They arrived at the water park and it was like a scene from a movie. For starters, the day had proved to be blisteringly hot, and once Zoey quietly confirmed that it wasn’t the fault of Atlas, and that he couldn’t even do that, she thought that she had never seen a place so beautiful. Doug agreed, and looked a little worn out from the sun too. Ferris jokingly told him not to wilt, and pushed him towards the entrance of the park. She heard Doug try not to laugh, and then hiss back at Ferris that he hoped he sank like a stone.
“If they don’t stop with the puns I’m dragging them both to the bottom myself.” Sullivan remarked, looking extra tired.
Tarian had reported that because of his darkness powers, he didn’t feel so great on really sunny days. On the other hand, Skyler was nearly vibrating with energy. His brother glared at him in response.
“Way to be inconspicuous, Skyler.” He reminded him, not so gently.
Catching up with Doug, Zoey was eager to get into the water somehow. Doug suggested the Lazy River and she agreed, thinking that fit him as it was such a passive activity. Lynda and Oscar raced past, nearly bowling her over, with Lynda cheering about going on every waterslide she could find. Oscar gave a loud cheer behind her in agreement, and they were gone.
“They’re like that at every park, even little community ones. She tries to chase the squirrels.” Ferris reported. Doug snorted in response to that, and Zoey wasn’t sure if she should take him seriously or not.
Zoey had to admit she was a little surprised to see the amount of scars the dragons all seemed to carry once she saw them in their swimsuits, but then she reminded herself they had been through a lot while under JARGON’s thumb. She had expected Doug to have scar from his top surgery, but those were nothing compared to what she was seeing. Perhaps the oddest thing was that Doug and Ferris each had a particularly intense scar in the exact same spot across their side, but she knew it would be impolite to ask about them. She hoped none of her human friend’s noticed this.
Zabrina and Dominic walked up then, hair already wet, as they had gotten there earlier than the other group.
“About time you guys showed up!” Zabrina chided, towel slung over her shoulder.
Dominic was eating a bowl of alarmingly green ice cream that Zoey was worried to comment on. She hoped it was lime flavored and not toxic waste. Their group had kind of broken up into smaller groups, and Zabrina asked if they wanted to go on the tallest waterslide at the park, The Knee-Splitter. Zoey had no idea what that name actually meant, but it sounded scary.
“Um, maybe later, if you survive it first. I told Doug I would take a trip on the Lazy River first.” Zoey replied, looking at a now-relieved Doug.
Zabrina shrugged, and Blythe appeared behind her, leaning in. “Lynda just took off in that direction, and I was going to head that way myself, come along with me.” She told Zabrina.
Dominic and Zabrina headed off with Blythe while Doug, Ferris, Rebecca and Zoey looked for the entrance to the Lazy River. Last seen, Dominic was shovelling the ice cream in faster in order to not have it when they arrived at the ride.
Floating along the Lazy River in an inner tube was the most picturesque thing Zoey could imagine. The sunlight was reflecting off the water, there were gardens planted along the walls of the river, and small waterfalls were placed along the sides at different points. The flowers in the garden covered the smell of chlorine and gave the distinct impression of being in another, more tropical place. Zoey only wished she had a fruit smoothie or some other summery drink in order to fit this image completely. Doug was only a few feet ahead of her, looking as happy as could be, feet dipped in the water, making her think of a plant putting its roots in water. She considered the validity of Ferris’ pun earlier and then told herself that was silly. She knew Ferris and Rebecca were floating somewhere behind them, and she thought to herself that this would be the perfect moment to kiss Doug. It was so pretty, and the day was so nice. Nothing was attacking them and their friends were happy and safe. She braced herself, ready to do it before she lost her nerve. Kicking her feet slightly she began to close the distance between the two of them.
“Hey, Doug-“ Zoey began, just as her tube flipped over and she was sent into the water. She came back up sputtering, making eye contact with a now alarmed Doug. She heard Ferris cackling beside her, and she turned to glare at him.
Ferris turned his sights towards Doug as Zoey struggled back into her inner tube, muttering obscenities at him.
Doug was eyeing his friend angrily, and told him threateningly, “Ferris, I swear, if you tip me over…”
Ferris ducked under the water and dashed forward. Doug frowned deeply, silently accepting his fate before his tube capsized. He came back up in a spray of water, reaching for Ferris but then leaving him to retrieve his inner tube as it began to float away. Ferris had already moved on to other projects, and had swum up to Rebecca, left completely unscathed from his inner tube rampage, and started talking to her, leaning against her tube but not enough to even jostle her. “Do you think I’d be allowed to do a cannonball into here?” He asked, ducking under the water like a fish.
“Ferris, that is the exact opposite of a lazy river.” Doug told him dryly when he resurfaced. “Besides, it’s only like, 4 feet deep here, you would hit the bottom.”
Ferris rolled his eyes, but Rebecca began pointing out how pretty the flowers were and he seemed to behave after this, returning to leaning on her tube and listening to her talk.
Zoey was almost afraid to ask where his inner tube was. She hoped no one would come across it and think someone had drowned, when it was just Ferris being slightly diabolical. The rest of the time passed relaxingly enough, even though they gave Ferris a suspicious glance every few minutes.
Afterwards, Zoey wanted to go on something more heart racing, and Doug agreed, despite looking a little wary of the idea. Ferris and Rebecca decided to go hang out by the wave pool, as Melanie and Ben had promised to be there. Ben was mostly there to make sure Melanie came up for air at regular intervals in order to avoid suspicion. Zoey promised to meet them there after a couple of water slides.
She and Doug walked around, trying to pick one of the slides that Doug was comfortable enough to try. There was a medium-height one that looked fairly unassuming, and just as she was about to suggest it, Lynda raced up, and grabbed Doug’s hand.
“Come on! There’s one that spins you around before you drop down into the pool!” She crowed, Oscar jogging up to them.
Doug let out a little squeak of fear, and Lynda’s tone changed to one of cajoling. “Come on, Doug, it’s going to be fine. I’ve been on it five times now, and I’m still alive!” She tried.
He dug his feet in a little bit, which was probably entirely unnecessary as she was the shortest person in their friend group. “Lynda please, you know that type of thing scares me.” He told her, glancing around nervously.
“Hey, you told me to encourage you to face your fears today!” She blurted.
He reddened immediately, and exchanged another nervous glance with Oscar. Oscar picked up on this rather obvious plea for help. “Lynda, I don’t think we were supposed to mention that.”He told her quietly. She clamped her mouth shut as if that would take back what she had already said.
“I mean… you said you would help me overcome MY fear of waterslides.” She tried, letting go of his hand.
Doug covered his face and let out a little strangled sound.
Lynda looked a little concerned at that, and Oscar told her quietly, “Okay, that was the weakest excuse you’ve ever had.” He scratched his head, hair trying desperately to re-static itself even though it was soaked. “You already said you had gone on it five times. We’ve been on most of them at least that many times.”
She clearly didn’t know what to say at this point, and even started to step away, as if she was going to just leave him there. Oscar was looking to the side as if he wanted to as well, but he obviously felt a little guiltier about doing so. Zoey sighed, and walked over to Doug, leaning closer to his covered face. “Doug, can you come out?” she asked, not sure what she was going to say, but also not wanting to go on the terrifying sounding waterslide that Lynda had described. He lowered his hands, and quietly stated that he didn’t want to go on that slide, shoulders slumped.
“I don’t want to either, to be honest. Can we go on this one instead?” She asked, pointing to the one she had meant to mention earlier. He gave her a strange look, and then glanced over to where she was pointing.
“Uh, sure. I think that one is fine, actually.” He told her, sounding only a little nervous. He had started to pull his towel up around his face and it was beginning to remind her of Sullivan and his capes, but she didn’t mention that.
“If you wanted to start on a smaller one that’s fine too” she offered.
He shook his head and replied, “That one is perfect. I’m a little nervous but it’s nothing I shouldn’t be able to handle. I can fly, I shouldn’t be scared of these things.” The towel came down to rest on his shoulders again, which was a good sign.
“Fears don’t have to make sense, that’s why they’re scary.” She replied, thinking about how that applied to herself. Maybe she needed to be a little bolder too. A voice in the back of her head told her she would regret it if she was though, squelching down her bubble of confidence. She started towards the steps to the slide, when Oscar appeared beside her.
“Oh hey, one question, do you scream on waterslides much?” He asked, looking a little shifty eyed.
Doug looked off to the side, and Zoey was confused about why that was important, but she replied honestly. “Not particularly. I guess if it was really scary? I try to avoid those for the most part, though.” She admitted, and gave Oscar a weird look as he started nodding.
He lowered his voice and spoke again. “I know this is a weird request but you should try not to scream, if you can. If he hears you scream it might set off the dragon part of the brain. I mean, it’s helpful if you need him really quickly, but like, if you’re just screaming cause of a slide, he could still dash after you like it was something serious.” He looked like he felt really awkward explaining it. “I’m sorry that’s a lot to ask, and to be honest it’s a really weird thing to ask but better to be safe than sorry.” He added. He didn’t wait for her to reply and backed away, giving a nervous little wave before heading off with Lynda.
Zoey looked at Doug. He looked as if he was going to say something, but he also looked ashamed, and she shook her head before he could start. “Let’s go get in line, there isn’t a huge amount of people waiting right now.” She suggested, walking over. He followed quietly, but with a small smile.
When it was their turn, it went off without a hitch, and he was only a little shaky afterward, mostly because the pressure was off, he assured her. They decided to go on a few more slides and even met up with Zabrina and Dominic. Everyone agreed they would head to the wave pool after they went on more slides and then have lunch.
Sullivan was as content as he could be on a day like today. He was slouched down by the wave pool on one of those reclining beach chairs, covered by an umbrella, with sunglasses and his cape on over his swim trunks. He had thought about wearing some sort of sun hat, but it didn’t go with the cape, so it was out. Either way, he was nicely protected from the sun, which made him happy, but he could still be close to his friends. He cracked open a fresh mystery novel and sighed almost happily. This would be a relaxing day.
He had made it a couple chapters through his book when Tarian returned from some sort of slide that Lynda demanded she go on. She had also snagged an ice cream at some point, and sat down on the chair beside his, happy as a clam. “How is your story?” she asked through bites of ice cream.
“It’s good, I don’t know who the villain is yet, though.” He replied, distracted by the book.
She laughed, finishing off the cone. “Alright, well I’m going to take a nap in the sun. Please wake me in like, twenty minutes I don’t want to get too much sun, even with all the sunscreen I put on.” She requested, putting her phone on the side table near them, alarm set. He gave a little nod, still absorbed in the book, and she smiled before lying down on the chair, towel spread out, light brown hair blowing softly in the breeze.
It was probably a chapter later that Sullivan noticed a group of three guys whispering between each other. He sighed, getting back to the magical book that the main character had just found hidden by a gravesite. The group started edging a little closer, but to his surprise they were actually ignoring him. He had assumed it was the cape. He often got looks for the cape, and regularly ignored them. They inched their way towards Tarian however, and he watched them suspiciously. Finally, he heard them daring each other to walk up and talk to her.
“Doesn’t look like she’s here with anyone, so go and talk to her! Maybe she’s looking for someone to hang out with.” One of them said to the middle guy. They took another step forward, and Sullivan spoke.
“She’s sleeping, don’t disturb her.” He told them in a distracted tone. His nose was still in his book, now that he understood what was going on.
One of the guys stifled a laugh, and the third turned his head as if he was surprised. “Listen, buddy. Maybe she wants to talk to us, you don’t know that she doesn’t” He told Sullivan. He sounded like he was trying to be cocky, but Sullivan could tell he was uncomfortable talking to him.
“I know she’s sleeping, and most people don’t want to talk to people when they are doing that.” Sullivan replied in the same bored tone. He had stopped reading his book.
“Buddy, I don’t expect you to understand, so just go back to your book. You’re starting to get on our nerves.” The first guy spoke up, exchanging glances with the others, who nodded their support.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” The second one chimed in, clearing his throat when Sullivan looked at him directly and avoiding eye contact.
The first one leaned forward to touch her foot to wake her up and Sullivan sat up, which made the guy pull back in surprise, but also grow more irritated. “Hey, you need to calm down, this doesn’t concern you!” He snapped, only growing angrier when Sullivan rolled his eyes.
“It wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t ‘my concern’ you’re just trying to bother her.” Sullivan told them seriously. This time, they rolled their eyes and he continued to look unimpressed. The second one took a step towards Sullivan threateningly, and Sullivan sighed. “I just wanted a relaxing day to read.” He muttered to himself. That was when the alarm went off on Tarian’s phone, sitting unassumingly on the table. He turned immediately to the phone and turned off the alarm, and then spoke to her, saying, “Tarian, your alarm went off, time to wake up.”
The group continued to look confused as she sat up, blinking the sleep from her eyes, stretching, and then noticing the small audience she had gathered. She stared at them as if she couldn’t figure out what was going on, but Sullivan had gone back to his book, after all, they couldn’t wake her up if she was already awake, and if she needed him he was right here. She decided not to say anything to the group, but told him, “Yeah I think I’ve gotten enough sun right now.” And stood up, only to join Sullivan in the shaded chair, curling up beside him, flipping one part of his cape over her, and settling in on his shoulder to fall asleep again.
The group was gobsmacked, and their agitation had not abided. “Wait, what’s going on? This doesn’t make sense!” The third one exclaimed, the others joining in with affirmations. The first one grabbed the arm of a guy approaching the commotion, looking for validation. “You agree with us, right? A girl like her should not be with someone like…him! I mean, he’s wearing a cape! At a water park!” He yelled, pleadingly to the confused bystander.
“You mean my brother?” Skyler asked, pulling his arm gently from the third man’s grasp. They all paled, and did a double take between the two of them. “Hey, Sullivan. Making friends?” Skyler asked, turning his head to the side.
“I honestly just wanted to read my book.” Sullivan grumbled, trying to bury himself back into the pages.
“No wonder you get along well with Ferris, you both seem to find trouble” Skyler told him, sighing. He continued, “Or rather, trouble finds you.” He looked at the group as it nervously started to disperse.
Misae walked up with a snow cone, Melanie, Ferris, Rebecca and Ben trailing close behind them. “Sullivan what’s going on?” They asked, and then clutched their temple from brain freeze.
Zoey, Zabrina, Dominic and Doug approached from the other side, all sporting puzzled looks. Now that the crowd growing was comically large, Sullivan pressed his face further into his book, as if trying to ignore them all.
Skyler dispersed those who he knew, and the three groupies left by their own free will, feeling confused and irritated by the whole event.
Zoey joined Ben and Melanie in the wave pool, secretly wanting to see how good they both were at swimming but not wanting to seem like a fan. Melanie ended up bobbing around Zoey as she treaded water, coming up for air and to chatter about an essay she was writing for a class, diving under the water at different points only to resurface and continue from where she left off. One of the times she came back up, about three different topics later, she started telling Zoey about a gemstone she had found recently. It was just the three of them around, so Melanie must have figured it was safe. She said that it was similar to the color of Zoey’s swimsuit, but that it also had flecks of another stone imbedded in it. Zoey listened carefully, thinking that sounded really pretty.
“Hey, would I be able to see that sometime, it sounds really nice.” She knew Doug and the other dragons had a hoard, but they didn’t really talk about them much. She wasn’t trying to be materialistic, but she thought that sounded really neat.
Melanie gave her a confused look, and then swam a little closer to Zoey. “You know you can’t do that, right?” she asked, as if checking to see if it was a joke, but not understanding the joke at the same time. Ben was also giving Zoey a confused look, and she returned one, hoping someone would explain. She hadn’t meant to say something inappropriate, but maybe she didn’t know enough about her dragony friends yet to assume anything.
“She would literally attack you if you got close enough… any of them would, they wouldn’t have any choice over the matter.” Ben reported in a dry tone. “The only people excused from that would be family members or someone you love. For instance, I could like lay on top of anything Melanie had, but if Brinly entered the room, she would get attacked. I think it has to do with some dragon – community resource sharing thing, but that the dragons only really form communities between their family members or chosen family. If you’re at anyone’s house and there’s blue painter’s tape on the door, that’s the warning sign to not go in that room.” He seemed pleased with his explanation, but Zoey was a little taken aback, because she had most definitely been in the same room with Doug’s hoard, even before they had started dating. She felt her face grow hot, and Melanie looked concerned.
“Zoey? Are you okay? It’s okay that you didn’t know, nothing happened, just avoid the rooms with the blue tape on them and you’ll be fine.” She tried, glancing at Ben, looking for support.
He nodded his head before continuing, “We would have told you earlier if we had known you didn’t know that. Most of us just do it automatically, so we don’t think of it.” He had begun to slink deeper into the water, as if he wanted to get back to swimming and out of this awkward conversation.
“Ah…” Zoey was trying to find the words, but didn’t want to embarrass herself even more. She saw out of the corner of her eye that Doug was swimming over, and she figured this could be his problem to deal with. “Nothing, I’m just going to go talk to Rebecca and Zabrina.” She announced, swimming swiftly away. Doug looked confused, and she was glad Zabrina and Rebecca were together because nobody could talk about dragon-y stuff around Zabrina. Ferris had said that Doug had had a crush on her for awhile, but she didn’t realize how intense that crush might have been. It was making her nervous because, although they were dating now, she didn’t want him to have a built up perception of who she was. She knew she had to talk about this with him, because she was jumping head first into that fear and not actually seeing if it was true, but she needed a moment to collect her thoughts. Luckily, Zabrina and Rebecca both bought the story she came up with about almost losing her bathing suit top in order to explain the redness of her face. Zabrina made sure to thoroughly check over her friend’s suit, so this calamity did not happen again. Zoey glanced over at Doug a few minutes later to find Melanie swimming away from him, looking guilty, and Ferris trying to calm him down, but also trying not to laugh.
“Do you know what’s going on over there?” Rebecca asked, also looking over at Ferris at this point.
Something clicked in Zoey’s mind as she remembered Rebecca might be a valuable resource in this awkward moment. At least, she was worth talking to, as neither of them would laugh at her for not noticing Doug was interested in her. Apparently quite a bit. She turned to Rebecca with new confidence, and only a slightly rigid smile. “I have a question for you, Rebecca,” She started, distracting the girl from whatever was going on over there. “How bad was Doug’s crush on me? Ferris told me it started a long time ago, but I didn’t think it was all that serious… until recently.”
“Oh, well he’s always been a romantic so it was a pretty deep crush. It all worked out in the end though.” Rebecca told her, as if relieved by this question. It did little to solve Zoey’s worry, but she needed to finish this conversation before they left for the day. She couldn’t stop now.
“I always thought he might have had a crush on her, but you guys seemed to keep to your own group of friends so I didn’t pay much attention to it.” Zabrina admitted, giving Zoey a skeptical look. “Why do you look so nervous?”
“Well, I didn’t realize he was possibly already super invested into this? What if he’s built up this perception of me in his head that I’m not actually like?” Zoey confessed, swinging her hands through the water, trying not to let the waves push her away from her trio. She didn’t want to end up screaming this conversation across the pool.
Rebecca processed this, and then swam closer to Zoey. “As someone who knows Doug really well, I think he’s too grounded to do that, in all honesty. He doesn’t fall for the ideas of people, he falls for the people themselves, even in a platonic sense. He genuinely likes learning about people, and figuring out their interests. He might not say a lot about it, because he is kind of quiet, but he’s always absorbing things. You should still talk to him, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” She told her, before swimming away. Zabrina gave her a small push in his direction before a lifeguard warned them about roughhousing.
Zoey met Doug’s eyes from across the pool, and gave him a little nod, trying again to be understanding. He nodded back, and she felt like even if he was a bit of a romantic, that they had been growing closer in a natural way, considering they had just started dating. She figured having a conversation with him about that wouldn’t be difficult, as he wasn’t a difficult person to deal with.
After the first double date went so well, seeing as how it had been crashed by someone wanting to re-kidnap Rebecca and fight everyone else, Doug, Ferris, Rebecca and Zoey decided to have a do-over. They tried a different approach this time, although not knowing how he managed to figure out they were going to be there, they chose to go for a hike instead.
“Water? Food? Map? Extra socks? Sweater? Sunscreen?” Zoey went through a mental checklist out loud for Doug to respond to. With every question, he gave a solid nod, peering into the book bags they had. She felt well prepared, and was just feeling mildly concerned about Rebecca. It wasn’t as if they had picked an overly difficult trail to hike, but she had been kidnapped for so long, and as a result she wasn’t quite back up to her full strength yet. Rebecca insisted upon the trip however, as she was looking forward to taking photos of the wildlife and plants they came across. She was ready to be back in a world where she was able to go outside, and wanted to savor every moment of it. Zoey couldn’t blame her for that, and secretly told herself to request extra breaks if she thought Rebecca needed them.
“I don’t understand why we’re climbing a hill when we could just fly up it.” Ferris grumbled, slinging his book bag over his shoulder. Rebecca was still rooting around in hers, making sure everything was there.
“That would be cheating, Ferris.” Zoey chastised.
“What do you mean, cheating? We aren’t competing.” He replied, looking genuinely confused.
“I mean cheating ourselves. We’re going to do this legitimately with our own abilities.” She told him, trying to put a little vigor in her voice in hopes that he would get a little more excited about being there. He gave her a long look.
“I’ll go for the hike, but I want to remind you that flying would be using my actual abilities.” He finished gruffly, stalking over to where Rebecca was checking the battery life of her camera.
“I wonder what we’re going to see!” She exclaimed, looking around. “Doug, you have to tell me if there is some rare plant around here. I promise I won’t disturb it, I just want a picture.”
“I can certainly do that. I’m so glad to be hiking with a group of people, I usually have to go by myself.” Doug admitted, smiling. With that, Ferris rolled his eyes but stopped complaining, and they set out on their hike. Doug pointed out a few different plants to Rebecca, and she took multiple pictures of each, trying to get the best angle. She even got a picture of a squirrel near one, and a raccoon by a puddle of water. He raced off, and she wasn’t sure how the picture was going to look when she got it printed, but she said she loved it just the same.
Ferris smiled slightly whenever she got excited about these things, and Zoey guessed he was glad he had decided to come along.
Meanwhile, Zoey was mulling something over, wondering if she was going to be able to pull it off. The weather today was great, and they were all having fun, and so she was wondering if she could make the right moment now. Ferris was far enough away that he wouldn’t cause trouble enough for her, intentionally or not. He was busy showing Rebecca a tiny waterfall, and Doug had paused to touch a little wilted flower, giving it a little more life. It was now or- well probably not never, she would probably have an opportunity again but that wasn’t the point.
“H-hey Doug? Can we step over here for a second?” she asked, trying to keep her heart rate down but not thinking that was anything she could control via internal command.
He nodded and walked over a few feet, not looking like he suspected anything, but looking around as if he wondered why they were over here.
She noticed the patch of clover around their feet, and asked him, “Did you know this clover is the same color as your eyes?”
He seemed confused by this question, but also a bit flattered. “No, I didn’t actually. I don’t give my eyes much thought.”
She picked one of the clovers and held it up to the side of his face, as if comparing the colors. Then, she lightly touched his jaw line and brought his face to hers, kissing him softly. When she pulled away, he was blushing, and she managed to say, “Yeah, the exact same color, actually.” He smiled widely at her, and then leaned forward to touch his forehead to hers. Then they heard Ferris calling them to come look at a rock that looked like a tortoise.
“We’d better go look at that…” she told him, pulling back reluctantly, and he nodded.
“What I’m wondering is why he sounds more excited about that than any of the other things we’ve seen today” he remarked, and then added, “It must really look like a tortoise or something. Sometimes I wish he was less into rocks.”
When they caught up to Ferris, they saw that the rock did indeed look like a tortoise… after Ferris pointed out every aspect. He seemed to be surprised they couldn’t see it without his help.
Rebecca was looking a little puzzled herself, but took a photo of the rock at the angle she hoped would make it look like a tortoise the most. Only then were they able to continue their hike.
The next beautiful thing they saw was a little faerie ring off to the side of the path. Rebecca took a picture of this to give to Brinly, mentioning she might frame it first and give it to her as a gift. It really was pretty, with sunlight casting down upon it in a way that couldn’t be imitated artificially. As they hiked, Zoey was happy that with every step, Karver never seemed to show himself.