Z and Jake went to the happiest place they could think of- the Tower of Fun. They both stood in the entry arch for a few seconds, looking up and admiring the complicated, multicolored climbing playground and the ever-overflowing ball pit.
“I bet I can get to the top before you,” Jake challenged.
“You’re on,” Z said. “Just give me one minute.” She ducked into the nearby bathroom, opened a secret door in the wall that was actually a small closet, and changed into loose black pants and a purple tank top before going back out to Jake.
“Wow,” he said. “What do you have, secret closets in your secret passageways?”
“Yes, actually,” she said. “What did you think I was going to do, let you beat me just because I was wearing a dress? No way.” She didn’t wait for a response, instead, jumping forward and grabbing hold of a horizontal, purple bar eight inches away and swinging one hand in front of the other until she got to a rope ladder to climb.
“Hey, not fair, I didn’t know we were starting!” Jake said, struggling through the ball pit to get to a rock wall. The ball pit was too deep to stand in, and therefore difficult (and kind of fun) to try to move around in.
“Well we’re starting,” Z said, clambering onto a platform and from there jumping to another.
“Gee, thanks,” came Jake’s reply from the top of the rock wall. He was winning, but just barely.
Z ducked into a green tube with footholds built into the plastic and climbed up quickly. When it ended, she ran across a jingly, moving bridge made with blocks of red plastic chained together, went across some blue monkey bars, and up a flight of stairs, putting her in the lead when an orange ball hit her arm.
She looked over to see Jake on a parallel bridge, holding a bucket of balls that must have been stashed over there. She gave him a look and threw the ball back at him, hitting his forehead and bouncing off, falling down the now considerably high elevation in comparison to where they’d begun.
“Ow,” Jake said.
“You deserved that,” Z said, deflecting the second ball he threw as an answer. She climbed up a knotted, hanging rope to a higher, yellow platform, putting her in the lead and also out of Jake’s range of attack.
There wasn’t much further to go, the very top platform was only accessible through one circular hole in the middle of the circular tower, as the top platform was basically a large, windowed room with a hole in the floor. To get up through the hole there was a strangely formed, rainbow blob-like thing to climb.
She climbed up a bit, crossed a bridge, and slid down a pole to get to it and started to climb the blob. When she got there, Jake was already halfway up the blob.
“Sheesh, slow down,” she said jokingly, beginning to climb.
Jake looked down at her. “Nah,” he said.
Fortunately, he’d chosen the side that was more difficult to climb, so Z caught up quickly. They reached the top at the exact same time and hoisted themselves up into the top room, which was basically a large glass dome.
“Wow,” Jake said, looking around at the storm on the other side of the glass. “Are we in a cloud, or what?”
Z looked at the solid grey mass above and around them. “Yep, looks that way. This room is kind of boring during the day. It’s pretty at night though.”
“I bet,” he said. “So, is everything we do here going to end up as some kind of tie, or what?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “Eventually someone has to win, right?”
“Yeah,” Jake said, his eyes glinting mischievously. Abruptly, he dropped out of the room, landing next to the blob climbing thing and running across a bridge. “Race you back to the bottom!” he yelled.
Z rolled her eyes, laughing and following suit. She smirked, watching him scramble down a rope, and gracefully stepped right off the edge of the platform, and fell right through the center of the play structure, adrenaline rushing through her body as she sliced through the air, past Jake, and into the deep ball pit.
Soon after Z disappeared into the pit, Jake swung himself to the ground, staring at the pit. He stood in front of it, puzzled because she wasn’t reappearing. As soon as he started to actually worry that she might suffocate or something, she exploded up from the colorful depths, sending plastic balls flying everywhere, and landed on the ground, on her feet, barely two inches from Jake.
“Ta da,” Z said, looking up into his eyes. Neither of them made any kind of effort to change the close proximity between them. “I won.”
He looked back at her like she was crazy. “You’re crazy,” he said.
She shrugged. “I beat you down, didn’t I?” she said, pulling her now messy hair out of it’s bun, which made the air around her head smell faintly like vanilla.
“Well, yes, but-”
“-so I won,” she finished, parting and detangling her curls from one another before pushing them over her shoulders so they hung freely down her back.
Jake stared at her. “Okay, fine, but how-”
“-I bounced.” He gave a look that very clearly read ‘huh?’. “No, really, there’s a trampoline at the bottom,” Z explained.
“Wow,” he said dryly. Then softer, but still teasingly, “Only you would be crazy enough to put a trampoline under a ball pit.”
“That’s probably true,” she said, meeting his eyes playfully and inching the slightest bit closer to him, feeling her stomach twist in the best kind of way. The air in the mere millimeters between them was practically buzzing. “But also beside the point.”
The corner of his mouth twisted up into a smile and she could hear his quickened breathing, smell his intoxicating scent- like a fresh pine in a warm summer rain. “The point being...?”
Z almost didn’t hear him, she was so caught up in the moment. “You know,” she said, fast heartbeat pounding in her ears. “I don’t really remember.” A split second later, their lips were pressed hotly together, sending tingly feelings burning through Z’s every nerve. One of his arms wrapped around the small of her back, pressing her into him, the other clenched in the hair at the nape of her neck, as she stood on her tiptoes, arms flung around his neck.
Kissing Jake was nothing like kissing Josh. Kissing Jake was like stepping out of frigid air conditioning into the hot July air as fireworks go off above your head, the explosions flinging your insides around until you don’t even know which way is up anymore. Z loved it.
After what could have very easily been either ten years or ten seconds, they broke apart to breathe, but stayed in each others’ arms, both unable to wipe off the smiles left on their lips.
“We should have done that ages ago,” Jake said conversationally, tucking some of Z’s hair behind her ear.
“Mm,” she agreed. “I’m sure we can find a way make it up to each other somehow.”
“I like the way you think.”
Her witty reply never made it out of her mouth.