The next day, I headed to the control room with two cups of Starbucks coffee in my hands. I side stepped a pair of a kids, not much older than six or seven, as they rushed past me in their hurry to get to the dinosaur hologram that took center stage in the visitor's center. Their parents smiled apologetically at me as they hurried to keep up with them. Crowds were pressed against the glass on either side of the long hallway, watching as the scientists worked, looking every bit the part in their white lab coats and protective goggles. It was still a mystery to me how they did what they did. I had had the pleasure of meeting Henry Wu, the man in charge of the labs, and his explanation hadn't helped much. All those science-y techno-jargon words went right over my head.
I pressed the button to the elevator and the doors whooshed open immediately, revealing the empty interior. I stepped inside and pressed the button I had remembered Claire using when she had first shown me around. The ride up was silent, no music to fill the emptiness which I preferred. Most forms of elevator music gave me a headache anyways. The elevator 'pinged' when I finally reached my floor and the doors slid open to reveal a tall, burly looking security guard in a clean, black suit.
"Identification, miss?" He asked.
I nodded towards the employee badge around my neck. "Um, I'm here to see Claire?" God, why did I always do that? End sentences like they were a question when they weren't supposed to be?
"It's okay, you can let her in!" Claire's familiar voice came from behind him. He stepped out of the way just as Claire appeared, looking incredibly put together as usual in her red pencil skirt and white top. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw the coffee cups in my hands. "Thank god, you're a life saver."
"I know." I said simply, passing her the steaming cup.
I followed her further into the control room, still unable to keep from gawking at the giant screen that took up one entire wall. Dozens of people busied themselves in front of their desks, chattering in headphones and swiping their fingers on their touch screen monitors.
"Hey! It's Claire's friend!" One of them swiveled in their chairs to greet me. I remembered him clearly from the first day we met, probably due to the banter between him and Claire about cleaning up his work space. He hadn't listened, as it was still chaotic and messy. The only neat part about it was the line of little dinosaur figurines strategically placed at the edge of the table.
"Her name is Rylan, Lowery." Claire corrected him, coming to stand next to his desk. Her arms were crossed over her chest as her eyes flickered between the different screens on the wall.
"Is that a Power Rangers shirt?" I asked, squinting at the red t-shirt just peeking out from underneath his plaid button up.
"Oh this?" He glanced down at his shirt before grinning up at me. "Yeah, it's awesome. Some guy from Craig's List shipped it to me last week. Cost me a fortune, but worth it."
"Apparently Lowery has quite the impressive collection of shirts." The girl sitting next to him commented. She had long light brown hair and smiled up me with huge blue eyes. Vivian, I remembered.
"I wasn't sure anything could be more impressive than his dinosaur toys." Claire said sarcastically. I stifled a laugh before shooting an apologetic smile to Lowery as he frowned at Claire.
"So what' the big news today? What do all these numbers mean?" I asked, pointing at the screen as I took a sip of coffee.
"Well, so far today it seems were at about 16,000 visitors. It's still pretty early so I expect we'll get at least a couple hundred more before the day is over." Claire said proudly. She had a glint in her eye that reminded me of how hard she had worked for this job. People mistook her ambition for hostility. I, on the other hand, thought it made her fierce.
"That's a lot of people." I said, impressed.
"What's even more impressive is that all the dinosaurs are exactly where they're supposed to be right now." Lowery added, zooming out so I could see hundreds of blinking red tags in different areas of the park, which I assumed were the dinosaur's trackers.
"You mean they get out sometimes?" I glanced at Claire with wide eyes and she sighed.
"Sometimes they venture into units they don't belong in, yes, but none of them have ever 'escaped' if that's what you're asking." She assured me.
"Some of the dinos have this thing where they headbutt each other and short circuit their trackers, which are supposed to zap them every time they get too close to the fencing." Vivian explained to me.
"We're still working on how to deal with that. I have to meet Masrani in a few. Walk with me?" She asked.
"Sure." I nodded. I waved goodbye to Lowery and Vivian before stepping into the elevator with Claire. Once the doors had shut, I turned to her, placing one hand on my hip. "So it seems you have some explaining to do."
Her eyebrows furrowed together. "About?"
I took another drink from my cup as she stared at me expectantly. "Oh you know, just how you failed to mention how you and Owen went on a...whatdya call that thing where males and females get together and partake in fun activities? Oh yeah! A date!" I gave her a big grin as she flushed red, becoming flustered.
"Well, I wouldn't exactly call that a date! I mean, the man showed up wearing board shorts for christ's sake!" She defended herself. The elevator 'pinged' and we stepped off at the top floor, headed for her office. "Did he tell you that? Why were you talking to him about that anyways?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I dunno, I got to talking to him last night and it just sort of came up. Anyways, I was just surprised you hadn't mentioned it at all."
Claire let out a loud sigh as she strolled into her office and gathered up a sleek, black folder that had been laid out on her desk. "I didn't think it was important." Suddenly she froze, turning to face me with wide eyes. "Wait a second, you're not thinking about going out with him are you?"
I shook my head quickly. "No! Hell no! Nothing like that...He seems okay to me, though. But I do get what you mean. He can be very..." I trailed off, twirling my hand in the air as I searched for the right word.
"Cocky?" Claire offered, perking an eyebrow. "Abrasive? Irritating?"
"Cocky." I agreed, giving her a grin.
She tucked the folder underneath her arm and leaned back against the desk while I perched myself onto the arm rest of one the black leather chairs in the room. "I mean, I guess if you did ever want to go out with him, I wouldn't care. I just wouldn't understand why." She shrugged.
I rolled my eyes. "Thanks for the permission, mom."
Claire smiled. "Don't you forget it."
I let out laugh, settling back against the chair. "Anyways, now that I've had my fun harassing you about that, what about dinner tonight? You free?"
"I'm not sure...are you gonna wear board shorts?" She asked, feigning curiosity with her eyebrows furrowed together.
I threw back my head, letting out a loud laugh. "If I had some. See, you got jokes! I always tell people you're funny but they never believe me."
"That's because they're too busy thinking of me as an uptight bitch." Claire said simply, looking completely unfazed.
"And that's what I love about you." I took another long sip from my coffee before tossing it into the trash near the door. "Seven tonight?" I asked.
"Better make it eight." She said, glancing at her phone. "Might be running a little bit behind. I'll call you."
"You got it, boss lady." I mock saluted her and she rolled her eyes. "I'm messing with you. See you tonight!"
As if on cue, her phone began to ring, signaling my time to leave. She waved at me as I slipped out of her office, shutting the door quietly behind me.
Eight o'clock rolled around as I stood in front of one of the many restaurants Jurassic World had to offer. I was still wearing my Margaritaville work shirt and probably reeked of french fries and alcohol, but didn't care enough to go all the way home to change. I tugged the elastic out of my hair, shaking out my ponytail as my hair fell in wild waves to my shoulders. I combed my fingers though it, trying to tame it as I tried Claire's cell again. This time, she answered.
"Hey! I'm so so so so sorry!" She apologized, sounding frazzled. "Masrani was late this afternoon and it pushed my whole day behind. I can be there by nine? Or is that too late? Did you-"
"Claire." I interrupted her, smiling a little. "Don't worry about it. We can reschedule. I live here now, remember? Dinner can happen whenever."
There was a pause before she replied. "Are you sure?" She asked hesitantly. "I don't like standing you up."
"You're not." I assured her. "You're a busy, important person and I'm totally okay with that."
She let out a relieved sigh that made my smile turn amused. "I'll make it up to you, Ry. I swear."
"You better." I joked. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Sounds good. I owe you!" Claire replied, then the line went dead as she hung up.
I sighed, slipping my phone back into my bag. Looked like I was on my own. I hitched the strap up on my shoulder and was about to head to the monorail when I caught sight of a head of familiar dark hair making it's way through the crowd.
"Violet!" I called, waving my hand.
The other girl looked around for the source of the voice, smiling when she finally saw me waving at her like an idiot. She changed course and headed towards me. "Hey! What're you doing?"
"Was supposed to meet Claire for dinner, but she had to bail. I don't supposed you'd wanna join me instead?"
She beamed at me. "Sure! I just finished with Mo for the night anyways."
"I hope this place is okay because I kind of had my stomach set on it." I said with a sheepish smile as I nodded towards the restaurant behind me.
Violet laughed. "One thing you should know about me is that I'm chronically hungry and will eat just about anything."
"We'll get along just fine then."
We walked into the cool air conditioning of the restaurant and were seated after a few minutes of waiting. I settled into my seat and ordered a beer, while Violet settled on a coke. "So are you getting used to things here? I know it's only been a little over a week."
I nodded. "Yeah, I'm actually doing pretty good. My parents seem to be easing up a little a bit about me being gone, so that's definitely a plus."
"Why? They don't like the idea of you living so far from home?" She asked curiously.
"Not exactly. More the fact that I dropped out of school to come here." I explained.
"Oh, gotcha. Well, if it makes you feel any better, it took me about seven years to graduate from school because I couldn't stop changing my major."
"I was doing the exact same thing which is why I decided to leave. I'll go back whenever I figure out what it is I wanna do." I shrugged.
"I think once your parents catch on to the fact that you're happier being here, they'll stop being mad." Violet said.
I smiled at her appreciatively. "Thanks, I hope so."
The rest of the meal was spent in nonstop chatter, barely able to get our food order in with all the conversation. It turned out Violet had spent a lot of time snowboarding in Colorado when she was in college, which left us plenty of things to talk about. The time went by so quickly that I shocked when the server approached us to give us our bill, hinting to us that the restaurant was closing.
"Jesus, well that's a first for me." I commented, sliding some bills into the book.
Violet laughed. "It's nice to talk to somebody new, especially someone I have so much in common with. I'm so used to just talking about work."
"We'll have to do this again sometime then."
"That would be fun." She beamed.
We finished paying our bills and left the restaurant. Only a few guests lingered, slowly making their way towards the exit. A family passed, a mom practically dragging her child behind her who looked like he was asleep on his feet.
"I just remembered there were a few things I needed to finish setting up for the morning. Completely forgot when I saw you." Violet said, taking a few steps in the direction of the mosasaurus exhibit. "I'll probably see you tomorrow or something."
"Sounds good." I waved at her before happily turning and heading off in the direction of the monorail on the other side of the park. The station was almost empty when I arrived, only about two other employees waiting, both of them looking completely exhausted. I leaned against the railing, looking down the track for the familiar beam of light from the monorail.
I whirled around, my stomach dropping at the sound of the familiar voice. It was Owen, of course. He was at the bottom of the steps, hands on his hips as he looked up at me.
"Hey! You heading home too?" I asked.
He nodded. "Sure as hell ain't taking that thing though. You wanna ride?"
I blinked at him in surprise and stupidly looked behind him for some sort of car or four wheeler. He grinned at me and jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. "It's that way. Come on."
He didn't give me a chance to accept or refuse, instead just assuming I was coming along. Which I was. I took the steps two at a time, hurrying to catch up with him. I fell into step with him as we rounded a corner, flashing his badge and pushing through a locked door that I knew was for park employees only. Huge, solid metal doors surrounded us. "Are these entrances to some of the paddocks?" I asked curiously, looking around.
"Yep." Owen answered simply. He pointed to the one closest to us. "There's the T-Rex."
My eyes went wide and I stared at the door as we passed it, trying to imagine the huge carnivore behind it, with it's reptilian skin and glistening sharp teeth. I knew the wall was thick, made of solid metal, but it still sent a shiver up my spine thinking about how that was the only thing standing between us. We made our way through the maze of corridors until we were once again outside. Owen led the way to a motorcycle, the same one he had been working on the day before.
He swung one leg over it and started it, twisting the throttle to rev the engine. I swore to god it was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen in my life. I pushed my inappropriate thoughts to the side when he glanced at me expectantly. "Well? You too scared or something?" He asked, giving me a slight, teasing smile.
I rolled my eyes to make a point, not bothering to tell him that I'd never been on a motorcycle in my life. I climbed onto the bike behind him and hesitated before wrapping my arms around his middle. I stifled a gasp when he tightened my hold on him, and grabbed one of my thighs, pulling me closer against him. "You'll fall off if you don't hold on tight enough." He explained. My thigh was still tingling even after he moved his hand.
He revved the engine again and we were off, picking up speed like it was nothing. The loud sound of the engine made it impossible to talk so I focused instead on the way the wind felt as it whipped past us, and the thrill I felt in my stomach every time we veered around a curve or took a sharp turn. It was pretty much impossible, even though I tried, to ignore how close I was to Owen. I could feel his muscled stomach underneath his shirt, and the warmth of his skin underneath my fingertips. I had no choice but to be pressed up against him. Even more impossible to ignore was the way he smelled, like sweat and dirt but with an underlying hint of something that reminded me of peppermint. I wanted to kick myself. Was I really thinking about the way he smelled?
Owen didn't begin to slow down until we turned down the dirt road that led to the staff housing. The wheels kicked up dust underneath us, creating little clouds as we drove down the narrow road.
"Which one?" He asked over the rumble of the engine.
"Last one on the left!" I pointed further down the road. Owen nodded and the bike came to a stop in front of my trailer. I unlocked my arms from around his middle, once again extremely aware of how close we were. I climbed off the bike, trying to smooth my hair which had been whipping around in a frenzy during the entire drive.
"Thanks for the ride!"
"Better than taking the train, right?" He grinned and I nodded. His eyes suddenly swept over me before stopping to rest on my face again. "You should wear your hair down more."
Then, once again not even waiting for a response, he was darting off down the road towards his own place. I stared after him, eyebrows raised before slowly turning around and heading inside. I went straight to the bathroom and clicked on the overhead light, unsure of what my hair even looked like right then. It was windblown and wild, no doubt a dual effect of the humidity and the motorcycle ride. I made a quizzical expression at myself in the mirror, wondering if Owen had been being sarcastic.
"Why the hell do I even care?" I asked my reflection out loud. I flicked the light off, wondering why indeed, I cared what Owen Grady thought about me at all.