For the next two days, Owen was one of the only things on my mind. I was surprised I was at much I had liked spending time with him. I couldn't help but think Claire had been wrong, that there more to him that what was at the surface level...although the surface level was very, very nice to look at. Every night after work, I caught myself glancing towards the doors waiting to see him standing there, wearing that infamous smirk. Instead, though, I ended up meandering home alone and going to bed as soon as I had made it inside.
It was one of my precious and long awaited days off. I had collapsed into my bed the night before with every single attention of sleeping in. It was still dark when the pounding noise coming from the living room jolted me awake. I forced my eyes open, staring at the blank space of wall next to the bed. I groped around the nightstand for my phone to check the time, but couldn't find it. Then I remembered I had left it plugged in all the way out in the kitchen. The pounding noise, which I groggily realized was knocking, came again. I thought about ignoring it and going back to sleep, but my mind kept nagging at me. What if it was Claire and she had some sort of emergency and I hadn't answered my cellphone?
I let out a groan, sitting up and dragging my legs over the side of the bed. I trudged into the living room, stumbling over my purse which I'd left lying in the middle of the room for some reason. I unlocked the front door and pulled it open. Owen grinned at me from the front step. I blinked sleepily at him, too tired to care that I was standing there in my pajamas.
"Are you serious? It's still night time." I sighed, leaning against the doorframe.
"Hell yeah I'm serious, Davenport! Plus it's morning." He glanced down at watch on his wrist, checking the time. "Quarter to five to be exact."
I gave him a blank stare. "You're an idiot."
I made to swing the door shut but his hand shot out, pushing it back open. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Don't be like that!" He stepped around me inside my living room. I shook my head, so much for sleeping in. "You know I wouldn't be messing up your beauty sleep or whatever if I didn't have something awesome to show you."
He sank down onto the armrest of the couch, looking up at me expectantly. His hair was tousled, like he'd also just woken up, and he was dressed in a simple v-neck teeshirt and a pair of blue board shorts. I felt a tired, delirious laugh stirring inside me, wondering if those were the infamous shorts that had condemned from ever going on another date with Claire again.
"What the hell are you smirking about over there?" Owen asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Just...nice shorts." I finally blurted out, shooting him a big grin.
He glanced down at his outfit before looking back up at me, rolling his eyes. "What? Don't tell me these are on your 'dealbreaker' list too?"
"No! Absolutely not, I love them!" I teased.
One corner of his mouth tugged upwards. "Sure, whatever. Go get your ass dressed...if you have a bathing suit it's probably a good idea to throw that on too." He said with a shrug.
"Where are we going?" I asked, the word 'bathing suit' making me feel unnecessarily suspicious.
"Stop trying to always ruin the surprise." He shot back, standing up. He stretched his arms over his head, once again revealing that distracting strip of tummy. "Just meet me outside in like five minutes."
"Fine." I groaned in defeat, although on the inside I suddenly felt more awake than I thought I was capable of at the crack of dawn. I knew Owen was right. That whatever he had planned would be worth it.
Ten minutes later, I was riding on the back of his motorcycle down the curved road that led to the resort. I had thrown on the only bathing suit I'd packed along with a pair of jean shorts and a cut off teeshirt. To my surprise, though, the bike sped past the main entrance and suddenly we were rocketing down a dirt road that followed the coastline. To my right, the ocean stretched on for what looked like an eternity. I could smell the salt in the air, along with the fresh, crisp scent I always associated with beaches. I knew better, though, than to think Owen had just simply dragged my ass out of bed at 5am for to build sandcastles and sunbathe.
By the time we slowed down and turned onto a much narrower, bumpy road that led directly to the coast, the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon. A strip of yellow across the bottom of the sky showed the first signs of daylight. The road ended near the sand, where a freshly painted white hut sat alone and seemingly unoccupied. A long wooden pier led out over the water and a dock down the beach had half a dozen boats rocking and swaying on the water.
"People have boats here?" I asked in surprise, climbing off the back of the bike.
"Sure, gotta occupy themselves somehow, right?" He answered, maneuvering the bike until it was parked out of view behind the small hut. A plastic sign posted on the wall advertised 'boat rentals, live bait, tackle, and fishing gear rental, parasailing, and snorkeling. Owen followed my gaze. "Yeah, this part of the resort is the newest. Most people are too caught up in the theme park to come out here."
"Well then what are we doing out here?" I tried again.
Owen smirked at me. "You really don't have any patience at all, do you?"
"Yes, I do!" I argued good-naturedly . "I mean sometimes. When I feel like it."
Still smirking, he shook his head. "So never then. Come on."
I slipped off my flip flops, holding them in my hand as we walked across the beach. The sand was cool in-between my toes. I let the water lap at my feet a little bit, shivering at the cold temperature. When we finally reached the dock, a middle aged man with a thick, dark mustache and a white button up Jurassic World staff shirt was waiting for us. Next to him was a sleek, shiny black speed boat with the name 'Shootin' The Breeze' written across it in gold colored, looping letters.
"Hey, Owen!" He greeted, deep voice tinged with a southern accent. They shook hands.
"What's up, Jerry! This is Rylan." Owen said, tilting his head in my direction.
Jerry said hello to me but I was too busy staring at the colorful train of fabric, that weirdly resembled a big kite, sitting near the back. It dawned on me then what we were doing.
"Oh no...no no no." I said quickly, taking a step back.
Owen caught me around the waist, gently pushing me towards the boat. "Hey, no backing out now."
"Backing out? I never agreed to being dragged behind a boat hundreds of feet in the air!" I scoffed. "I'm afraid of heights, Owen!" My stomach was doing nervous flip flops, and all I could think about was the time my dad had dragged me on a roller coaster when I was twelve and I'd had a panic attack before we've even made it to the top of the hill.
"So today's the perfect day to face your fear!" He said, stepping in front of me so I had no choice but to look up at him. "Come on, I'll be right there with you."
"You'll be perfectly safe, and the second you want to come down you just let me know." Jerry added, giving me a kind smile. I wonder how many other embarrassingly frightened people like me he dealt with on a regular basis.
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, biting on my lower lip as I anxiously stared from the boat to the open water. The sky was now turning a gold hue as the sun continued to rise. When I looked back at Owen he was watching me patiently, waiting for me to give the green light.
I shook my head, exhaling loudly. "Fine, but if I have a heart attack and die I'm blaming you."
"That's the spirit!" He grinned. He climbed into the boat and held out a hand for me to so the same. I gripped his fingers tightly as I carefully stepped from the dock and onto the speed boat. It rocked from side to side, water lapping up against the sides. I gripped the side of the boat, trying to regain my balance.
"Put these on." Jerry said, handing us matching red and yellow life vests. I shrugged mine on, clipping the straps into place over my chest.
"Here, yours is way too loose." Owen suddenly said, stepping in front of me and adjusting the straps. I had nowhere to look but his face as he tugged on the straps. I hadn't noticed before but he had a scar on the bridge of his nose. Maybe an imperfection to some, but for whatever reason it only added to his rugged appeal for me. I was such an idiot. He finished tightening the life vest fasteners and tugged on the jacket. "Feel better?"
I shrugged. "I guess...I'm more worried about the line snapping and floating away to outer space."
Owen let out a loud laugh. "I highly doubt that will happen considering we have something here on earth called gravity? Maybe you've heard of it?" He teased.
I lightly shoved him, pushing against the padded life jacket that covered his chest. "Don't mess with me, Grady. The second we get up there, there's a good chance I might accidentally puke on you."
He wrinkled his nose. "Yeah, try not to do that."
"Okay," Jerry interrupted, coming to stand in between us. "I'm going to help you get the harnesses on, then once you're all hooked up we can get going. Yeah?"
My stomach lurched again but I nodded, ignoring Owen's entertained gaze as Jerry helped me step into the parasailing harness. It was only a few short minutes before we were latched and ready to go. My heart was pounding, my mouth dry as cotton. We were riding in tandem, which made me feel a little better but not much.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" I asked Owen uncertainly.
"You wanted to live, so we're living!" He shot back. I made a face at him, slightly annoyed he was using my own words against me. He wasn't wrong, though. I was the one who had made it very clear that I was after adventure. All Owen had done was deliver it to me.
Jerry positioned us so we were sitting on the back edge of the boat. Then, he moved to the front and started the engine. I had no idea how the science behind it worked, but apparently all it took was the pull of a lever and we would be lifting off like a kite.
The boat engine purred loudly beneath us as we backed out away from the dock and turned to head out onto the open water. I glanced behind us, looking at the spray of water as we zipped across the surface.
"You okay?" Owen yelled over the drone of the boat's engine. I glanced over at him and nodded. He smiled at me and then, completely unexpectedly, he grabbed my hand and laced his fingers through mine. My surprise must have showed on my face because he squeezed my hand, his smile growing. "I'm not gonna let anything happen to you, okay?"
I nodding again, squeezing his hand back as I tried to ignore the warmth rushing through me caused by the unintentional sweetness of his words. Jerry turned and gave us a thumbs up which only Owen returned. I was too busy gripping his hand tightly with one hand and holding on to my harness with the other. I watched as Jerry pulled the lever and then we were gently lifting up into the air. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly as the solidness of the boat disappeared and my legs dangled in mid-air. The sound of the engine faded away until it was suddenly quiet.
"You gotta open your eyes, newbie, or you're gonna miss the whole point." Owen chuckled from next to me.
I sucked in a deep breath, waiting for my stomach to settle a little, before forcing my eyes open. The rest of the air was stolen from my lungs. "Jesus Christ." I whispered weakly. The boat was small dot of black beneath us, the blue of the ocean stretching forever.
"Breathe. Enjoy the view. We're perfectly safe up here." Owen reminded me.
"Easy for you to say." I muttered, and he chuckled in response. I pulled in another deep breath and let it out through pursed lips, repeating Owen's mantra in my head. Breathe, enjoy the view, we're safe. I tried to focus on what was around us, and when I looked away from the immense greenery of the island towards the great expanse of water, I was awestruck. The sunrise had painted the sky in brilliant shades of oranges, reds and pinks, with just a little bit of blue peeking through the clouds. Now I understood why he'd gotten me up so early, and as much as I hated to admit it, it was worth it.
"Wow." I finally said, which was the exact same word I'd used when he showed me the night sky from the stadium just a few nights before.
"Aren't you glad I talked you into this now?" Owen said smugly.
I realized I still had a death grip on his hand but couldn't seem to make myself let go. "It is pretty amazing." I admitted.
"How long have heights freaked you out?" He asked, looking at me curiously.
"Oh, since about forever. Roller coasters, planes, tall buildings...I dunno why because no one else in my family has that problem."
"Yeah, but you're like 500 feet in the air right now and you're fine." Owen said.
"Don't remind me how high...I've tricked myself into thinking it's not that bad." I said nervously, eyes flickering from the ocean below to Owen.
"Everybody's got something they're afraid of." He said easily.
His mouth stretched into a lopsided grin. "Of course not, it's me."
I rolled my eyes. "You're full of crap."
"Really?" He laughed. "Is that a nice thing to say to the guy who's letting you basically squeeze the life out of his hand?"
Heat crept up the back of my neck and I made to let go but he gripped my hand tighter. "I'm joking, Davenport. You can hold my hand if you want." He said with that mischievous glint in his blue eyes that I was slowly growing accustomed to seeing.
Despite the mild embarrassment I was feeling I found myself laughing under my breath. If I hadn't been sure before, than I was certain at that point that I had never met anyone like him before. He was a whole multitude of things all rolled into one and it somehow worked for him.
A gasp suddenly escaped my lips as we began to dip towards the ground and the fear I'd been trying so hard to control started to break through. I let out a shriek that was hard to hear over Owen's laughing. We slowly floated lower to the ocean until we skimmed the surface and the cold water was splashing over us. Then, we were back out, rising back into the air. I was drenched up to my waist, and was surprised by the nervous smile tugging at my mouth. It felt pretty exhilarating to suddenly realize I was having fun more than I was afraid. I tentatively glanced over at Owen to see him grinning at me and felt my smile growing. His eyes glowed, the same color as the deeper parts of the ocean beneath us, and I suddenly found myself thinking that I had been right. My life was already starting to change.