The elevator doors slid open with a 'ping' that was far too cheerful. Using the wall, I pulled myself to my feet and staggered out into the control room. The lights were still blazing and the huge screen on the far wall showed an empty, trashed main street.
"Rylan?" A shocked voice asked.
I whirled around to see Lowery had emerged from behind a desk, eyes wide behind his thick framed glasses. "Lowery! Why aren't you out of here yet? Didn't they tell you to evacuate?"
He rushed to my side, putting an arm around my waist and helping me sit into one of the empty desk chairs. I pushed back my hair, which had been sticking to my skin with sweat. "Yeah, but somebody's gotta run the control room." He was answering me absentmindedly as he assessed my less than pleasant battle wound. "Christ, kid. What the hell happened? Sit tight and I'll grab the first aid kit."
I nodded, more glad to see him than I'd ever imagined I would be. I leaned back in the chair, swiveling to face the screen. A tiny gasp escaped me as four familiar faces appeared on the screen. I leaned forward over the control desk, mouth hanging open as I watched as Claire, Owen, and the boys were surrounded by three raptors. Claire and Owen pushed her nephews in between them and the fear on Gray's face crushed me. Owen carefully lowered his gun, setting it on the pavement between him and the raptor with the colored streak...Blue, I remembered.
"What are you doing, Grady?" I whispered under my breath, shaking my head. I could taste acid in my mouth as I gripped the control panel tightly. I'd never felt so helpless in my entire life. Watching Owen approach Blue made me wish I could leap through the screen and put myself between them. I wanted to watch, but I didn't. The notion of something terrible happening to Owen made my head spin and my insides ache, especially my heart which felt as if it might shatter if I never got to touch him again, smell that pepperminty, earthy scent, or see that boyish grin that made his eyes, pools of perfect blue, glow. At that moment, my tangled mess of emotions suddenly straightened and I realized with an unexpected, lurching thought what I was feeling.
Lowery came back just then, holding the white first aid kit in between his hands. He crouched on the ground next to me and started unwrapping the torn shirt fabric from my leg.
"I think I'm in love with Owen Grady." The words slipped from my mouth in an amazed, low tone.
Lowery's eyes snapped towards me as he froze in the middle of cleaning my cut with an antiseptic cloth. "Excuse me? What the hell now?"
I was already looking back at the screen, feeling a thrill go through me. I was in love with Owen Grady. And he was out there and I was in here. "Can you hurry up?" I said to Lowery, looking back at him. "I need to do something."
He was carefully wrapping a thick, gauze bandage around my upper thigh. "Like what? Shouldn't you just stay here? It's not exactly safe out there..."
I was shocked at how much I didn't care. The minute he was finished, I was out of the chair. "Do you have weapons in here? Guns? Anything?"
Lowery stood back up, eyebrows furrowed as he watched me hobble across the room. "All we have left is a flare gun...everything else was cleaned out during the evacuation." He pulled a heavy black box out from beneath his desk and popped the lid open. Inside was the flare gun.
"That'll be fine."
Still looking completely unsure, Lowery loaded the flares and passed the gun to me. I took it from him, looking back towards the screen. Somehow, Owen had managed to sway his girl back on our side. The Indominus looked into view and my stomach jumped. I watched as my four friends tried to weave and duck around the chaotic fight that was happening just outside this building. I couldn't believe I was willingly about to walk back out there. Owen would most likely kill me himself, but how could I stay holed up in here when they were all in danger? I thought back to the first conversation I had with Owen, out in the stadium under a glowing canvas of starlight.
While I'm alive, I actually want to live.
Thanks to Owen, I'd gotten everything I'd asked for. I'd had adventures, I'd faced my fears and created incredibly, amazing memories. I'd lived. Would any of that mean anything if I let the man that helped that happen, the man I now realized I was in love with, die out there if I could do something? I had to at least tell him.
Determined and flare gun heavy in my hand, I limped towards the elevator and pressed the button. The doors slid open, but Lowery was suddenly there blocking my way. "You can't be serious. Do you see what's happening out there?" He asked with a wild expression, gesturing towards the screen.
"Lowery, people I care about very, very much are out there right now and I have to help them. You stay and help from here if you can." I pushed past him into the elevator and turned to give him one, last smile before pressing the button. "I'll see you." Then the metal doors slid shut and I was alone.
My bravado wavered as the elevator moved down floor after floor after floor. I didn't know if I was as brave as I felt or if it was a mirage but I had to try and do something. I stepped out of the elevator and listened for any sound, but it was quiet. I sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly and counted to three. Then I was moving down the narrow corridor as fast as my gimp leg would let me. I ran past the shattered glass on the floor, through the hologram dinosaur being projected in the lobby and burst through the doors out onto the front steps.
The air was sucked from my lungs for a moment. It was an all out war in the middle of main street. The Indominus let out a roar that made the ground beneath my feet tremble, before taking one of the raptors into its giant jaws and shaking it like a rag doll. Movement caught my eye and I turned to see Owen helping Gray and Zach into a souvenir shirt booth before crawling in after them. Claire was nowhere to be seen and I sent out a silent prayer that wherever she was, she was alright.
I held the flare gun out over my head and fired one shot towards the Indominus. It arched over the massive hybrid's head, lighting the sky in a brilliant burst of orange. It had exactly the effect I'd been hoping for. The Indominus lunged towards the flare, distracted long enough for the two last raptors standing to get an attack in and for me to make it unseen across the steps and down to the shirt booth.
"Rylan!" Zach exclaimed first, sitting up straight.
I took in the shocked expression on Owen's and the boys' faces when I suddenly appeared in the booth, awkwardly climbing over the ledge so as not to hurt my leg even worse. Owen latched onto me, helping me down and pulling me back away from the opening.
"Are you insane, Rylan? What the hell are you doing out here?" He exclaimed, the expression on his face a complicated mix of fury, relief, and fear. "What did I tell you about doing stupid things?" He scolded me.
"I couldn't sit there and do nothing!" I shook my head, pausing to take a deep breath. "Owen, I'm in-"
Gray and Zach were the first to start yelling, pushing themselves back against the furthest wall as the Indominus tried to snap its jaws through the tiny opening I had just crawled through seconds before. I scrambled backwards, falling over Owen. He quickly pulled me to his side, holding me tightly against him. We were trapped. Nowhere to go and nothing to fight back with. I scanned the tiny booth for the flare gun and spotted it just out of my reach, inches from rows of razor sharp teeth.
The stench of gasoline burnt my nostrils as I pressed my face into Owen's shoulder, trying to keep from screaming. His arm was wrapped protectively around my shoulders. My heart sounded like it was trying to escape my chest, the way it continued to batter relentlessly against my ribcage. I was shaking. Fear and adrenaline steadily pumping through me. I curled myself closer to him as I felt the warm, decaying breath of the Indominus rex as it snapped it's massive jaws at us, clawing and reaching with it's long talons.
I tried to focus on the rhythm of Owen's heartbeat and his tight, unyielding grip on me. The rows of glistening teeth suddenly vanished, followed by a roar that made my blood curdle and every hair on my body stand on end. I froze, unable to move, unable to breathe. Then, it came back a second time.
This is how I was going to die.
Here in this tiny souvenir booth, holding onto somebody I'd only just realized I loved. I tried to grasp the unfairness of it, using it to fuel my will to do anything to stay alive. Talons scraped against the concrete flooring, inching closer and closer until it latched onto the pack secured to Gray's waist . Owen and I both reached for him, holding onto him however we could as the I-Rex tried to reel him closer. Zach was fumbling for the buckle as Gray let out a strangled sob.
"Hold on, Gray!" My voice shook.
A breath of relief escaped me as the pack finally came unhooked. Gray curled himself into a tiny ball in-between Owen and Zach.
"We have to get out of here!" Zach shouted, looking towards Owen and I. I felt the same desperation I saw in his eyes and remembered the flare gun again. I stretched out my good leg and tried to use my foot to slide it towards me. I yanked it back at last second as the Indominus' claw swiped inside the booth.
"Don't! It's not worth it!" Owen said in my ear.
"We have to do something!" I entangled myself from his arm and once again tried to stretch myself for enough to reach the gun without getting killed in the process. I touched it with the toe of my shoe and bent my knee, sliding the gun along the concrete towards me. The second it was close enough, I reached down to grab it and pointed it out the clawed hand of the I-Rex. I squeezed the trigger and a flare shot from the barrel. The Indominus let out a throaty, angry roar. What I hadn't been expecting, was the answering roar.
I glanced at Owen with wide eyes and he looked momentarily frozen with shock. "T-Rex." He said in a hushed voice.
My heart should've just stopped beating right then and there. Velociraptors, the I-Rex, and now a T-Rex. Was there anything outside of this booth that didn't want to kill me? Between the flare and the roar that had signaled the arrival of a second huge predator, the I-Rex was distracted enough for us to make an escape. Owen slid out first before helping Gray and Zach jump down. As he reached for me and carefully helped me climb out, I saw a familiar head of red hair streaking across the midway.
"Claire." I breathed, swaying a little. "Jesus." There she was, my best friend since the third grade, running down main street in her heels with a flare in one hand and a T-Rex close behind. She threw the flare towards the I-Rex before ducking behind a boulder.
The T-Rex's footsteps pounded against the pavement and the four of us backed into the closest shop and watched from behind the thick glass window. It was like watching something straight out of a science fiction film or a documentary gone wrong. It's brown scales glistened, jaws parted so I could see rows and rows of jagged teeth. As I looked back at Claire, time seemed to slow down. I locked eyes with her.
"Run!" Her voice pierced the air.
Everything sped back up. I gave Gray a push to get his feet moving, his mouth hanging open as he watched the two carnivores face off. I wrapped my arm around Owen's waist as we ran as fast as my leg would let me down the midway. It was like what I imagined being in the middle of a war would feel like. Glass shattered all around us, pavement cracked beneath our feet, and massive pieces of debris came from all directions...benches, hotdog carts, trees. Basically anything and everything that could be destroyed, was.
We ran past the Margaritaville patio, skirting around a giant red table umbrella that was rolling along the ground. We barely made it onto the boardwalk when the tyrannosaurus was shoved backwards into the building, its massive body sending the roof of the restaurant crumbling in on itself. It must have been the fear, because the most irrational, stupid thought in the entire world crossed my mind as I watched the building collapse...I was officially out of a job.
Claire latched onto me with a death grip when we finally reached out, letting go only to tug her nephews closer to her. We ducked for cover, waiting for the battle to end. I felt dread pooling in the pit of my stomach, though, as the Indominus easily wore down the other massive carnivore. Owen was the first to perk, though at the familiar sound of a raptor call. He swiveled, and I crouched close to him, peering over his shoulder. Jesus, I never thought I'd be so happy to see a raptor sprinting full force in my direction ever but I was thrilled.
I could feel Gray's fingers digging into my arm as he curled himself closer to me, watching wide eyed as the I-Rex finally began to lose the upper hand. When Mo suddenly lurched out of the glassy surface of the water and snatched the I-Rex into her massive jaws, I almost missed the tiny, whispered cuss word that left Gray's lips.
"Shit." He whispered.
Had I not just been through an entire day of hell and had not been nursing a pretty deep claw wound, I would have laughed out loud. Instead, I felt my knees buckle with relief that it was over. Owen helped me to stand, letting me support my weight against him. He moved slowly and purposefully, though, and I realized it was because there was still a set of yellow eyes watching us. Blue seemed to be staring at us with an almost curious like expression. My eyes shifted to Owen and the immensity of the bond he shared with the raptor was bared in his expression. He nodded curtly and Blue took off in the opposite direction, running down the midway.
Claire was the first to speak. "Is it over?"
"I hope so." I murmured, wrapping an arm around Owen's waist.
"Can we please just get the hell out of here already?" Zach pleaded. Gray looked from me to Claire with wide eyes and she carefully pried his fingers from my arm and squeezed his hand.
"Come on, I bet your parents are ready to kill me." She attempted a weary smile. One arm around each of her nephews, she began to led them away from the carnage that used to be Jurassic World.
Owen and I stood still for a moment longer, though, and I relished the fact that for once we were safe just where we were. Relatively speaking anyways, I knew there were dinosaurs loose all over the park by now.
I glanced up at him, noting the tenseness of his jaw, the stubble that covered his cheeks, and the laugh lines at the corners of his eyes. It was hard to not look at him and think about how unfairly handsome he was.
"Are you okay?" I asked quietly, taking his hand in mine in an attempt to draw him out of his thoughts. The faraway look in his eyes that faded as he grasped my hand tighter in his.
His gaze swept over me, lingering on the hastily bandaged cut on my thigh. His lips pressed tightly together into a thin line. "Yeah, but you're not." He grunted. Once again leaving no room for protest, he easily swept me up from the ground and began trailing after Claire. I was suddenly too exhausted to argue, and the pain in my leg was becoming more noticeable as the adrenaline rush faded.
"Now what happens?" I asked quietly, looking over his shoulder at the ruins of Jurassic World. Owen hesitated. Maybe, like me, he didn't have an answer. Our jobs were gone, along with our homes. There was no way anyone would continue to work and live on the island in the near future. Mostly, though, I was thinking about me and Owen. This was the place that had brought us together, had put us through the most terrifying day of my life. Now that it was gone, what would happen to us? The swell of emotion I felt for him still pummeled and churned inside of me, waiting for a chance to escape.
I should just say it now, I thought to myself. I love you, Owen. Say it!
"What're you thinking about a second ago?" I heard myself ask instead. Apparently now that the danger had passed, so did my courage.
He lowered his eyes towards me and shook his head. "Doesn't matter..." I furrowed my eyebrows together, ready to ask for an elaboration but his lips were suddenly tugging upwards at the corners. "Right now I'm thinking that we have some unfinished business."
"Unfinished business?" I repeated cluelessly. I leaned back in his arms to get a better look at his expression. The smug smile suddenly on his face made my stomach flip. I could tell he was worn out, exhausted, and dirty. Yet somehow, in a very Owen like manner, still managed to keep his sense of humor intact.
"Yeah...remember that casual use of the word 'boyfriend' that you let slip earlier?" He smirked. I ducked my face against his chest, breathing in the sting of gasoline and earth.
I felt about as red as a firetruck. Mortified. "God, do we have to? Shouldn't we be more worried about getting to actual safety? I would be shocked if my parents weren't already on the next flight out here."
"Great, you can introduce them to your boyfriend."
My breath hitched and I tried to hide it. He grinned down at me. Like I really could hide anything from him even if I tried.