first Billy, then Jason—”
“What do you mean, first Billy, then Jason?” asked Trini.
Zack stopped himself. “Uh, nothing. Do you play?”
“No, I just have it here in my room because it looks pretty,” said Trini. Then she sighed. “My parents wanted me to learn to play at least one instrument when I was little.”
“So you picked the electric bass to troll them?” asked Zack, grinning. “How does someone so small play an instrument so large?”
“Why are you so annoying?” Trini huffed, shoving Zack off her legs. He laughed and rolled off the bed to get a closer look at the bass guitar.
“I play too,” he said, running his thumb gently across the strings. “Both guitar and electric. Sometimes I play for my mom. I love when I play a song she likes and she gets a little smile on her face as she listens.”
“That’s sweet,” said Trini.
“And I also read somewhere that guys who play the guitar look more charming and get more girls,” Zack added.
“That is considerably less sweet.”
Downstairs, the door slammed open and then shut, and a flurry of footsteps sounded up the stairs.
“Looks like they’re home early,” said Trini. “Prepare for company.”
“Trini!” one of them yelled before they even appeared in the doorway. “We saw Mr. Zack trying to break into your room from the backyard! Is he here?”
“Come and get him,” Trini shouted back. And then the boys exploded into her room and tackled Zack to the ground. Trini watched Zack pretend like they had won by yelling in pain at their harmless punches, and couldn’t help but laugh at his ridiculous expressions.
Several weeks passed after that.
Now that the threat of monsters invading Angel Grove had lessened considerably, Jason held training sessions far less often than before. The practices had been reduced to just two in the afternoon per week, on Tuesday and Sunday, and one in the morning on Thursday.
Kimberly always arrived at the morning sessions first. Zack usually came in second, but he never truly realized how early she got there until today.
That Thursday, for some crazy reason, the other four had all arrived at the top of the cliff at the same time. It was still dark out, and it was a little chilly. Trini was clutching a mug of coffee and looking very small and angry.
“You guys are here early,” commented Zack.
“Couldn’t sleep,” said Trini.
“Me neither,” said Billy. “I was up all night building something.”
“I just woke up early,” said Jason.
“Well, then,” said Zack. “Shall we go in?”
The others nodded. Alpha 5 had figured out a way to teleport them down into the ship, because he’d gotten tired of watching them train damp and with their teeth chattering. So they joined hands and closed their eyes, feeling the energy buzz around them.
Zack heard the voice before he even opened his eyes.
The others seemed equally intrigued by the singing that was floating through the ship and echoing off the walls. They looked at one another before following the path that lead to the training area.
All of them froze at the entryway.
Kim was in the middle of the field, rocking out by herself and belting out a song at the top of her lungs. She was using a hairbrush as the microphone, and her voice—well, she sounded amazing.
She turned around and caught sight of the four of them, and to her credit, didn’t stop singing. She simply grinned wider and even threw Trini a wink.
The coffee mug in Trini’s hand shattered.
Kim ran a hand through her hair and finished the last few lines of her song. Then she turned to the others and flashed them a brilliant smile.
Billy and Jason were gaping. Trini looked completely shocked and mesmerized. And Zack’s mind was racing.
“Dude,” he said into the silence. “We should totally start a band together.”