77. New Beginnings
As she slung her backpack over her shoulder and stepped out of her dad's car and into the late summer air, nerves twisted in Zee's gut. They almost all disappeared, however, when she spotted Jacob waiting for her under a nearby tree. A smile spread across her face and she walked over to him.
"Hi," she said when she reached him.
"Hi," he replied. "Are you ready for this?"
She shrugged. "As ready as I'll ever be," she said, and Jaob smiled.
"That's the spirit," he said, taking her hand in his, which made her stomach soar. "Let's do this."
Together, they walked into the middle school. The building was packed with kids wearing new backpacks, consulting schedules and fiddling with locks. Together, they walked up the stairs, and together they started down the hallway.
About halfway down the hall, Tara and her entourage came into view. Zee's breath caught in her throat, but the gentle pressure from Jacob's hand and something new inside her filled her up with a new kind of strength she'd never experienced before.
"Hey freakshow! Where do you think you're going? The circus?" Tara called when they approached.
Zee stopped and turned to face her, her blood turning to fire in her veins. "Nah," she said coolly. "They don't need any more tiger wranglers. I hear they're looking for a good bearded lady, though, maybe you should apply."
Jacob laughed and squeezed her hand as Tara's mouth fell open and the girls around her tittered uncertainly.
Zee started to walk away, but stopped again and turned back. "Oh, and protip, close your mouth before your breath starts attracting flies."
And with that, Zee led Jacob away and with each step that little bubble of hope inside her grew and grew as an enormous smile spread across her face.. As soon as they rounded the corner, Zee flung herself into Jacob's arms and he lifted her up and spun her around in his enthusiasm.
"There are no words to describe how fantastic that was," he said when they broke apart, Zee's contagious smile on his face too.
Zee wasn't sure if he was talking about her comeback or the hug, but either way she agreed. "I know," she said, positively radiating with happiness. "It's like it's all finally ending."
"Ending?" Jacob said, shaking his head. "No way. This is only the beginning."