I watched, wide eyed and shocked, before bursting into laughter. Owen popped right back up, and judging from the look on his face, he was also surprised. This only made me laugh harder. It was the kind of laughter that made me double over and laugh so hard, my stomach muscles began to ache. He glared at me as he grabbed onto his kayak to keep it from getting away.
"Hey, Owen!" I called out, unable to stop myself. "Try not to fall out!" I mimicked him, using the same words he had used to tease me with when we had first gotten into our kayaks.
The water was only about chest deep on him, which I hadn't realized until he suddenly started wading towards me. I pointed my oar at him threateningly. "Don't you dare come any closer to me, Owen Grady." I recognized the mischievous look on his face instantly, which made me feel very afraid.
I jabbed him in the chest with the oar once, which didn't do anything considering the embarrassingly weak state of my upper body strength. He arched an eyebrow, giving me an amused smile. "Really, Rylan? That was pathetic."
"I swear if you even touch me or this boat-" I warned him. He grabbed onto my oar and easily yanked it out of my grasp, like he hadn't even heard me.
He flashed me a wicked smirk that distracted me just long enough for him to grab the edge of the kayak and easily dump me out of it into the freezing cold water. I would've been embarrassed by the scream that left my mouth if there had been enough time before I went under. When I finally resurfaced, gasping for breath, Owen was the one laughing.
"You are such an ass!" I yelled, pushing the kayak from in between us and trying to launch myself towards him. The water was almost up to my chin, though, and he easily dived out of the way.
"You started it!" He protested, still grinning as I tried to come at him again and missed.
"What? You were the idiot that fell out while trying to pet a freaking dinosaur! Oh, don't worry I'm a professional!" I said, in my best imitation of Owen.
He frowned at me. "Was that supposed to be me?"
"Yes. Sorry if that's how you actually sound." I shot back. I pushed a wave of water towards him, splashing him in the face. He sputtered, spitting water out of his mouth and wiping it from his eyes. I couldn't control it. For the first time I could remember in a very long time, I actually giggled. Giggled.
"Oh, so now it's funny again?" He questioned, playfully narrowing his eyes at me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see our kayaks slowly floating further downstream but I was entirely too focused on Owen to care.
I nodded. "I mean, yeah. Kind of!" I was trying to back away from him, but wasn't getting very far thanks to the deepness of the water and the fact that I was trying to push myself upstream.
He dove towards me, and my reflexes weren't fast enough to save me. He caught me around the waist and I let out high pitched squeak as he dragged me underneath the water with him. I was already laughing when I broke the surface.
"Why are you trying to drown me!" I managed to choke out in-between laughs. I tried to wriggle out of his grip, but he held on.
"I'm not!" He protested, blinking water from his eyes. His lashes looked longer than usual, with the beads of water clinging to them. "I'm just trying to teach you a lesson about why it's not nice to laugh at other people's misfortunes!"
"Misfortune?" I grinned. "That was not a misfortune...that was just you being an idiot."
He quirked an eyebrow. "Pretty bold statement for a girl who can't even dodge a water tackle."
"Maybe I can't fight back now, but just wait until we're back on land." I cracked. He smirked at me, and I suddenly very aware of the way his hands felt on my waist, and the way his shirt was clinging to his chest and shoulders like a second skin. I felt heat creeping up the back of my neck. "I hope you know you're chasing both those kayaks down." I said, abruptly changing the subject as I finally managed to squirm away from him.
"Oh shit!" He whirled around and I peered over his shoulder to see our two kayaks were nothing more than blue dots in the distance. He scrambled towards the shore and I followed, slipping and sliding up the muddy embankment after him. He turned to make sure I'd made it up alright and froze, blue eyes sweeping me up and down. "That's a good look on you." He snickered.
I managed to scowl at him despite feeling extremely self-conscious. I glanced down at myself to see that not only was I soaking, but mud caked the front of my jeans and my purple Margaritaville t-shirt. Great. I looked back at Owen and noticed he had somehow miraculously made it up the river bank without a speck of mud on any of his clothing. In a stroke of boldness that came out of nowhere, I stepped towards him and smeared mud from my hand onto his cheek. The look of shock on his face made me bubble over with laughter again. "Whadya know? It's a good look for you too!"
"You think you're pretty funny, don't you?" He asked, lips twitching into a small smile. He lifted the hem of his shirt to wipe the mud from his face leaving me to gape at his exposed stomach before quickly averting my eyes. I turned around started walking along the river in an attempt to not only catch up with our runaway kayaks but to put some much needed space between me and Owen's perfectly sculpted abdominals.
"I think I'm hilarious." I called over my shoulder, correcting him. "Hurry up! My favorite shoes are getting away!"
It didn't take long to find the kayaks. Both of them had been slowed to a stop by a fallen tree that blocked half of the river. My paddle was long gone, though, which meant there was nothing to do besides sit and float until the river finally branched over to join up with the much wider, crowded one that was used for the guest attraction. I tried to avoid the stares we were getting as we tugged our kayaks onto the shore, both of us still wet and me still covered head to toe in mud. I rinsed my feet at the edge of the water as best I could before pulling my shoes back on. Owen, who had disappeared to make sure the kayaks got returned, came back a minute later with my purse in his hand.
I slung the strap across my chest before trying to run my fingers through my damp, unruly hair. "You still think I'm an ass?" Owen asked with a smile, rocking back on his heels.
I raised my eyebrows at him before letting out a sigh. "Despite the fact that I look like some sort of jungle heathen now, no I don't hate you. I actually think I had fun despite your being an ass." I joked. "You still have mud on your face, though."
"Really?" He asked sarcastically. "I wonder who's fault that is?"
"Shut up and hold still." I muttered. Before I could really think through what I was doing, I stepped closer to him and using one hand on his shoulder for balance, I stood on my tiptoes and began to wipe the mud from his cheek with the thumb of my other hand. I tried not blush as he shamelessly stared at me, a tiny, amused smile playing about his lips. I was close enough to feel his breath against my skin, his damp shirt brushing against mine. My body started to unwillingly react to his closeness, pulse jumping and stomach fluttering. It would've been so easy to stand up on my tippy toes and brush my lips against is. My stomach twisted into a knot, thinking about the salty sweet taste of his lips. The urge had been there, hiding away in the back of my mind, ever since he had kissed me on the midway. What had I said to both Claire and Violet that morning? What did I keep insisting on telling them every time they asked? 'Owen and I are just friends'?
He suddenly reached up and caught my wrist in his hand. "You okay?" He asked, brow creasing.
"What? Yeah! Why?" I asked quickly, tugging my hand from his grasp and taking a much needed step away.
He shrugged. "Your cheeks are doing that thing when they get all pink...what's that called? Blushing?" He teased.
I made a face at him. "Please, you are so full of yourself." I turned around and headed back down the path that led back towards Main Street. He caught up with me, matching my stride.
"Aw come on, Ry." He gently bumped his shoulder against mine. "It's a part of my charm. Don't you know that by now?"
"Ry?" I repeated, looking up at him in surprise. "You know what I just realized? You haven't called me 'newbie' or 'new girl' in days and now I'm getting 'Ry'....does this mean I've graduated from new person to normal person?"
He chuckled. "I dunno about normal..."
"Wow, this is a big deal!" I ignored him, pretending to look impressed with myself. "I think this calls for a celebration."
"Tequila?" He asked, eyes lighting up.
"Tequila." I agreed.
I felt his hand on the small of my back, guiding me through a particularly dense crowd of people. It couldn't have been more than a few seconds, but the entire time, I was hyperaware of how close I'd been pushed into him as the crowd bumped around us. The second the crowd had passed, I put a good two feet in between us. I knew he'd noticed by the curious look he'd given me, but knew better than to ask. Better he wonder than me try to explain that being anywhere near him made it hard for me to control the temptation curling in my stomach.
Owen wanted to sit at an actual table in Margaritaville, which I would've been fine with except for the fact that I was covered in mud and it was starting to feel incredibly uncomfortable. So instead, somehow, Owen managed to convince Denny to sell him a bottle of tequila from behind the bar which made me wonder if it wasn't the first time. I was completely dry by the time Owen dropped me off at home to shower and change, the mud coated on my arms and legs starting to crack.
As I stood underneath the stream of hot water, I had more time than I wanted to to evaluate my feelings for Owen. From the first day I'd met him, I was stunned by how good looking he was (despite Claire's less than stellar opinion of him) but if there was one thing my mom had instilled in me during my teenage years, it was that sometimes a pretty face was just a pretty face. This was clearly not the case with Owen who was also funny, smart, witty, and yes maybe also a little bit too full of himself but sometimes I caught myself actually liking his self-assurance which only added to this annoying irresistible charm he had.
Then there was the fact that it felt I already knew him after just those first few days of knowing him. People in my life had mentioned that feeling before, of having met someone and having an instant connection that eventually made it hard to remember there was a time in your life when they hadn't even existed. I didn't know if that was exactly the way I felt with Owen, but sometimes it seemed pretty damn close. Then, of course, there was the lingering, unavoidable stir of awareness and excitement from when he had unexpectedly kissed me. I had sworn to myself to keep things simple with him, to aim for a friendship. Nothing more, nothing less. I couldn't think straight when he was around, couldn't keep at bay the urge to get closer. All I could do was hope I hadn't surpassed the nothing more part without even knowing it.
The sun was just finally starting to sink beneath the horizon when I stepped outside my trailer, hair still wet and wearing a clean pair of jeans and a tank top. Sunsets on the island never failed to amaze, with the impressive streaks of oranges, pinks, and reds that made the sky look more like a watercolor painting than the actual real thing. Owen was already outside when I trailed across his yard. He'd cleaned up too, wearing a blue shirt that made the color of his eyes impossible to overlook.
He smiled when he saw me, holding out a paper cup. I gave it curious look as I took it from him. "Is this a mouthwash cup?" I asked.
Owen shrugged. "Beggars can't be choosers. I'm fresh outta regular shot glasses so it was this, or drinking straight out of the bottle like a bunch of teenagers who broke into the liquor cabinet."
"I don't know what kind of teenager you were, but I never did that." I sank down onto the steps next to him. The strong smell of tequila hit me as I held the cup to my lips, making my nostrils sting.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Owen said quickly, placing his hand on my arm and gently pushing it down. "We're supposed to cheers first, or it's bad luck. I though college was supposed to teach that kinda stuff."
I rolled my eyes. "Once again, I don't know what kind of youth you had, but mine wasn't quite as filled with shots of liquor."
"It must've been at some point," He grinned at me. "Because when I first met you, you took that shot with me like a champ."
A smile automatically lifted the corner's of my lips I thought back to the first time I'd ever seen Owen sitting at my bar. "I don't think we did a cheers then, though."
"It was different then, I barely knew you." Owen said matter-of-factly. He held his tiny cup out and nodded at me to raise mine as well. "You do the honors."
I chewed thoughtfully on my lower lip for a moment before finally clearing my throat. "To living...and to surviving all of your crazy adventures."
He pressed his cup against mine, arching an eyebrow in amusement when I made a 'clink' sound since our cups were made of paper instead of actual glass. "And to the hundreds of others that I'm definitely going to put you through."
I tilted my head back and tipped the tequila into my mouth, feeling a tiny thrill flit through me at the promise of more time spent with Owen.