Jake let the door of Deep Dish Nine slide shut behind him with a sigh of relief. He loved his dad, but wow, he never got to come by without getting at least one hint about maybe joining the business. Jake had nothing against pizza. Heck, he loved the stuff. But making them for a living? No thank you. And while his dad was supportive of Jake's dreams, he never really gave up hope that Jake might take over the place one day.
But with any luck, one of these days his dad would realize that Nog was positively in love with the idea of running his own place sometime in the future, so if it all panned out, Jake would be off the hook. Some day...
He zipped his jacket closed and turned left down the strip to get to the bus stop outside the mall. Or at least he would have, if he hadn't almost tripped over the person sitting on the floor, leaning up against the wall next to the glass doors.
“Ziyal? What are you doing sitting on the floor?”
The only answer he got was a pronounced sniffle, so he carefully sat down next to her, concerned.
“Are you okay? Right, no, stupid question, I can see you're not,” he babbled. “Wanna tell me what's wrong?”
She sniffled again and had to take a few deep breaths before any words came out. “It's stupid,” she whispered.
“Whatever it is, it has to be important to you, or you wouldn't be upset.” He shrugged. “If you don't wanna tell me, that's fine. Just... lemme know if there's anything I can do for you, okay?”
She nodded, eyes fixed on her knees. But she didn't ask him to leave either, so Jake stayed. He knew Ziyal sort of distantly, having seen her around the place now and then. But mostly she sat by herself with her sketch book and didn't talk to anyone but Kira and sometimes Garak. She seemed nice enough, though, and Jake was sorry to see her upset.
“Did you know?” she asked suddenly, her voice low and raspy from crying.
“About... Garak and... and Julian.”
Jake was honestly baffled. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”
This made her finally look up at him, her hazel eyes striking, even red-rimmed and teary. “You didn't know? Everybody was talking about it earlier...”
“I was only just here for a couple of minutes to talk to my dad. I didn't really talk to anyone else. Why, what's going on?”
For a while she just stared at him, as if trying to figure out if he was lying to her. Then her shoulders slumped and she lowered her eyes again. “Garak and Julian are... together.”
It took Jake a few long moments to catch on. “Uhm... together like... together?”
She nodded, and let her head fall forwards, hiding her face in her knees and sniffled again.
“Oh, uhm...” Jake bumbled. “Did you... I dunno... have a crush on Julian or something?”
Her head shot up so fast he almost jumped back with shock. “Julian?! Why would I...” she trailed off, staring at him again, before sighing heavily. “No, not Julian. Garak.”
“Oh, uh... not to be insensitive or anything, but... isn't he a little old for you?”
To his surprise, she simply smiled. “He's older, yes. But that never mattered to me. It did to him, though. He kept saying I should find someone my own age. But guys my age are just... they're all so shallow, you know?”
Jake couldn't help but smile back. “I totally get what you mean. Yesterday, I was trying to tell this girl in my class about this poetry reading I'm going to on Saturday, and all she wanted to know was what people would be wearing. Seriously, what does it matter?”
Ziyal nodded. “It's about the words. The art. Not the physical image.”
She smiled at him again, and Jake got the distinct feeling all of a sudden that they were having a moment of some kind. So he impulsively went out on a limb. “Well, she didn't wanna come along anyway. Would you... wanna go instead? It might cheer you up?”
“Really?” She blinked at him, as if the idea of getting invited anywhere was utterly foreign to her.
“Sure, why not?”
“Maybe because I'm the daughter of your father's biggest source of irritation?”
“I don't care,” he said mildly. “It's for poetry, it's not like I'm asking for your hand in marriage or anything. Although, if you want me to, I'll put on my best suit and ask your dad if I can take you out for the night.”
She punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Don't you dare. My father has no say in who I go out with.”
Something in the way she said that made Jake feel all warm inside, and he was convinced it was showing in the smile he couldn't help but send her. After a long moment she smiled back, more openly than before, her eyes twinkling.
“So... that's a yes?”
“I guess it is,” she said, still smiling.
Jake missed the bus. And the next one.