"I feel like I haven't seen you in weeks." I said into the phone, leaning against the cool window of the monorail.
"It definitely hasn't been that long, but I get what you're saying." Claire sighed on the other end. "I promise we'll make plans soon. Things should start to slow down by the end of the month.
"You don't need to be sorry." I reminded her. "You're a busy, important person and I'm totally fine with that. Besides, I've made other friends so at least I'm not home alone wallowing in misery all the time."
She laughed. "Yeah, you and Owen are getting pretty cozy..."
I was glad she wasn't there to see the burning in my cheeks. "Not talking about this again. Just friends, remember?" The phrase put a strange taste into my mouth and I wondered if the doubtfulness in my voice was only noticeable to me.
"Friends or not, I still don't get the appeal of spending time with him." Claire said causally. There was the sound of an elevator pinging in the background. I smiled a little, shaking my head. I'd given up on trying to explain this to her a while ago and wasn't about to jump right back into that pointless argument. As if sensing this, Claire went on. "I'm not going to give you a hard time, though, because you clearly like hanging out with him. So to each their own."
"Thank you for that kindness." I joked.
"You're so welcome." She quipped. "Alright, I'm about to finally be home for the first time since 5am so I'm gonna let you go. I'll try and stop by the bar and see you later this week."
"Looking forward to seeing your beautiful face!" I said cheerfully.
"Yours too! Bye!"
I hit the red 'end call' button and slid my phone back into my pocket. The monorail continued it's streak through the forest, winding around the outside of the park. The familiar ride was sometimes enough to lull me to sleep for the short ride it took from Main Street to home, but tonight I was wide awake. It was never a good idea to drink coffee past 6pm but when did I ever take my own advice? We finally began to slow down as the well lit platform came into view. I stood up from my seat and shouldered my purse, waiting for the doors to glide open with their futuristic whooshing noise.
It was late, only a few windows in the mobile home park glowed yellow. The moon hung low in the sky, though, giving me just enough light to see by. The gravel road crunched under my feet as I made the short walk. It wasn't until I was almost outside my front door when I noticed the flickering glow of firelight coming from Owen's place. My attraction to Owen had only been a tiny dilemma at first...something that was obviously there but easily controlled. Ever since he had kissed me, though, my whole head was a mess of wonderings and what-ifs. The reason he had done it was incredibly clear, but I couldn't stop picturing that look on his face when we had pulled away. It was driving me crazy. Almost as crazy as my unhealthy compulsion to do it again.
I barely hesitated half a second before dropping my purse off inside and heading in his direction. The porch light that usually flooded his yard with a yellow glow was off for once. The only light came from the twinkling christmas lights strung up around the deck's railing and the orange glare from the fire. He had his back to me, sitting in a rickety plastic lawn chair. I plopped down into the empty one next to him, returning his surprised look with a grin.
"Hey yourself." He countered, giving me an impish grin of his own. "Was wondering if I'd see you tonight."
I tried and failed to control the jump in my pulse. "Well here I am."
He suddenly leaned over the side of his chair, rummaging around in a cooler before handing me a cold, unopened can of beer. "Good, now you can drink with me."
"Gladly." I said, happily taking the can from him and popping it open. I took a long sip before settling myself in my chair, scooting a little bit closer to the warm flames. "How was your day?"
He shrugged half-heartedly. "It was alright. Some asshole from Ingen won't stop coming around and bugging me though. Thinks he knows more about my raptors than I do."
"Why, what does he want from them?" I asked curiously.
Owen flashed me a devious smile. "Nothing if I can help it."
"There it is, that Owen Grady brashness I've come to know and love so very much." I teased. My phone suddenly beeped from my pocket and I made a face, wondering who the hell would be bothering me so late at night. I pulled it out and swiped my thumb across the glowing screen. "This has to be a joke."
"What?" Owen asked, leaning towards me to get a look at the phone's screen. I showed him the text message that had just been sent moments before from my overbearing ex-boyfriend who just couldn't seem to get a clue. I watched as he read through it, letting out a low whistle when he had finished. "This guy is somethin' else. Haven't you told him it's over?"
"Yes!" I exclaimed. "Only a million times. He's either really stupid or really stubborn."
"Probably the first one." Owen grinned, leaning back in his chair. He took another drink from his can. "I take it you didn't get that kind of vibe from him at first, though, otherwise you wouldn't have gone out with him."
I sighed before making the decision to shut my phone completely off and forget about it. Maybe a few more weeks of ignoring him would get the point across. "No, he seemed normal when I met him. Like extremely normal."
"That's the problem right there." Owen said pointedly.
I wrinkled my nose. "Being normal is a problem?"
He laughed. "No, I just mean it doesn't work when it comes to relationships. Why would you settle for something that you can only describe as normal? Especially when there's probably somebody else out there that can give you more than that."
I studied the flickering flames of the fire as his words sank in. "Now that you said that, I think that's the reason why none of my relationship have ever worked."
"Maybe. You want somebody who makes you crazy for all the right reasons. Not the wrong ones." He added, pointing his beer can towards me.
"Pretty deep. Who made you the love guru?"
"Nobody." He shrugged, flashing me a grin. "I'm just telling you what I think. You don't have to listen to me."
"Well, then I'd have to say the majority of my relationships have been either the bad kind of crazy, or just boring, normal no crazy at all." I said thoughtfully, pulling my legs up onto the chair and crossing them indian style. "Not that I've really had that many to begin with."
"Preaching to the choir." Owen said
I looked at him in surprise. "Really?"
A small smile played about his lips. "Is that really that shocking? I mean, I was in the Navy for a while, then I came here. I haven't exactly had a whole lot of options or time."
I nodded and took a long sip from the cold beer can in my hands before going on. "Not when you put it like that, I guess. It's just that you're so..."
"Charming and desirable?" He interrupted, giving me a cheeky smile.
I shot him a look, although he wasn't exactly wrong. "I was gonna say confident or suave, but those work too."
"I always knew you liked me." He teased and I was thankful it was dark enough to hide the pink flush in my cheeks. "If you really wanna know, though, it's not that I don't date. I do....but remember when you told me how you don't wanna live a normal, boring life?" He asked and I nodded, suddenly finding myself hanging onto his every word. He was looking into the fire now, the glow from the flames flickering over his face. "That's kinda how I feel about relationships. I don't want normal, ordinary stuff. If I'm gonna be with somebody, I want to be crazy enough about them that I'm doing all sorts of shit I swore I'd never do. Like feed their cat when their on vacation even though I hate cats or something. And as of right now, nobody's ever fit the mold. So here I am...an eternal bachelor." He finished, finally looking over towards me, where I was curled up in my chair.
Unpredictable. It was becoming my favorite word to partner with Owen Grady. I felt like I could revel in the unexpectedness of him forever. I caught myself wondering what he thought about me. If to him, I was something out of the ordinary. "You are full of surprises, Grady." I finally said, smiling softy to myself. "And you're kind of a sap." I added in a teasing voice.
He smirked. "Yeah, well, that's why I don't go around telling that to everybody I meet."
I felt a swell of happiness suddenly begin to stir in me. He had told me though. I mimed drawing an 'x' over my heart. "Your sappy secrets are safe with me. Cross my heart."
"Like you don't have your own sappy secrets." He snorted. He drained the rest of the beer from his can and dug into the cool for a new one.
"If I did, I'm not sure I'd tell them to you." I grinned. I once again suddenly felt thankful that Owen was unable to hear the inner monologues that sometimes went through my head whenever he was around.
He gave me a feigned, innocent wide eyed look. "And here I am, bearing my soul to you without expecting anything in return."
I laughed loudly. "I'm sorry! I really don't have any!"
"I don't even believe you...but don't worry. I have my ways of finding things out." He smirked, settling back in his chair.
I perked an eyebrow. "You do realize how creepy that sounds, right?"
"No, it was supposed to sound mysterious." He corrected me. I laughed, suddenly realizing that I hadn't stopped smiling once since sitting down with him. It was so easy with him. I didn't have to think about what I was going to say, I didn't have to try and censor myself or come up with the perfect response. He didn't expect me to be anything but myself, and that made me feel more content than I had in a long time.
"Can I have another beer?" I asked as I finished up the last sip of mine.
"You sure you can handle it?" He joked. "I know what a lush you are."
I stuck my tongue out at him and he chuckled before grabbing another can and handing it to me. My fingers brushed his for only half a second, but I was hyper aware of it none the less.
We sat in front of the fire until the flames began to die and only the embers burned. Talking about everything and nothing. I was still curled up on my chair, ignoring the awkwardness of the position I had folded my body into in an attempt to get comfortable when I heard him get up to extinguish the embers. I let my eyes shut as I teetered on the edge of sleep. Owen's voice was suddenly in my ear, saying something I couldn't understand. Then, I was out.
I let out a groan, rolling over onto my side. I felt warm and strangely comfortable. The last thing I remembered was dozing off in Owen's plastic lawn chair. I must've made it home to my bed at some point, though. Unless...another thought crept into my head and my eyes flew open. I felt disoriented for a minute as I stared at an unfamiliar wooden nightstand. I reached past a book that was teetering on the edge and turned the black alarm clock to face me. 7am. My eyes slid from the clock to the wood paneled wall and cracked open closet door. I glanced down to see I was wrapped in a dark blue comforter. My stomach leapt anxiously. I was in Owen's bed.
I rolled over onto my other side and gave a sharp intake of breath. Owen was sleeping on his stomach, arms both shoved underneath his pillow. I knew I was staring, but I couldn't stop. He looked so...cute. His hair was sticking up on one side, lips just barely parted as he breathed deeply in and out. He must have carried me inside after I'd fallen asleep. I felt a sudden flood of affection towards him. So much for keeping my feelings in check.
"I can feel you staring at me." He suddenly grumbled, making me jump.
"Jesus Christ, Owen!" I breathed, pushing my hair out of my face. "You scared the crap out of me."
He slowly opened his eyes, squinting at me with a sleepy expression. "That's what you get for being a creep and watching me sleep."
I tried to fight the reddening in my cheeks. "I was not watching you." I scoffed. "Maybe you shouldn't pretend to be asleep when you're really awake."
"For your information, I was asleep until about five seconds ago." He grunted, closing his eyes again. "What time is it?"
"Seven." I answered, pulling the blankets back up to my chin. I stretched my legs out, wriggling my toes. I was surprised he had even taken the time to pull my shoes off. "You could've just woken me up, you know."
He snorted, opening his eyes again. "I tried. It was like trying to wake the dead."
I let out a laugh. "Whatever, you just wanted to get me in your bed."
"It worked, didn't it?" He smirked, reaching over and tugging on a strand of my hair.
I lazily swatted his hand away. "Yeah, well considering I'm still fully clothed and I was sober last night it's safe to say nothing happened but sleep."
"Even if you had been drunk, you would remember it. I'm kinda hard to forget." Owen shrugged and this time, there was no fighting the heat that crept into my cheeks.
My eyebrows shot up as I gave him an incredulous look. "You're incredibly cocky. Did you know that?"
"You want me to prove it to you? I got some time before work." He suggested casually, giving me a flirtatious smirk that made my stomach flip flop. I stared at him, my brain fumbling for a response and failing miserable. Owen let out a loud laugh, rolling onto his back. "Come on, I'm messing with you. I just like watching you blush."
I threw out my arm, punching him in the side. "You're an ass."
"You like it." He grinned. I rolled my eyes but my lack of an actual response spoke volumes. He sat up then, running both hands through his untidy hair. It was sticking up in every direction and was annoyingly adorable, a word I had never expected to associate with him. "You hungry?"
I patted my stomach. "You should know I'm usually always hungry."
"Good because so am I. Bathroom's there if you wanna clean up. Kitchen is through the living room." He pointed towards a wooden door that branched off of the bedroom.
When he was gone, I rolled onto my back and stretched my arms over my head. Then I swung my feet onto the ground and padded cautiously into the bathroom. I peered around the door, flicking the light on. I was always apprehensive about using a single man's bathroom. Nine times out of ten it was a disaster area, one that looked like it hadn't been cleaned since it'd been installed. I was both relieved surprised, though, to find Owen's bathroom was decent. It was small, room enough for a sink, toilet, and a ceramic tub with a deep green shower curtain. There was a small pile of discarded clothes on the ground and I nudged them out of the way with my foot as I moved inside and shut the door behind me.
When I'd finished washing up, going as far as to use my finger for a toothbrush, I found my way through the bedroom and into the living room. I looked around curiously, since I'd been fast asleep when Owen had carried me inside the night before. Like the bathroom, though, it was a lot cleaner than I'd been expecting. The front door opened into the living room where an old leather couch was pushed up against one wall, mismatched pillows resting against the cushions. A glass coffee table sat in front of it, covered in National Geographics and a couple of empty glasses and beer bottles. I wasn't surprised there was no TV though. Just a shelf with a stereo system on the wall opposite the couch.
I followed the sound of clattering dishes into the kitchen, which was only slightly bigger than mine. The walls were a pale, faded yellow and the cabinets white. A round wooden table with two chairs were cramped into a corner. Then there was Owen, in a black t-shirt and a pair of red basketball shorts, vigorously stirring something in a big plastic bowl. The sight immediately brought a tiny smirk to my lips.
"You know, I was expecting pop tarts or cereal. I didn't peg you as a cooking guy." I said, sidling into the kitchen and leaning up against the counter.
He pretended to look offended. "I'll have you know that these pancakes are about to change your entire life."
"That's for me to decide." I argued jokingly, crossing my arms over my chest.
He arched an eyebrow. "I accept that challenge." He moved to stand in front of the stove to my right, an iron cast skilled resting on top of one of the burners. He carefully dripped a heap of batter onto the pan.
"Can you cook anything else?" I asked curiously.
"Hell yeah. Lasagna, pork tenderloin, steak, stir fry, enchiladas...my skills know no limit." He said with a grin. "My mom taught me."
"My mom taught me how to make macaroni and cheese and that's about it. It's basically how I was surviving before I got here." I shrugged. "That and anything that can be microwaved."
"You know how sad that is, right?" Owen glanced at me after flipped a pancake that was a perfect golden brown color I could never hope to achieve.
"Not all of us have time to be the male equivalent of Martha Stewart." I cracked, wondering where this sudden streak of bold flirtatiousness had come from.
Owen shook his head, but I could see the tiny smile drawing one side of his mouth upwards. He slid the pancake onto a plate and pushed it towards me. "Here, eat this and don't talk anymore."
I opened my mouth to argue but he gave me a pointed look and handed me a bottle of syrup. I shot back a halfhearted glare before turning to the perfect pancake the plate in front of me. I doused it in the sticky, sweet syrup, aware of Owen's eyes expectantly watching me the whole time and waiting for my reaction. After carefully cutting off a tiny piece, I popped it into my mouth. I immediately let out a grown of satisfaction I didn't think food was capable of eliciting from me. It seemed ridiculous but never before in my life had I tasted a pancake that was that fluffy and utter perfection.
"Holy shit, Owen. This is amazing." I said before popping another piece into my mouth.
"You know," He began casually, pouring more batter on the skillet. "This is not what I pictured us doing when I imagined you saying that."
I almost choked on the piece of pancake I had just swallowed, looking at him with wide eyes. He was already laughing, a gleeful smile on his face. "You are seriously the worst!"
"Are you sure?" He asked, tilting his head to one side, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Because that's not what you said when-"
I punched him in the shoulder, cutting him off. He didn't even budge, though. I was like a flimsy piece of paper trying to movie a mountain. He gave me an amused smile as I held up my hand, signaling him to keep quiet. "I didn't even try that time, only because it's not safe to rough house around an open flame." I motioned to the lit burner.
"Oh, I see. Because otherwise that would've actually hurt?" He asked sarcastically.
I rolled my eyes and went back to my pancake. "Yes, actually."
"I doubt you've even punched anyone before."
I pointed my fork at him. "And I doubt that you even know what you're talking about."
His blue eyes were alight with laughter, and the way he was suddenly looking at me made me feel like electricity was surging through my veins.
How did he do that? All he was doing was looking at me, for christ's sake.
"Alright then." He finally said, flipping another pancake. "Since you're such a big, bad brave girl why don't you come officially meet my raptors this week?"
I froze with a forkful of pancake halfway to my mouth, giving him an incredulous expression that I hoped conveyed how crazy I thought he was. "Uh, I'd rather not die a horrific death in the near future."
"I'm not gonna throw you in the cage with them, they'll be restrained. We have to run some tests on them this week, so they'll be muzzled and everything." He assured me before giving me a tiny smirk. "So no risk of a horrific death."
"Come on. Be the badass you claim to be, and that I know you are, and come meet my raptors. I promise I'll protect you." He nudged me playfully, wiggling his eyebrows in a way that I was sure was supposed to come off as suggestive but just made him look like an idiot.
"As long as you promise to never make that face at me again, I'll consider it." I finally decided.
"You're lucky I happen to like girls that are all sarcastic and smart-assy." Owen said pointedly, before gesturing for me to hand him my plate so he could place another pancake on it. I watched as he easily flipped it onto the plate tried not to over think the words that had just left his mouth. His perfect mouth.
Why was I always thinking about his mouth?
"Smart-assy isn't a real word." I corrected him.
"I rest my case." Owen said with another flirtatious look and I found myself unable to fight the smile pulling at my lips.