I sat back in my cushy seat as the monorail sped along the track. Outside the window, I could just make out some of the exhibits below. The height we were at made the dinosaurs that were normally huge look like tiny ants. I was amped for my first day, sporting my pink Margaritaville t-shirt, my blonde hair combed into a quick braid that hung down my back. I grinned to myself, thinking about how two weeks ago I'd been sitting in a stuffy lecture hall and now I was here. Honestly, and everyone thought I had made a mistake.
The monorail slowed to a stop at the midway exit and I got off, along with about a dozen other employees. The park was already buzzing with guests, despite the fact that the doors had just opened. I weaved my way through the crowd towards the restaurant. Denny greeted me at the bar yet again and didn't hesitate to put me to work. Once we got busy, it was easy to get into the swing of things. Beer, martini, rum and coke, margarita. About a dozen more margaritas. By mid-afternoon, I reeked of tequila and estimated I'd made about thirty margaritas altogether.
I wiped the sweat from my brow with the back of my hand. The bar faced the opened seating area that led to the patio. So no air conditioning. I was wishing I had worn shorts instead of my jeans when Claire's smiling face suddenly appeared on the other side of the bar.
"How goes it?" She asked with a smile, sliding onto a stool.
"Well, I'm sweating and I stink of alcohol. So pretty good." I answered, shooting her a grin. "You want a drink? I make a kick-ass margarita, or so I've been told."
She made a face. "The last time I had one of your margaritas, I was puking the entire next day."
"That's because you didn't have just one, you had like five of them." I reminded her.
Her skin tinged a little green at the memory, which had been years ago during the summer in which we both had turned twenty-one. "Yeah, I try not to think about it. Anyways, no tequila for me. I'm on a diet."
I frowned at her. "That sounds like the worst diet ever. Not like you need one anyways. You're tiny." I shook my head. "A life without tequila is a very sad one."
She looked like she wanted to disagree but thought better of it. "I better get back to work, I just wanted to stop by and say hi. What're you doing later?"
"Probably gonna try and see some more of the attractions. I met the girl who does the mosasaurus show last night, so I wanna check that out."
"Oh, Violet? She's so sweet!" Claire said. "She-"
"Oh shit!" The words popped out of my mouth as I suddenly remembered who else I had met the previous night. Claire raised her eyebrows at me. I felt one side of my mouth lift in a smile. "You failed to mention that the infamous Owen Grady is also the most attractive man in Central America."
Claire scoffed. "Come on, there's no way you know that for sure."
I laughed, enjoying her irritation. "Yeah, well, at this point to me he is. He didn't seem so bad."
"That's because you probably only talked to him for five seconds. And you don't work with him and constantly have to remind him to file his paperwork and do what he's supposed to do." She shot back.
I gave her a cheeky grin. "Lucky me then."
She rolled her eyes. "Don't be fooled by the boyish charm. It seems I'm the only one immune to it."
"Oh come on!" I protested. "I just said he was good looking! I'm not about to jump into bed with the guy! I just like pissing you off." I reached across the bar and nudged her shoulder.
"You're lucky I consider you my best friend." She said, shaking her head.
I held a hand over my heart. "An honor I take most seriously."
She tried to hold it back, but the next second she was smiling at me. "Don't push me, Rylan. I gotta go. Big meeting today. Wish me luck?"
"How about a tequila shot for luck?" I teased.
Claire flicked a discarded straw wrapped across the bar at me before sliding off her stool. She waved at me from the door before exiting out of the gate that attached to the patio. I wiped my hands on a towel, shaking my head, just in time as another order for three more drinks popped up.
I shook off my exhaustion at the end of my shift and headed across Main Street, in the direction of the mosasaurus exhibit. Sliding my purse strap over my shoulder, I checked the time on my phone. Plenty of time to have some fun before dinner and home. I slipped my phone back into my pocket. I headed straight for the mosasaurus four o'clock feeding, the stands already packed. I squeezed into a spot near the front, voices chattering all around me excitedly. My knee bounced up and down in anticipation. Violet's voice suddenly boomed from a speaker.
"Welcome to Jurassic World! Is everyone having a good time?" She called out. I searched for her and finally spotted her on a raised podium near the very front of the stands. The crowd roared it's approval. "Alright, well I'd like to introduce you to my friend Mo! Mo is a mosasaurus, a sea dwelling carnivore! At about sixty feet long and five tons, it's no surprised these guys once ruled the ocean!"
Just then, a shark was lowered over the tank. A very big, very dead shark. Before I had time to process just how big it was, a huge, massive creature suddenly exploded from the surface of the water and snapped the entire shark into it's massive jaws. The shark had looked like a tiny little toy compared to Mo, which then in turn had made me feel very small. The crowd thundered and I found myself clapping along with them as Mo crashed back into the water and a huge wave splashed over us.
I laughed, wiping water from my eyes as the stands suddenly lowered and we were given another look at Mo from below the surface. The air was cool below, the light surrounding us a dim shade of blue from the water in the tank. My eyes were glued to the glass as Mo attacked and snapped at her prey. It was simultaneously the most terrifying and coolest thing I'd ever seen, much like the way I'd felt when I'd watched the tyrannosaurus feed the night before. And even weirder to think that once upon a time, these things had inhabited all the oceans.
Violet continued to talk over the loudspeaker, her voice excited and upbeat despite the fact that she went through the same speech every couple of hours when Mo had another show. When the show had finally ended and the seats were back at the surface, I waited until the crowd cleared to find her.
"Hey!" I greeted her. "That was amazing!"
She grinned when she saw me, stepping down off her podium. "I see you got a front row seat." She gestured to my soaked clothes.
"Yeah, with this heat they'll be dry in about ten minutes." I said, pushing back a damp strand of hair that had escaped my braid. "So I wanted to see the raptors but I heard they're not visitor ready yet?"
Violet waved her hand. "Yeah, but you're not a visitor. You're an employee." She gestured to my badge with a mischievous glint in her eyes. When I gave her an uncertain look she prodded me towards the exit. "Seriously, hop on one of the park's four wheelers and go. Owen and the other guys out there are really nice. They won't mind you watching as long as you stay out of the way."
"Okay, okay. Fine." I caved. "How do I get there?"
Violet tugged me towards a park map and explained how to get there from the main road, making sure to mention where I could borrow a four wheeler for the afternoon. About fifteen minutes later, I was speeding down a dirt road towards the raptor containment unit. Claire called all the attractions with animals 'asset containment units' but the word asset sounded strange to me. They were animals, not things.
I pressed harder on the four wheeler's throttle and shot forward. I let out a whoop of excitement. I had assured the guy who had given me the keys at the employee garage that I knew how to drive it. Even though I'd never been on one in my life. It only took a few minutes to get used to how it worked. I liked the speed and the freedom of it, as scenery flashed by and wind whipped my clothing. By the time I finally made it to the paddock, I was completely dry. I turned off the engine and tucked the key into my pocket.
As I climbed off the four wheeler, I couldn't help but to stare at the cage in awe. The walls were huge, at least forty feet high and made of what looked like solid steel. A metal staircase led up the side of the cage to a walkway that appeared to criss cross in the very center of the octagon shaped enclosure.
"Can I help you?" A voice asked.
The accent was unfamiliar and I glanced around before finding the source of the voice. A dark skinned man was walking towards me, wearing a curious but guarded expression. I quickly showed him my badge. "Hi, sorry. I met Owen yesterday and was just curious about the raptors. Someone told me it'd be okay to stop by, as long as I stayed out of the way?" I ended my explanation, searching his face for a sign that it was okay to be here. "I'm also a friend of Claire Dearing."
When he suddenly smiled, I relaxed. "Claire! Yes, we know her well around here." He said, and there was a sarcastic note in his voice and I thought back to what Claire had said about always having to hassle Owen about his paperwork. "And you are?"
"Rylan." I said, shaking his hand.
"I'm Barry. Come on up, Owen's just finishing up with the girls. He's working on getting them to recognize more vocal cues." He placed a hand on the small of my back guiding me towards the stairs.
"Wait, he's what?" I asked, swiveling my head to look at Barry with wide eyes.
Barry let out a loud laugh, a contagious sound. "He's crazy, I know."
I swallowed the rest of my questions for later as I climbed the metal stairs towards the top. Barry gestured for me to go out onto the walkway. Over the center of the cage, where the walkways crossed, was Owen Grady. A low snarl suddenly caught my attention and I gazed over the railing into the cage. My breath caught in my throat. Four raptors stood underneath the metal walkway, yellow eyes trained on Owen. Even from where I was standing overhead, I could see the length of their glistening claws and their huge, killer jaws. My heart thundered against my chest. "Do they actual listen to him?"
Barry gave me a wry smile. "Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. They're wild animals. Just watch, though. He knows what he's doing."
"Okay, eyes on me." Owen was saying in a strong, calm voice.
He had something in his hand that clicked every time he pressed his fingers together. The animals below followed his every movement. One of the raptors caught my eye, a bright blue streak of color on its side that run from neck to tail. It let out a loud screech, but Owen looked unfazed, never losing his ground. Never taking his eyes off of any of the four.
"Blue, watch it." He warned, moving slowly across the narrow walkway. One of the other four raptors leapt out of formation, letting out vicious yelp. "Delta, Lock it up!" He paused and waited for all four of the animals to be still. "And we're moving!"
I watched in awe as the raptors followed him from underneath the catwalk with their deliberate, predatory movements. Owen stopped in front of a metal bucket hanging over the railing. He reached his inside and pulled out a dead rat. He raised it in the air before tossing it over the side. One of them eagerly snapped it up in their jaws. Each waited in anticipation for a rat to be fed to them. "Good. Blue, this one's for you." He threw the last rat down to the raptor with the unusual streak of color. No doubt the reason for it's name.
Suddenly, Owen raised his hands in the air. "Eyes up." I felt my jaw drop when each of their heads tilted back, reptilian eyes trained on him. "And go!" He dropped his hands and the pack took off, racing towards the opposite end of the cage. Owen watched them go, a triumphant smile on his face.
"Holy shit." I breathed. I heard Barry chuckle from next to me.
Owen let out a high pitched whistle and the raptors took off sprinting in the opposite direction. As soon as they were gone, a huge grin broke out across his face, clearly pleased with himself and his raptors.
"You okay?" Barry asked, giving me an amused smile. I realized I had been gripping the railing so tightly that my knuckled were white. I quickly pushed my arms back to my sides.
"Yeah, definitely. Just...wasn't expecting that." I said, still in awe.
"The first time I saw it, I had the same reaction. Come on."
Barry led me towards Owen, clapping him proudly on the back. "That was one hell of a show, man!"
"They're getting better, Barry!" He exclaimed excitedly. "Huge improvement from last week." He seemed to suddenly notice I was there and looked at me in surprise. "Rylan, right?"
"Yeah, sorry to just sort of show up but everyone was talking you up big time. Had to see it for myself." I smiled at him.
He grinned back at me, running a hand through his hair. "And here I was thinking everybody just thought I was crazy."
"That's probably also true." I laughed. A series of snarls suddenly came from the cage and the three of us looked below to see the raptors nipping at each other.
"Hey, hey! Cut that out, girls!" Owen shouted at the pack. One of them, I wasn't sure which, lifted it's head and tilted it curiously at Owen before going right back to scuffling with it's siblings. Owen rolled his eyes. "Never wanna listen when it comes to that shit."
He had a fondness in his voice when he talked about them, and I was even more shocked that I found it strangely endearing. "What're all their names?"
"Delta, Charlie, Echo, and Blue." He said proudly, leading the way across the platform and back down the staircase. "Blue's the beta."
I smirked at him. "And let me guess, you're the alpha?"
He gave me a cocky grin as Barry rolled his eyes. "Hell yeah, I am."
"And on that note, I'm off to dinner. It was nice meeting you, Rylan." Barry said, giving me a smile, before turning and heading towards one of the four wheelers parked nearby.
Owen and I were suddenly alone and I felt an annoying twinge in my stomach at the thought. Jesus, I was like a school girl. "So you've been working with the raptors since they hatched?" I asked.
"Yeah, it was my idea. Figured might have a better shot at interacting with them if I was the first face they saw." He answered, leaning back against a parked construction truck. His eyes, a spectacular shade of cerulean, appraised me in a shamelessly curious way. I could tell he was trying to figure me out. "Where did you say you work here?"
"At the Margaritaville. Today was my first day." I answered, shifting my weight from one foot to the other. I was starting to feel warm again now that I was dry.
Owen's face lit up. "I know the place...love me some tequila."
"Who doesn't?" I agreed with a grin. "A necessary staple of any sane person's diet."
He smiled back at me and I felt my stomach twisting itself into some pretty impressive knots. He had to know he had this effect on women. It was like some sort of special gift. Not since I was in high school had I ever felt even the slightest bit nervous or flustered in the presence of a member of the opposite sex. At least I'd never been so aware of it. I cleared my throat, realizing we were still standing there staring at each other. "I guess I better head to dinner, too. See you around?" I asked, taking a few steps backwards in the direction of my borrowed four wheeler.
"Hope so." He answered, not even missing a beat. Still smiling at me. Damn that smile. It wasn't even fair, that thing was like a weapon. One that turned knees to jelly and made women who were normally unaffected by such silly things fluster like a kid at their first school dance. I turned my back to him, hoping he had't had any time to process the expression on my face. I needed to get my shit together or I was in trouble.