Miss Me Not (Page 13)

All my energy from before drifted away and I slowly made it to my room, feeling dejected and depressed. I eyed my dresser where Jack was stored. I could numb everything again. Forget about her rejection and the hurt I felt. I took a step toward my dresser when I heard my cell phone ding again.

Sinking down on my bed, I scooped up my phone from my table and saw I had missed several texts from Dean. I scrolled through them until I got to the first one.

Hey do you have plans today? D

Are you there? D

I have an idea for today. You game? D

If I don't hear from you in the next few minutes I'm going to assume you're in. D

Okay time's up. I'll be at your house in thirty minutes. Wear comfortable shoes. D

What a goof. My depression magically lifted as I read through his messages. The idea of getting out of the house for the day seemed ideal.

K. I texted. I still sucked at the whole texting thing.

Sweet. I was afraid I'd show up and you'd be snoozing. D

Nope. I'm up. I answered, tossing my phone on my comforter so I could finish getting ready.

My phone dinged again as I was pulling on socks. Glancing down, I was confused over his message.

;) D

;)? I texted back, figuring it was a mistake.

Boy you're texting illiterate. It's a winky face. D

Flipping my phone to the side, I tried to make out his "winky" face.

Where's the nose? I texted.

Got eaten by shark attack. D

Nice. This looks more like a winky face to me ;o) I pointed out.

Well, you'll have to let the honchos over at Facebook know. They have a whole line of smiley emoticons missing their noses. D

That's despicable. And they call themselves a cutting-edge company. I texted, smiling. I could see myself getting used to the whole texting thing.

Funny. I'll be there in five minutes. D

K. I texted before stowing my phone in the oversized front pocket of my hoodie.

I was waiting on the front steps of our porch when he pulled into our driveway a few minutes later.

"Good, I was going to tell you to wear a jacket," he said, taking in my hoodie. "We'll be outside the majority of the day."

"Where are we going?" I asked, climbing into the front seat.

"One of my favorite places, baby," he said, putting the jeep in reverse.

"Seriously?" I asked, knowing exactly where we were headed.

"It's time to broaden your horizons," he grinned at me.

I returned his grin. Smiling still felt awkward, but I was slowly getting used to it. The hour-and-a-half drive passed quickly as we talked about the movies from the night before. I wound up coming clean about zoning out during the action movie, so he spent the majority of the drive going over the plot. I sat back with my head against the seat listening to him. His warm radio voice washed over me as he walked me through the entire plot in his typical animated way. He was a born commentator.

I actually began to feel butterflies in my stomach from the excitement as he pulled off the highway, following the signs leading us to our destination.

"Here, my ticket's in there," he said, handing me a worn leather wallet. "We get free parking with the preferred tickets my parents buy," he explained as I handed over his ticket while he pulled up to the parking booth.

"Would you like preferred parking?" the attendant asked.

"Sure," Dean said, handing over a five and waiting for his change.

"Turn your hazards on and follow the signs for the preferred parking," the attendant said, handing over a ticket. "Have a nice day."

"You too," Dean said, switching on his hazards as he followed the signs leading us to the preferred parking.

"I thought you just said you get free parking?" I questioned.

"We do, but you can pay the three dollar difference for preferred parking and get even closer."

Trying to act cool, I tried to control my gawking as he drove up the ramp leading into the parking garage. Signs from different movies designated the parking areas. Keeping his hazards on, Dean followed the parking attendants who were directing traffic into the Spider-Man section.

"Ready?" he asked, switching off his hazard lights and placing the parking slip on the dashboard.

"Absolutely," I said, opening my door.

We walked hand in hand, following the crowds of people as they boarded the escalator-style moving walkways. I tried to pull us in the direction of the nonmoving sidewalk that ran parallel with the moving walkway.

"Whoa," Dean said like I'd grown an extra head. "Trust me, you take the free ride when it's offered," he said pointedly, hopping onto the moving walkway. I shook my head and walked on the sidewalk beside him. I'd grown accustomed to walking.

Several moving walkways later, we entered City Walk, which was the hub connecting the two theme parks together, the original Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

The place was enormous. We stopped for a moment so I could take in the spectacle of it all. There was a giant two-story movie theater, a crazy-looking alien-themed miniature golf course and stores and restaurants everywhere. I could see Margaritaville, Bubba Gump's and The Hard Rock Orlando. Music blasted out of speakers, making it feel like we were in one big party."Come on," Dean laughed, dragging me along by the hand. "We're going to get you a hopper pass, so we'll be doing both parks, but first, we're going to hit Islands," Dean explained as we strolled along.

I nodded, overwhelmed by the crowds and jostling bodies as everyone hurried to their destinations. Two weeks ago, I would have freaked at the constant bumps and accidental touches as the large crowd bottlenecked near the entrance to Islands of Adventure.

Dean stepped up to the will-call booth and pulled out a credit card from his wallet.

"Hey, you don't have to buy my ticket," I protested, pulling out my small change purse.

"I didn't, although I would have. When my parents heard you'd never been to a theme park, they all but demanded I take you, claiming it was a travesty or something. It's their treat."

"What?" I asked, shocked at their generosity.

"They said to consider it an early birthday present."

"My birthday is in May," I squeaked out.

"Well then, consider it an early Christmas present, although I'm quite confident they'll get you something then too."

"That's ridiculous. They don't even know me."

"They do know you. They know you through me. Plus, they met you last night," he chastised me as we had our tickets and thumbs scanned to get in.

"But…" I said, letting my voice trail off as a noise as loud as a freight train rumbled through the space we had just entered. Awestruck, I looked up at the massive green track that looped over a small body of water. I watched in fascination as another roller-coaster car shot out of the chute like a cannon, barreling around the track. Its speed was exhilarating to watch.

"The Hulk?" I asked, not taking my eyes off the green monster in front of me.

"Yep, The Hulk," Dean crowed. "Ready?"

"Hell yeah," I said, letting him drag me toward the entrance.

The line inside was shorter than I expected and I could see them boarding passengers up ahead.

"It's kind of off-season right now, so the lines aren't that bad," Dean said, reading my mind. "During the summer, the line would be all the way outside," he added.

"Seriously?" I asked, thinking of the long trek through the maze of bars we had walked through to get here.

"Yeah, usually we buy the skip-the-lines passes during peak session. That way, you get on quicker."

"That's crazy. I bet people are stuck in line forever."

He laughed. "I once waited two hours to ride this," he said proudly.

"You're insane."

"We'll see what you say after you ride it," he said knowingly as we edged closer.

"How many?" a bored ride attendant asked.

"Two," Dean said.

"Row two," the attendant said, pointing us toward the big number "2" stenciled on the ground.

The ground beneath our feet rumbled as a new car pulled up to our holding corrals. Excitement hummed through me as we boarded the car and pulled our shoulder restraints down until they locked into place. I gripped the metal handrails on my shoulder restraints and looked over at Dean.

His excitement matched mine as he reached over and patted my knee. "You ready?" he asked as the car slowly pulled away from the loading platform.

"Hell ye…" I started to say as my words were ripped from me when our car took off like a jet. Our green Hulk car barreled down the tracks making my teeth knock together as we were flipped upside down in one of the big loops and then another shortly after that. Everyone was screaming, and the wind blew against my face. I had never felt so alive. Before I knew it, the ride was slowing down and we were back at the start.

"Holy crap balls, let's do it again," I said, climbing out of the vehicle with my legs shaking when the ride finally jerked to a stop.

"Ha, I knew you were an adrenaline junkie," Dean said, pulling me in for a quick hug.

I really tried not to tense. Seriously I did, but as soon as his arms encircled me, everything in me froze. He dropped his arms instantly.

"Shit, I'm sorry Mads," he said, looking contrite as he shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans.

"Because I'm some freak who totally turns into the ice queen any time I'm touched? It's not you, it's me. I shouldn't be allowed out in public," I said, stalking away in embarrassment.

Dean jogged up beside "Come on, freak, let's ride again," he teased in a soft voice. His eyes held mine, and the disgust I was so sure I would find wasn't there.

"We're like some after-school special, 'The Freak and the Jock,'" I finally said.

"Oh, I'm pretty sure I'd get top billing, so it'd be 'The Jock and the Freak,'" he quipped.

Yeah, it had Hollywood written all over it. If not Hollywood, then definitely some teenie-bopper, feel-good novel. Of course, both would have to write in a happily ever after since that wasn't in my life script. Live. That's the best I could do.

"Relax, it's almost like holding hands, but better," Dean murmured in my ear.

"Friends, remember?" I pointed out.

"Friends do this all the time," he reassured me.

"Right, I'm calling bullshit on that one," I said, allowing myself to relax slightly.

Our second round on The Hulk was as exciting as the first. I wanted to go again, but Dean convinced me the other rides in the park were good too. He was almost right. A half-a-dozen rides later, I was still convinced The Hulk was the best, but I had to admit, the other rides were pretty cool too.

"What do you think?" Dean asked as we finally sat down to eat after riding the dragon roller coaster in Harry Potter World.

"It's amazing," I admitted, taking a big drink of my butterbeer. "I guess I can see the whole 'theme park junkie' thing now."

"I can't believe you've never been to one," he said, taking a bite of his chicken.

"It's just not Donna's kind of thing," I said, swallowing my bite of food.

"What else isn't her thing?" he asked innocently, taking another bite of food.

Sighing, I debated answering. I could see his ploy. He was slowly unraveling my life like it was layers of an onion. "Holidays, movies, dinners at home. Basically anything that isn't church-related."

"Holidays?" he asked.

"Yeah. She doesn't do holidays. Well, holidays with me anyway. Christmas and my birthday are envelopes of cash. Thanksgiving, she spends at the church in their soup kitchen, which is a worthy cause, so who am I to bitch. Easter is spent at the church, and I think one of the families from church, but I'm not really sure," I said, taking a bite of my seasoned potatoes. "I've never asked," I admitted once I swallowed my bite of food.

"Doesn't she ever insist you go with her?" he asked, no longer eating.

"Not for a very long time," I answered. "Look, Sport-o, don't get your jockstrap in a bunch. Trust me, it really doesn't bug me. If I never step another foot in a church, I'd die a happy person. It's not my thing," I said, shrugging my shoulders as if I really didn't care.

"Yeah, but, she's your mom. It's her duty or whatever to include you in holidays and everything else in between. Do you at least get to spend the holidays with your dad?" he asked hopefully.

I shook my head. Suddenly, my own appetite was fleeing. "I haven't heard from him since he moved out. Look, can we talk about something else?" I asked as my stomach twisted in knots.

He looked like he wanted to say something else, but the look on my face stopped him. "Sure," he said as he resumed eating.

Our conversation was stilted after that, and I was pissed at myself for sharing so much. My family screamed dysfunctional, but actually laying it out for someone made it so much worse.

We hit Seuss Landing after lunch and some of the fun from before resurfaced as we rode the whimsical rides, including the carousel, which had appalled Dean to learn that it was my first ride on one. He insisted we needed to ride it three times to make up for lost time.

Dean surprised me by buying me a set of Incredible Hulk dog tags before we headed to the next park.

"To remind you of the day," he said, sliding them over my head, letting his hand linger on my neck for a moment.

His touch was intimate and confusing. The contact was enticing, and I yearned to rest my cheek against his knuckles at the same time that I fought the urge to shake it off, knowing the pain a man's touch could cause. My breath whistled out in shallow gasps. I struggled to remind myself that his touch was different. His eyes never strayed from mine.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he whispered softly, proving his point by running his hand down the length of my neck, over my narrow shoulder and down my arm in a soft caress, until eventually, he gently gripped my hand in his. "Trust me, okay?"

I nodded, unable to find the words. I wanted to trust him. I hated the demons that made me frightened by the touch of someone I was slowly beginning to feel something for.

I was still pondering my mixed up feelings when we made it to the other park.

"You're rocking those glasses," Dean teased as we sat down for Shrek's 4D Adventure.

"Right, nothing offsets these classy green spectacles like pale, pasty, washed-out skin," I said, poking fun at myself.