I walked down the midway, sunglasses perched on top of my head and a cup of coffee in one hand, an iced chai tea in the other. Violet's favorite. I was feeling guilty I'd been neglecting both her and Claire. I hadn't really been too specific on who was taking up all my extra time, but the huge grin on Violet's face when she saw me was answer enough.
"Well, well, well look who it is!" She greeted me.
I smiled sheepishly and handed her the tea. "I know, I'm sorry. I'm a bad friend."
She grinned back and took a sip from the clear cup. "It's a start. Chai tea is the way to my heart after all...But I can't really forgive you fully until you confirm that the reason you've been M.I.A. is because of a certain Owen Grady?"
I rolled my eyes, and she laughed before setting the cup down and going back to checking off a list secured to the clipboard in her hand. "It's not like that...we're just friends." I insisted, sounding unconvincing even to myself
Violet gave me a look, raising a dark eyebrow. "I haven't seen him spend this much time with anyone, unless you count those giant, sharp-toothed lizards of his."
"I dunno." I shrugged, trying to brush it off like it was no big deal when really my pulse trilled in response to what Violet had admitted. "Maybe he just feels sad for me because I lived such a sheltered life before coming here."
She smirked, tucking a strand of her dark hair behind her ear. "Keep telling yourself that."
I leaned against the railing of Mo's pool, watching as one of her giant fins emerged from the water only to splash right back down and send a huge surge of water into the air. "I'm ignoring that last part and going to work now." I looked over my shoulder and gave her a sarcastic glare.
"Fine, live a life of denial. You better make some time for me soon, though." She warned, pointing her pen at me.
I held my hand over my heart. "Scout's honor. I'll text you later."
She waved, pen still in hand, before her eyes averted back to her clipboard and she disappeared behind an 'employees only' door. I left the stadium, taking careful sips of my hot coffee as I weaved my way through the crowd of guests on my way to work. I heard a muffle beeping sound coming from my back pocket and pulled out my phone. I was almost ashamed at the huge smile that tugged at my lips when Owen's name lit up the screen.
O: 'What time are u off tonite?'
I didn't think it was possible but my smile grew. I could sense another adventure happening in the near future.
R: 'Early shift today. Should be done around 3?'
I walked into work to find the restaurant already buzzing with an early lunch rush. I slid behind the bar, punching in my clock-in number on the computer. I drained the last of my coffee and tossed the empty cup into the trash.
"Just in time, I need three strawberry daiquiris." Emma called to me as she appeared out of the kitchen with a plate in each hand. "Your favorite! I know how much you love using the blender!" She grinned at me over her shoulder. This had been a running joke with everyone I worked with after I misplaced the blender lid one night and tried to cover it with a plate. It hadn't worked and I'd smelled like banana daiquiri for the rest of my five hour shift.
I groaned before ducking underneath the counter to pull the blender out from where I'd stored it the night before. I felt my phone buzz inside my pocket again, making my pulse jump. I waited until I finished making all the drinks, topping each of them with a heap of whipped cream, before slipping me phone out and checking his text.
O: 'Cool. Meet you there then.'
I leaned back against the counter, chewing my lip thoughtfully as I crafted my response.
R: 'Pretty bold of you, assuming I don't have other plans.'
O: 'Do you?'
O: 'That's what I thought ;) See you at 3!'
I stared at my screen. A winky face? Seriously?
Now he was being an ass considering I'd specifically told him I hated when people did that. It always made it seem like the message had a creepy undertone.
R: 'Don't ever send me that again.'
O: ' ;) ;) ;)'
I laughed under my breath, shaking my head.
"You're smiling pretty damn hard at that phone."
My eyes snapped forward at the sound of Claire's voice. I suddenly felt like I'd been caught doing something bad, even though I knew I hadn't done anything. I made a show of rolling my eyes, casually sliding my phone back into my pocket. "One of those stupid youtube videos. Lots of cats being all cute. Wanna see?"
She made a face. "No."
I grinned. "Thought so. What's up anyways? I thought we had breakfast plans for the morning?"
She shrugged. "Was on my way to get coffee and thought I'd stop in for a minute and say hi." she glanced down at her cell phone to check the time. "Literally a minute, though, cause I have a meeting at noon."
She laughed. "What're you doing tonight? If I can close this deal before three I might actually have some free time later."
I felt my cheeks grow warm. Damn my emotions, always giving me away. "Kinda have plans already." I was saved by a drink order popping up from the printer behind me. I grabbed the slip and went to work. Claire was watching me with an interested expression.
"With?" She prodded.
I avoided her gaze as I poured a shot of whiskey into a glass before filling it the rest of the way with coke. "Owen." I finally answered. My eyes flickered towards her uneasily, just in time to see her sit back in the chair and cross her arms over her teal blouse.
"You guys have been spending a lot of time together." I couldn't tell if she was just making a statement or trying to insinuate something more.
I sighed, spearing a couple of olives onto a pick and plopping them into a dirty martini. "Listen, I know you don't get it but we're friends. We get along really well." I shrugged.
"I'm just surprised. I've never really seen him hit it off with anybody the entire time he's been here." She commented. I noted that this was exactly what Violet had said not too earlier.
I pushed the drinks towards the end of the bar where the server would pick them up. "So I've heard."
"It's okay, Ry. I don't care, and I know you. You wouldn't care if I did. You do what you want, remember?" She said, and gave me a tiny smile. "Just make sure there's still time for me."
Most people wouldn't have noticed the hint of insecurity in her voice, but I'd known her for too long not to hear it. "Hey, don't be stupid." I reached across the bar and squeezed her hand.
She squeezed it back before pulling away to brush her bangs out of her eyes. "I know, I know." Her phone suddenly let out a series of loud beeps and she sighed. "I better run. See you tomorrow?"
I nodded. "Yup, bright and early."
She carefully slid off the barstool and readjusted the strap of her purse before giving me one last smile. "Have fun later. I mean it."
I felt one side of my lips tug into a smile. I wasn't sure if she actually meant it, but I appreciated her saying it anyways. She was trying, which for Claire, was more than enough. I still didn't understand how the two of them had managed to go on half a date together. After getting to know Owen, they were nothing alike. Claire needed somebody who would cater to her and let her wear the pants in the relationship. She loved control, while I absolutely hated when things were unnaturally structured and straight forward. There was no way Owen could be controlled by anybody. That was one of the reasons I liked him so much...he was always keeping me on my toes and I always finding out things about him that surprised me.
I was also feeling both weirdly touched and unnecessarily guilty that Claire seemed to feel like I was pushing her to the side to make room for Owen. Which wasn't true. I could understand, or at least try to understand, why her life needed so much structure and scheduling. It'd be chaos without it. I made a mental note to make more of an effort to bring her coffee in the morning or stop by her place after work just to see her, like I'd done when I'd first arrived on the island and hadn't made any other friends yet. I wanted Claire to know she was still the most important person in my life. I glanced over my should as another drink other came through.
Three o'clock came around faster than usual and I found myself unable to hold back my grin when Owen showed up right on time. He hovered near the bar as I punched out and squeezed past the night bartender.
"How'd you get out of work so early today?" I asked him as we walked out of the restaurant and fell into step on the midway.
"That's why I have Barry. He can handle things when I'm not around." He answered nonchalantly. "Although he was pretty jealous when I told him what I had planned.'
"And what's that exactly?" I asked, looking up at him curiously. Why did he always have to look so perfectly disheveled? Was it really possible for a person to look so good while also looking like they hadn't even tried at all?
"You suck at driving a motorcycle, but how are you with a kayak?" He asked with one of his heart pound inducing crooked grins.
He laughed and casually slung an arm over my shoulder. "Guess we'll find out.
"Yeah, guess so." I breathed, trying to figure out why just the simple act of him being close made me feel so out of control.
I watched as Owen and another park employee whom I hadn't met before, Ben, unloaded two kayaks from the top of the SUV. I had tried to help but when I'd almost cracked a window with the tip of the kayak, Owen decided they were better off without my assistance. Not like it was hard for him, with arms like that. He probably could've done it himself.
I turned around and paced towards the river, hands on my hips. The water streamed by at a lazy pace, the wild-life growing around it untamed making me almost forget this was a theme park and not a rogue jungle. When we'd first arrived at the attraction (Cretaceous Cruise- I still didn't understand why all theme park attractions have to have names that were alliterations), I'd gone to get in line when Owen held me back and claimed he knew a better place. He'd paid Ben a couple of bucks to drive us a few miles down the road to the river's source.
"Leave your stuff in the car, Ben's gonna put it in a locker and we'll get it later." Owen's voice came from behind me as he dragged a kayak towards the edge of the water.
I shrugged off my purse and turned my phone on silent before shutting it into the car, hoping Ben was as trustworthy as he looked. As soon as I'd slammed the door, Ben had waved at me before starting the car and backing out towards the road. When I made it back to edge of the water, Owen was knee deep in the stream grinning at me.
"In my shoes?" I asked uncertainly.
"Take them off, genius." He said, pointing to where his boots sat in the bottom of the second kayak he was holding onto.
I sighed, sitting on the ground and carefully untying my converse sneakers, stuffing my socks into the toes of the shoes. I held them in my hands as I waded out into the water. "Holy shit, this is freezing."
"Would you stop complaining and get in the boat for christ's sake?" He said, nudging the kayak towards me.
I made a face at him, grabbing onto the boat and willing myself to climb in as gracefully as possible. Of course that didn't happen. I was barely in when it started wobbling and I clung to either side with both hands as Owen laughed and reached out to steady it. "Do me a favor and try not to fall out, yeah?" He joked.
"No promises, we both know I'm the most uncoordinated person on the planet." I pointed out, not feeling much safer with the boat still.
"Ain't that the damn truth." Owen muttered. He let go of my boat long enough to jump into his and I glared at how easy it had been for him. Always so smooth. The slow current started to drag us down the river and I gripped onto my paddle, waiting for Owen to get situated. "Okay, you know how this works right? One side, then the other." He demonstrated it for me, his kayak gliding forward effortlessly. I mimicked him and grinned when I realized how easy it was.
A few minutes later and I was ahead of him. "You gotta keep up, Grady!" I called back to him.
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Keep it up. We'll see how many more trips I take you on."
He started to say something but it was lost on me when I rounded the bend just in time to see a triceratops submerged in the water up to it's chest. A smaller one that must've been it's baby sat in the mud on the shore. On the opposite side, a brontosaurus was dipping it's head into the river and lazily lapping up water with it's tongue. I froze, paddling forgotten as I stared. It tilted it's head curiously to one side, watching me with mild interest as I coasted past. Owen had caught up to me by now, although I was barely aware of him as I stared at the massive dinosaurs on either side of the river bank.
"Is this ever going to feel normal?" I asked him in awe.
He let out a laugh. "Is it even normal to begin with?"
My lack of an answer was enough. No, it wasn't. Paddling down a river in a kayak while prehistoric animals milled about was definitely not normal and most likely never would be. I craned my neck, staring behind me at the baby triceratops and it's parent until they were too far away. When I turned back around, it was Owen who was ahead of me now. I paddled quickly to catch up to him.
"This is freaking cool." I said, giving him a big, excited grin.
"Told you." He answered, returning my grin with a smug one of his own.
We slowed down after that, wanting to take our time as the current helped to carry us down the river. Much to my astonishment, the dinosaurs weren't shy about us being close. Owen said most of the ones on the route the regular guests took were a little bit more wary and kept their distance. Out here, though, with just the two of us, we were less intimidating.
"Do you think they'd let me touch them?" I suddenly asked, more out of curiosity than an actual desire to do so. The little ones, like the babies used at the petting zoo, I didn't have any concerns about. It was the big mommy and daddy ones I was worried would take it the wrong way and come after me.
"Probably...I mean it's like any other animal. You just gotta gain it's trust." Owen shrugged. "Watch." He suddenly changed directions and headed towards the shoreline, where a brontosaurus was wading in the water with it's two front legs.
"Owen..." I warned, watching as he moved closer to the animal. "Scientifically resurrected or not, it's still a wild animal."
"It's fine. I do this for a living." He scoffed. He gripped the sides of his kayak and adjusted himself into crouch, finding his balance before standing. It wobbled unsteadily underneath him and I had a visual of what was going to happen before anything even did. He reached out a hand towards the brontosaurus and just as he was about a foot away, it suddenly moved it's long neck. Startled, Owen fell backwards. Right into the water.