One of my favorite pastimes is dolphin watching at the zoo aquarium. Something about watching those majestic mammals swimming, frolicking, and playing with toys gives me such peace. I even bought a season pass so I wouldn't have to keep spending $35 every other day just to watch them.
In fact, I go so often that one of the dolphins--Luci--comes up and nudges the glass when she sees me.
When I arrived today, the dolphins were at lunch, so I took my normal spot on the wide, cement block benches. I took out my thesis, a red pen, and began reading.
Not even a full page in, I was distracted by a gentle clicking sound. I looked up to see Luci swimming in circles next to the glass. I set down my sheaf of papers and walked over, pressing my palm against it. Luci bumped her bottlenose against it, then swam off to breach the surface of the water above. She swims back to me, seemingly smiling, and I press my hand against the glass again. As is our custom, we repeated this process three times before she swims off to play with some rings.
"She really seems to like you."
I jumped at the unfamiliar male voice. I knew most of the employees of the Dolphin Exhibit, but they were all female. This stranger was new. I slowly turned toward the sound and sucked in a breath.
On the concrete steps that lead to the top of the dolphin pool, elbows on thighs and hands loosely dangling between two legs, sat a very attractive man. He was dressed as a zoo employee--forest green polo with the zoo's gold logo embroidered over the left corner, and khaki slacks--but I was certain I'd never seen him before. I definitely would have noticed.
I realized he was staring at me, an easy, half grin playing at his lips. I also realized I haven't spoken in an unbearably long time.
"Yeah, uh, it's a thing she's started doing whenever she sees me."
An amused eyebrow raised.
"So, you come here often?" he asked, his half smile breaking into a full grin. He stood to his full height, brushing off his pants, and descended the steps, crossing the concrete floor. He stopped two feet away, turning to watch the dolphins play.
He had a very nice profile.
"I could watch them swim all day," he said easily. "It's one of my favorite things to do. Although this view kinda sucks. Do you want to see them up close?"
He tilted his head slightly toward me, looking down from the corner of his eyes. Did I just hear him correctly?!
"Uh, is that allowed?!" I sputtered.
The man lowered his voice conspiratorially, causing me to lean closer in order to hear him. "I know a guy who could get you in."
I laughed, which caused his grin to return.
"I don't want to get you in trouble," I protested.
"Don't worry," he dragged out the word like he was asking my name.
"Blake," I offered.
"Don't worry Blake. If I do get into trouble, I'll plead my innocence and say you overpowered me and forced entrance into the employee only area."
I laughed again and he swept his arm in a gesture that I should precede him toward the concrete steps. When I hesitated, he raised an eyebrow. "I swear to you neither of us will get into trouble."
"It's not that," I started. "It's just that I was always told not to go with strangers. I don't even know your name."
This time he laughed, an easy, deep baritone noise that would stick in my mind for a long time.
"Matt," he said, extending his hand. I reached out to shake his proffered hand then went to gather my papers and shove them into my backpack. I slung it over one shoulder and, smiling a bit shyly, walked past him to ascend the stairs. Matt hooked the EMPLOYEES ONLY sign back across the expanse and joined me.
I gasped when I reached the top. He was right; the view from down below did suck. Up here, the aquarium looked like the ocean, if the ocean had concrete pathways along its sides and one bisecting the middle crosswise, and clear water.
The area seemed endless, though I knew that was just forced perception. In reality, the "ocean" was housed in an open-air building, half the size of a baseball stadium, tucked away at the rear outskirts of the zoo. What the public got to see was only a small portion.
Matt began pointing out the different areas when a familiar female voice interrupted.
My gut clenched and I turned to see another zoo employee approaching.
"Hey Cassidy," I greeted, forcing a smile. Cassidy was the first zoo employee to interact with me when she noticed my repeat appearances. We struck up a bit of a friendship in the months following. I don't know why I felt so guilty.
Cassidy looked between Matt and me, her smile unwavering. If she found the situation to be awkward, she never let on.
"Oh, I see you met Matt! Has he told you that he and his family-" Matt cleared his throat and Cassidy stopped talking at the look on his face. Half a beat later, she asked how my thesis was going.
"First draft is done," I said, shoving my hands into my pockets. Nervous habit. "Now I have to read, edit, reread, and re-edit. I started going through my first round of edits when Luci swam up and started talking to me. Then Matt barged in."
Matt threw his hands up, feigning indignation at the accusation. Cassidy's smile brightened further, if possible. "He's known for that!" We laughed and she added, "Enjoy your time. This is a special place."
I looked up at Matt and replied, "Yes, it is." The words fell at Cassidy's back.
"Would you like to pet one of them?"
Matt broke into another easy grin. "Of course. C'mon."
I set my backpack on a nearby shelf and followed him down to where a cooler was pushed against the wall. He flipped it open and pulled out a frozen mackerel. He knelt down to the water, waving the fish.
Ten seconds later, Luci's nose breached the surface of the water and then she was fully on the platform nearby. I gasped at how beautiful she was up close. I'd gotten as close to the glass as I could, but being close enough to touch her was incredible.
Afraid of moving too fast, I knelt slowly next to Matt. He took my hand and laid it on Luci's snout. "It feels like rubber," I whispered reverently, petting her nose and head like I would a dog.
Matt waved his hand and Luci scooted back into the water, flipping over onto her side. "How about a live-action high flipper?" he asked, smiling at me. "No glass to separate you."
I stared at him until it dawned on me what he and Luci were doing. I gave her a high five, er, flipper. She jumped out of the water and came back for two more--just like we would do against the glass.
I didn't realize I'd been crying until I felt a warm thumb brushing away my tears.
"I'm sorry; I'm just--"
"Don't apologize. It's a beautiful sight," Matt said, his voice soft and deep.
I stared up at him, his hand still gently touching my face. Though I'd just met him ten minutes ago, the electricity between us made me think Matt might try to kiss me.
As if reading my mind, he slowly shifted.
I gasped slightly and as his hand cupped my face, I noticed movement to my left. A split second later I saw the frozen fish still in Matt's hand, then found myself drenched in frigid saltwater and Matt had disappeared. I screamed in surprise just as Matt surfaced, treading water.
Luci poked her head out of the water and chattered, her mouth open. She appeared to be laughing.
"Luci!" Matt yelled in mock anger, splashing water at her. Luci skittered back with a high-pitched whine, then disappeared below the water's surface. Matt looked up at me, his easy smile still in place. "Blake, you're soaked!"
"Just a little," I laughed, standing. Matt hoisted himself onto the concrete and walked over to a cabinet, removing two towels.
"I'm sorry about that," he said, handing me a towel. I wrapped it around my shoulders, laughing.
"I can definitely say that it was a first."
Matt looked over at the water, ran a hand through his wet hair, then looked back at me.
"If this didn't ruin your image of me, may I take you out to dinner tonight?"
Matt laughed a full belly laugh. "Anywhere you'd like!"
About the Creator
Coffee gets me started; my toddler keeps me haggard.
I've always had a passion for writing but fear has stopped me from sharing my work with anyone. Vocal is my push to step out of my comfort zone.