It felt like the longest walk of my life and I wasn't even the one doing the walking. More than once I asked Owen to put me down, but he refused. He hid it well, but I could tell my extra weight didn't make the short journey any easier on him. He was tired, like we all were. The fact that he had maintained his sense of humor throughout our ordeal didn't change the fact that there was a lot weighing on his mind. I could tell by the lines that creased the skin of his forehead and by the frown that took the place of his usual boyish smile. I didn't press him, though. Partly because I was in pain and worried that if I opened my mouth, I'd either puke or cry. Having a raptor gouge a hole in your leg was probably a good excuse to cry and scream, but I held it together for my own sake. And Owen's too.
When we finally made it to the evacuation center near the water, he passed me off to one of the island's paramedics. I gripped the edges of the cot tightly in both hands as the paramedic carefully cut away a few more inches of fabric from the leg of my jean shorts. Owen hovered behind him, watching me with worried eyes.
"I'm fine, Owen." I managed to get out through gritted teeth. "Go find Claire, or Violet. Anybody." It wasn't that I didn't want him there. It was that I hated being fussed over for any reason, even if it was legitimate.
"Okay, here we go. This might sting." The paramedic, who looked almost more tired than I felt, held up an antibacterial swab. I nodded, trying to mentally prepare myself. I could see out of the corner of my eye that Owen was still standing there so I focused instead on the paramedic's first name, which was embroidered into the fabric of his jacket with black thread. Arsen? What kind of a name was-
"Son of a bitch!" I yelped, my body reacting all on its own as an intense burning feeling radiated all up and down my thigh. "You said it might hurt!" I cried out, fingers gripping the metal frame of the cot tightly.
The paramedic, or Arsen if that was even a real name, arched an eyebrow but didn't look sorry. Owen was suddenly crouching next to me, prying my fingers away from the cot and intertwining them around his own. "Christ, you really think I'd be okay letting you do this alone? It's okay to not be a badass sometimes." He said under his breath, using his free hand to push my hair away from my face. I tried to swat his hand away, but he gave me an amused look and grabbed onto it, keeping both my hands trapped in-between his much larger ones.
"That was the easy part so it's probably a good thing you stay here. Give her a distraction." Arsen added, arranging a tray of scary looking medical instruments on the tray next to him. My face paled as he picked up a needle. "Mild anesthetic. Should make everything else go a little easier."
"No. Nu uh." I shook my head and swallowed hard. "Can't you just slap a band-aid on it and call it a day?"
"Ry, look at me." Owen said, his voice steady and even then I didn't know if it was steady enough to keep me from running away. Annoyed and more than a little weary of the needle and what was going to come after, I hesitated a moment longer before looking at Owen. I expected to see the amused look on his face still, maybe a smug smile or something else very 'Owen-like'. Instead he was watching me with a seriousness that made my pulse feel reckless.
"You were amazing today." He said quietly. "And as sorry as I am that I somehow dragged you into, I'm glad you were there. We make a pretty good team." He added with a small smile.
"Yeah..." I agreed, and the sudden change of tone made me reel right back to what I had been thinking in the control room, what I'd been so bent on telling him. I was still too aware of the third person sitting across from me, though, to say it out loud. There was a sudden pinch as the needle slid into my leg and my entire body clenched. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the pain to dull before opening them again.
I sucked in a deep breath, blinking back unwanted, watery tears of pain as one half of Owen's mouth curved into a smile. "See? Not so bad. You survived hell on earth today...a shot and a couple of stitches is nothing."
"I wish it was a shot of tequila." I murmured.
Owen let out a surprise laugh, and I caught sight of the familiar spark in his blue eyes and once again the realization of how I felt about him swarmed me. I had to tell him. As soon as this was over, I would. Until then, those perfectly blue eyes were the perfect distraction.
I knew it wouldn't be long before the numbness wore off, but I tried not to think about that. It'd been hard enough avoiding watching the stitching process take place as I felt the strange, painless sensation of the needle and thread piercing my skin. Now that it was over, I had an agenda. Owen and I had agreed to split up for a few moments. He wanted to find park officials and make a statement about what we'd overheard from Hoskins. I wanted to find Claire and Violet.
I found Violet first. She was sitting on one of the benches pressed up against the wall. A blanket was wrapped around her shoulders and she was in the middle of a conversation with another park employee who looked just as dazed as everyone else in the room, wondering how the hell the day had even happened the way it had.
She turned and her mouth fell open when she spotted me, the blanket dropping from her shoulders as she raced to meet me. Her arms wrapped around me and the force of her tiny body almost sent both of us falling over backwards. A surprised, relieved laugh escaped me. "You're okay!"
"Of course I am! It's you I was worried about." She rambled, pulling away. "Claire called me right before the evacuation happened and I couldn't believe it...you've been out there this whole time. You and Owen, Claire's nephews. Oh my god, I can't even imagine. You look like hell."
"I sort of feel like it too."
"Are you hurt?" She asked, stepping back and surveying me from head to toe. I'd been given a pair of generic, unisex sweatpants from the medic tent (since my jean shorts were ultimately ruined), which hid the stitches from view.
I waved my hand, giving her a small smile. "It's nothing. I'm just glad to see you."
At that moment, a frantic voice cut through the air, calling Violet's name. Her head whipped around and a cry of surprise left her lips. I tried to follow her gaze to where a girl not much older than she was, with the same dark hair, was pushing her way towards us.
"That's my sister!" Violet said, with an awe-filled grin. She gave me one last quick hug. "I'll find you again later. Promise."
Then she was gone, leaving me alone and wondering if my own family had heard the news yet and if they would be here. I scanned the crowd, searching for my dad's familiar graying head of hair and my mom's worried, pursed lipped expression. Instead, I found Claire's red hair just as she was being pulled into a hug by her own sister. She met my gaze from across the room and I smiled and waved. She gestured for me to come over, but before I could, Owen was suddenly at my side again. He looked almost anxious, running a hand through his untidy hair.
"Your parents here yet?" He asked, looking around the crowded room. I glanced back at Claire who was now eyeing Owen and I with a knowing expression. My family, though, was nowhere in sight. Probably a good thing, as I wasn't ready just yet.
"No, I haven't seen them."
I barely finished the sentence when Owen grabbed onto my hand and started tugging me away from the heart of the evacuation center and towards a vacant hallway I hadn't noticed before.
"Where the hell are we going?" I asked. I realized, though, that I didn't care as long as it meant we could be alone.
He didn't answer, instead scanning the corridor until he found an unmarked door to our right. He pushed it open and felt around the wall for a light switch. A yellow bulb flickered to light to reveal a half empty utility closet. My heart was rattling in my chest as he closed the door behind us. There wasn't much room which meant there was barely in inch or two of space between as I looked up at him, wondering what we were doing there and hoping it was for the very same reasons I'd been wanting to get him alone too.
A moment passed. He was quiet, looking thoughtful and I knew I had been right. I wasn't the only one with something heavy on my mind. I felt suddenly unnaturally shy under the intensity of his gaze. He was looking at me in that way again...the way that made me feel wonderfully exposed. I knew I didn't need to hide from him. I couldn't have, even if I tried.
"You know, I'm don't know how good I am at this. I'm not even sure if I know how to do this...I know all the right things to say and do up until a point, but with you everything is new." He said uncertainly, and that's when I realized that underneath the fierceness of his gaze, Owen was nervous. Nervous! For god's sake, I made him nervous! The thought caused my pulse to leap, just knowing I was capable of causing that sort of reaction in him. He paused for a moment, tugging his lower lip in between his teeth before continuing. "Remember that night in the stadium? When I told you how I never worry about the future because it's always gonna be there?"
I nodded, every inch of me tuned into him at that moment, hanging on his every word. "Of course I remember." My entire body felt alive with anticipation.
"The future has never felt like a real thing to me. Not until you. And now I can't see a future where there isn't you." Owen continued. "I don't care where the hell we go from here. Just as long as you're there because I'm crazy about you and god it's the weirdest, most irritating, amazing thing." He said softly, a small smile playing across his lips. "I've lost a lot of sleep over you, but I finally figured it out...I love you, Ry." He finished simply, shrugging his shoulders. "I think I have for a while."
Those three words sent a thrill through me, igniting me from head to toe. My heart stumbled inside my chest, my stomach dropped, and of course, as always, I felt my cheeks start to turn pink. I wanted so badly to look away so I could grin like an idiot without feeling embarrassed but at the same time I never wanted to stop looking at him. "God damn it, Owen." My voice came out as an amazed whisper.
He furrowed his eyebrows together. "I'm pretty sure you're supposed to say it back...unless you don't-"
"No!" I almost shouted at him and his expression swiftly turned amused. "I mean, yes. I mean I do!" God, I was making an ass of myself. "I just wanted to say it first...you can't have all the firsts! You got to kiss me first, so I felt like it was only fair if I got to say it first."
His grin grew and my heart flip flopped at the mischievous glint in his eyes. "Say what?"
I felt a grin of my own forming. I reached out and grabbed a hold of the front of his shirt, tugging him closer to me. "That I'm in love with you, Owen Grady."
He bent his head and kissed me and I sank into him, letting myself get lost in that pepperminty, earthy scent, the stubble on his jaw that tickled my skin, and the way his hands felt as they pressed against the small of my back. After an entire day of uncertainty, of not knowing what was coming next, kissing Owen felt like the most sure thing to ever happen. And as I pressed my hands against his chest and felt the rhythm of his heart beneath his shirt, I suddenly figured it out.
This was what it meant to be alive.
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