My jaw refused to stay shut during the entire tour of the massive park, eyes frozen wide in awe. Claire chattered away the entire time, and I wondered how the hell she had room in her head for all the things she knew about the park. We breezed through the walkways, and she assured me I'd have plenty of time to explore and visit the attractions on my days off. It was like being a kid again, although I'd been told by about a thousand people that I already was a kid trapped in a twenty-five year old's body. Living, breathing dinosaurs. I made sure at some point to say an appropriate prayer to the science gods for allowing the park to exist.
"And finally, this is where you'll be working."
We had made it to the park's midway, where shops and restaurant flourished on either side of the walkway. "Damn, this place is brand-name central. What the hell is a Pandora's doing here?" I asked.
"We cater to everything." Claire shrugged, like this was answer enough.
"Freaking ridiculous." I muttered.
We made our way towards the Margaritaville restaurant, Jimmy Buffet blaring from the speakers. It was mildly crowded for the early evening lull, most of the tables empty and only about half of the bar full. The park would be closing for the night in just a few short, hours. Claire walked towards the bar where a man in a Hawaiian shirt with a peppered beard stood behind the counter.
"Hi Denny! This is my friend, Rylan." She greeted him.
"You mean my new recruit?" He asked in a booming voice. He gave me a big smile and held out his hand. I liked him already.
"Straight from the main land! Nice to meet you!" I grasped his hand in mine.
"Happy to have you, Rylan. Nice to finally put a face to the name." He let go of my hand and went back to wiping down the bar. "You getting settled in?"
I shrugged. "Sorta. Claire's just giving me a quick tour now."
"I told her she'll have plenty of time for exploring when she's not working for you." Claire jumped in and Denny chuckled.
"I'll try not to work you too hard then. I want to make sure you have time to settle in, but how soon can you start?" He asked.
"Tomorrow." I said quickly. Both he and Claire looked at me with surprise. "I wanna get used to this place as soon as I can and the sooner I start working, the sooner it'll feel like home."
Denny looked pleased with me. "My kinda girl. Let me get you a shirt. How's about eleven o'clock for tomorrow?"
"Sounds perfect!" I grinned. He disappeared around the corner of the bar to a back room. I took a moment to take in the different liquor bottles behind on the shelves behind the bar, the brightly colored string of lights strung across the ceiling, and the beer tap handles to my right. I knew I'd feel right at home behind there. That was the great thing about bartending. It was pretty much the same no matter where you went.
A few minutes later, we were leaving the restaurant and I had a pink t-shirt in my hands with the logo blazoned across the front. The park was even less crowded now, the number of people dwindling as the sun went down. A pack of teenagers rushed by, all of them laughing loudly as they raced from one exhibit to the next.
"Don't kill me but I really gotta run to this dinner meeting. It's almost eight now." Claire said, checking the time on phone.
I brushed her off with a wave of my hand. "Please, I'll be fine. I have all of this to entertain me." I gestured around towards the entire theme park I was surrounded by.
Claire smiled, shaking her head. "Yeah, I don't know why I worry. I probably won't be able to see you until tomorrow. But I promise to come check on you during lunch, okay?"
"Sounds good." I stepped forward and pulled her in for a hug. She seemed surprised, but quickly squeezed me back. "Thanks, Claire. I mean it. I know you don't get it, but this is gonna be good for me."
She looked pleased when I finally pulled away. "I know that...I'm just glad you're happy." She gave me one last smile before turning and walking off. She'd had her cell phone to her ear within a few seconds. She had only gone a few steps, though, before turning back around. "I almost forgot! The last T-Rex feeding is in about five minutes!" She pointed in the direction of a set of huge wooden doors.
I felt my eyes go wide. I didn't even bother to yell a thank you to her, racing towards the T-Rex paddock. Inside, there was a thick glass window that spread one side of the room to the other. People were already starting to push up against it, looking eagerly inside. I found a space and squeezed myself in, nearly bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet in excitement while my heart thudded inside my chest.
It wasn't much longer before a live goat was lowered into the pen. It squealed pathetically and if I hadn't been so damn excited I probably would have felt a little sad for it. There was no time, though, because suddenly the entire room was rattling as huge footsteps crushed the ground.
"Holy shit..." I breathed, ignoring the dirty look I received from a nearby parent as I pressed my hands against the glass. The creature in front of me was unlike anything I had ever seen in my entire life. Scaly brown skin, yellow eyes, and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. All I could think about was how all the pictures I'd seen in science books, all the documentaries I'd watched in school, didn't even do a little bit of justice towards this massive, prehistoric carnivore. A combination of fear and amazement prickled up and down my spine. The tyrannosaurus towered over us and let out a roar that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. "This is so freaking cool."
"You should see the mosasaurus then!" A voice next to me suddenly said. A kid, probably around thirteen, was grinning up at me. His face was flushed with excitement, like mine.
"What the hell is that?" I asked curiously, unashamed at my unfamiliarity with the name. "Think prehistoric Shamoo, only a hundred times bigger." He explained excitedly. He gestured towards the other side of the park. "It's by the water. The amphitheater is on the boardwalk."
"Thanks, kid!" I grinned at him. I took one last look at the rex behind the glass as it devoured it's bloody meal before taking off at a sprint towards the mosasaurus exhibit. When I finally got there, though, the crowd was just letting out from the last and final showing of the night. I let out a disappointed sigh before sidling up to the glass railing.
"You probably won't be able to see her right now. Mo usually disappears for a while after a feeding." A cheerful voice said from behind me. I glanced over my shoulder to see a girl with shoulder length brown hair beaming at me. She had on a pair of knee-length khaki shorts and a Jurassic World staff shirt. She gestured to the badge around my neck. "You work here? You must be new, I thought I knew everyone here by now." At my confused expression she shrugged. "Small island. You get to know everybody pretty fast. I'm Violet."
"Rylan." I smiled. I gestured towards the tank. "So you work with...Mo here?" I asked, trying out the name she had used for the giant aquatic creature. "Since the day we put him in the tank." She said proudly. "Although, really, I didn't do much. She knows she gets fed every four hours and is usually pretty good at showing up. That's about as much training as was possible with her. I'm basically just here to make sure things go as planned."
"Still, that's pretty awesome. Wish I could've seen her. I was too busy gawking at the T-Rex." I explained.
"Oh that one still scares the hell out of me." She shivered. "All those teeth."
"But Mo doesn't?" I asked, giving her a small smile. "Doesn't she have just as many?"
She returned it with a sheepish one of her own. "Yeah, that's true. I guess when I look at the T-Rex I just can't help but think about what happened here all those years ago."
It took a second for me to figure out what she meant. "Oh, you mean the first park." I frowned. It had happened when I was still a toddler. Everyone in the world was aware of what had happened, though. It was history. It wasn't until recently that I finally did research on the details of the whole story. One reason why my parents weren't so keen on my decision to work and live on the same island. "Crazy...I definitely don't wanna think about it having free roam of the park."
"Exactly." Violet agreed. "I mean, it's not really realistic to be worried, though. We have the best safety measures in the entire world. It's just the idea that it happened once." I nodded, inching closer to the railing and peering over the side. I couldn't see anything but the deep, dark water. If Mo was stirring underneath, I had no idea. "Have you had dinner yet?" She suddenly asked.
I shook my head and as if on cue, my stomach rumbled and we both laughed. "Well, I didn't think I was hungry until right now."
"I'll show you the way to the cafeteria. We'll be closing soon, too, so I can show you how to get home later. The monorail has a stop right outside the staff housing center. That's where you'll be living, right?"
I nodded and she beamed at me. "Cool, haven't had a new face in a while."
I watched as she finished her closing duties, sitting on the cold metal bench of the stands before following her outside down the boardwalk and back to the midway. A voice came over the loud speaker, announcing that the park was closing for the evening. With night time came a cool breeze, a much needed relief from the sweltering heat of the sun. We disappeared inside of the cafeteria, a huge building near the edge of the park. Food was still spread out under the heat lamps and the salad bar was still open, though the giant room was empty of guests. I supposed it was to make sure all the employees had a chance to eat before going home for the night. We flashed our badges to the man sitting behind the counter and grabbed trays. Once our plates were filled, she led the way through a set of double doors to a smaller, quieter room with tables in rows.
"This is the staff room, where we can eat without being bombarded with questions from guests." She explained, sliding into a seat.
I sat across from her, realizing that even though I'd told Claire I'd be fine, I was grateful for the company. "I don't think I'll ever get used to this place. I mean, even my college didn't have a salad bar."
Violet laughed. "Yeah, well, if your school was anything like mine then the food here is a lot safer too."
I grinned, understanding what she meant completely. I dug into my salad, suddenly starving.
"So what kind of work will you be doing here?" She asked.
"I'm bartending at the Margaritaville." I said, in-between mouthfuls. "Not as exciting as being a mosasaurus trainer, but it'll pay the bills." I joked.
"You'll make a ton of money over there." Violet said, spearing a piece of chicken with her fork. "Seriously, the drinks are crazy expensive here and people like to tip. My friend runs the hotdog stand and you would not believe the kind of money people stuff into that tip jar. For a hotdog!"
The double doors to the staff cafeteria suddenly swung open with a loud bang, making me jump. I glanced towards the door to see a man strolling inside, clearly having kicked the doors open. Both his hands were full, a sandwich in one and a bottle of water in the other, and an apple in his mouth. It was a pretty impressive balancing act, almost as impressive as his good looks. His hair was short, a light sandy brown. The same color as the scruffy beard that grew along his strong jaw and over his upper lip. If there was ever an appropriate time to say someone had nice cheek bones, this was it. He had one attractive facial structure, that was for damn sure. His long sleeved gray shirt was covered in dirt, the same with his jeans. Which very tight. Like extremely. I hadn't realized I was still staring until Violet suddenly waved at him.
"Hey, Owen!" She called.
I swiveled my head to look at her with surprise. That was Owen? The Owen Grady, the one that Claire supposedly hated? How? Just...how? I looked back to see his eyes brighten as he caught sight of us and changed directions. He set his water bottle down in between our trays and took the apple from his mouth, chewing and swallowing.
"What's up, Vi? How's Mo?" He asked cheerfully.
"She's fine. Seemed kinda moody today." Violet shrugged. "Took a minute for her to come out for the mid-afternoon feeding. I got worried she was gonna be a no-show."
"Eh, you'll have that. Animals can be pretty temperamental." He added.
"You'd know all about that." She smiled and he flashed her a grin that made my head spin. What the hell was wrong with me? This wasn't the first good looking guy I'd ever seen. Or maybe I'd just resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be on an island where the male species would be limited and his existence had thrown all that off.
"Oh, this is Rylan by the way. She's new."
"Hey, Claire's friend right?" He asked, squinting his eyes as he studied me. I shifted uncomfortably under his scrutiny. "Although, I wasn't expecting this. Thought the ice queen was recruiting more of her ice friends to keep her company."
I couldn't help but let out a laugh, remembering the conversation Claire and I had had in the car earlier.
"That's not nice, Owen." Violet sighed.
"No, no it's cool." I assured her and smiled up at him. "I knew she seems that way, but honestly you just don't know her that well."
"Well, since I don't really care to I'll leave that up to you. She's made it clear I'm not her cup of tea." Owen stated.
"She might have mentioned that." I admitted.
"Wow, really? I didn't think I registered on her radar anymore." He shook his head. "Well, I better go. Wanna check on the girls one last time before heading home. See you ladies later!"
He grabbed up his water bottle, flashing one last smile before placing the apple back in his mouth and disappearing out a set of doors on the opposite side he'd come in through.
When he'd left, I glanced back at Violet curiously. "His girls?" I asked. "What, does he have kids or something?"
Violet snorted with laughter, almost spitting out her water. "God no, he means his raptors."
My mouth fell open. "Like...velociraptors?"
"Mmhm. He raised them, kinda like a surrogate mother or something. He says they imprinted on him when they hatched. It's pretty amazing." She explained, her voice sounding impressed. "You should head out to their containment unit if you ever have time. I've seriously never seen anything like him."
"Yeah, I can imagine." I agreed, and even I wasn't sure which part of him I was referring to.