Dan was exhausted. He’d been at the water park since what felt like the crack of dawn. He had thought it a good idea to get back in his best friend Holly’s good books by taking her son Jordan out for the day. An accident with her Royal Albert teapot, given to her by her grandfather, that had led to her kitchen floor covered in white and rose coloured shards, had almost severed their friendship temporarily.
Dan had offered to buy a new teapot and take Jordan an an outing to give her some peace from being a single parent for a day. Holly had accepted eventually, especially after Jordan’s pleading had worn her down. Dan had been amused at the sight of Jordan running around
Holly’s lounge at top speed in his excitement. He loved spending time with Jordan and had fallen into being a surrogate father-figure. The cost of a new teapot and a day out seemed a good idea to placate Holly. But no return of good will had been worth this.
The thrill of the high speed water slides had initially kept him sane after the awful hour he’d had to get up. After all, who didn’t like a water slide park? Jordan was similarly thrilled to be there. His mother couldn’t afford the park normally, so this was a treat beyond his wildest dreams. Plus being with his favourite ‘uncle’ for the day and away from his mother’s protective nature was an added bonus.
They had gone on every slide several times. The queues were luckily fairly short due to the cool bout of weather that had suddenly hit a few days before. Most of the kids there were younger as well. Jordan, being just tall enough to go on the bigger slides, avoided the clutch of screaming youngsters on the smaller slides to go repeatedly on the several story high slides for older children.
It was now late morning and an icy blast of rain had moved over the waterpark. Most sensible people had moved under shelter or into the cafe to take a break, but Jordan was stubbornly refusing to leave the slides. After all he was already wet and hyped up from the adrenaline of the “Supa Snake” - the longest ride in the park which he had been on at least 5 times. The winding and twisting darkened water slide tunnel, complete with an enormous snake’s mouth at the entrance, gave some protection from the elements. So what did a bit of rain matter?
Dan groaned as Jordan ignored him and headed off to the Supa Snake again.
“Don’t you want a break? I’ll buy you a hot chocolate.”
Dan watched glumly as Jordan’s small stocky form started bouncing up the stairs, clutching the black mat in front of him that was almost as big as he was. A trail of wet footprints on the stairs blended into the light drizzle of raindrops. He reluctantly followed the footprints up the now familiar stairs.
“What about some hot chips? Or a hotdog? It’s almost lunchtime!” Dan was desperately pulling out the big guns early. Jordan could never usually resist a hot dog, since Holly never allowed them in the house.
“No thanks Dan! I’m not hungry!”
The voice was fainter as Jordan had neared the top of the flight of stairs.
Dan let out a few choice swear words under his breath, grabbed his own mat, and trudged up the stairs after him. He felt goosebumps rising on his arms and chest as a particularly icy blast swept down through the gaps in the railings. He shivered, pulling his mat close to his chest as an ineffective shield against the wind, wishing he’d at least worn a rash vest as well as his boardshorts .
His legs were aching as he reached the top. He’d lost count of how many stairs he’d climbed today but it was certainly the most exercise he’d had in months. His job as an editor of an on-line gaming magazine was mostly spent holed up in his apartment where he didn’t have to leave at all if he didn’t want. Exercise was a foreign word that he normally avoided.
Jordan was impatiently waiting next to the snake’s head entrance, bouncing up and down on his toes and waiting for Dan to arrive.
“Come on Dan, hurry up! I’ve been waiting ages for you!” Jordan’s soft little voice was still enthusiastically cheerful. He seemed immune to the frigid temperature, as he clambered hastily into position on the slide.
“Ok, ready to go then?”
Dan started at the voice and looked to his left, suddenly noticing the third figure at the top with them. It wasn’t the red headed teenager, who had been attending at the top of the slide for several hours, whose increasingly blue lips and chattering teeth belied the forced cheerfulness she attempted to portray over the last few visits they had made to the ride. Instead it was a slightly older man, rugged up in a bright blue hoodie, the kitsch Supa Snake emblem plastered over the front.
He was tall. Almost as tall as Dan, with long legs encased in tight black jeans, and dark brown hair swept up in a quiff. He had high cheekbones, slightly misted over glasses and a charming face that was sporting a small smile as he helped Jordan place his mat in the correct position to go down the slide.
“Ready, set, go!”
The man gave a small push to Jordan’s back as he set off. Shrieks of delight could be heard from the darkened tunnel in front of them.
The man was watching Dan, his eyes slightly squinted, as he pulled his glasses off and attempted to wipe them dry on his jumper.
“I don’t think that’s going to help somehow,” Dan said dryly as he placed his mat down on the slide entrance.
“I should have worn my contacts today,” the man muttered. The glasses were now drier but smeared. “I don’t think that’s any better,” he sighed as he placed the glasses back on his nose.
Dan crouched down and sat on the mat in front of him, stretching out his legs in front of him and holding tight to the edges. He glanced upwards, waiting for the signal to go, only to find eyes intently travelling down his body. With a start, those eyes were wrenched upwards to meet his, a small blush forming as the man realised he’d been caught checking him out.
Dan smirked, holding the gaze. “Can I have a push too then?”
The man snorted, a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes behind the glasses and turning the corners of his mouth upwards. He moved back behind Dan, placing a warm hand on the cold skin of Dan’s back.
“Certainly. Here you go then.”
He felt a hard shove on his back, which propelled him forward at a much faster speed than he would have managed himself. He screamed, his voice rising in pitch rapidly, as he hit the first corner at speed. As he hurtled around the twists and turns, screeching at the top of his lungs, he heard a burst of laughter echoing down the darkened tunnel after him.
Jordan was waiting for him at the bottom as he crashed into the pool at the end.
“Wow! That was so fast! You made a huuuuge splash. I want to go that fast!”
He set off up the stairs at a rapid walk, mat trailing behind him, trying his best not to run as the rules specified but with his small feet motoring up the stairs. This time Dan followed more eagerly.
The man was waiting at the top, a grin now on his face as he eyed Dan up and down, taking in his dripping dishevelled appearance.
“Was that enough of a push then?” he asked smoothly, turning to help Jordan onto the mat.
“Push harder this time please!” Jordan piped up, but Dan knew the sentence had been aimed at him.
“Ok then, here we go.”
A light push and Jordan was speeding down the slide, giggling and screaming at the top of his lungs.
Dan looked at the man who was now casually leaning against the platform wall, gesturing for him to take his place.
“Want me to push you again?” The tone was low, suggestive and definitely flirty.
“Maybe not so hard this time. I prefer a softer touch.”
The man gave a surprised laugh as the flirting was directed back at him.
“Maybe that can be arranged.”
The voice was now husky, his eyes boring into Dan’s. Dan smiled, showing the full force of his charm.
“I’ll look forward to it.”
This time as he took his place at the slide entrance the hand on his back lingered with a lighter touch, caressing for a brief moment up and down his spine. As Dan gasped softy, he felt a sudden change in the pressure from the warm touch and he was unceremoniously shoved hard into the tunnel.
“Oh my fucking god!”
This slide was even faster than the previous one. He screamed all the way down and hit the pool at the bottom with so much force that he inhaled some water and came up coughing and choking.
“Sorry!” He heard the faint yell from high above, but even at this distance he could tell the voice was laced with amusement and not apology.
Jordan had presumably raced up the stairs again as he was nowhere to be seen at the poolside. Dan strode up the stairs, attraction warring with exasperation as he strove for something to say to the cute but annoying attendant.
As he reached the top, Jordan was being helped on his way down the slide again.
“Dan, watch me go fast again!” Jordan’s soft voice could barely be heard above the rushing of the water
As the shrieks of laughter disappeared down the tunnel, the man turned around and fixed his gaze towards him.
“You...” Dan had no words.
“Sorry. I really shouldn’t have done that. It’s not safe, but you did deserve it.”
Dan spluttered, trying to think back over what he might have done to deserve being shoved down a waterslide.
“You know what I mean.”
Dan didn’t know what he meant, but wasn’t going to admit it in case he made even more of an idiot of himself than he already had by shrieking like a banshee down the slide.
“Anyway I am sorry.”
“Should I complain to the manager then?” Dan said, bemused at the now cooler tone of the man’s voice.
“I am the manager, but I guess I could reprimand myself.”
“ Well, fine. Consider yourself reprimanded.” Dan tried a small smile but there was only a professional mask settled on the man’s face as he waited for him to sit down at the slide entrance.
This time there was no hand at his back. Dan found himself missing the warm touch even though it had been brief before. He pushed himself down the slide at a sedate pace, wondering at the change in attitude. There had definitely been flirting initially. Had Dan gone too far, too fast? He wanted to find out why the coolness had suddenly appeared.
At the bottom, Jordan was waiting impatiently.
“Dan, can we get a hotdog now? I’m hungry.”
“How about a couple more slides then I’ll buy you a hotdog.”
As Jordan started pouting, Dan added hastily “And an icecream.”
“Ok.” Jordan was initially sounding reluctant, but his excitement for more slides plus the promise of two of his favourite foods soon won out and he walked rapidly over to the stairs again. Dan followed, wondering how he could resume the flirting without sounding too desperate. The guy was cute and nice with kids, and actually rather hot even despite the cringe-worthy Supa Snake hoodie.
Jordan had already started down the slide as Dan reached the top. The man was wiping his glasses again, ineffectually. Despite the cover over the top section of the platform, the rain was drifting in from the sides and dripping down the man’s face in tiny droplet rivulets that Dan suddenly wanted to trace with his fingertips.
“Hey,” he spoke softly. He fixed a winning smile to his face. “We’ll have to stop meeting like this.”
The man gave a non-descript noise and didn’t say anything, instead trying but failing to look professional as he tried not smile. Dan took this as encouragement, vowing to think up more conversation on the next walk up the stairs.
Several more slide trips followed. Each time Dan tried flirting and innuendo, and then when that didn’t work, friendly conversation. The man remained polite and chatted briefly each time, but the warmth from before remained elusive. Dan did however notice his eyes, which after careful study he had determined to be an intriguing mix of blue, green and yellow, to be watching him intently when he thought Dan wasn’t looking.
Jordan by this time, had been separated from Dan by a gaggle of children who had jumped in the queue between them, escaping from the warmth of the cafe to brave the cold for more thrills on the slides. Dan waited as he reached the top, watching as the man kindly settled each of the excitable children, clad in brightly coloured swim suits, into the slide.
As the last of the children sped down the slide, Dan moved slowly forwards. He let his gaze linger as the man paused to take him in. A shiver passed over him as yet another gust of frigid wind passed through the platform.
“You look freezing. Why don’t you take a break and get some lunch inside where it’s warm?”
The man’s tones were gentle, almost warm again.
Dan hesitated. It was now or never. Jordan’s patience only extended so far and even he had started to shiver the last time Dan had seen him at the poolside. He was likely to be dragged towards lunch at any minute.
He decided to take a chance. There had been something there before. If he didn’t make a move now he might regret it. Better to make an idiot of himself again than wonder later what might have been. Checking quickly behind him to make sure there were no children coming unannounced up the stairs, he moved forward until he was standing close in front of the tall figure.
“I was wondering whether you might have something to keep me warm?” He made his tone light but suggestive, the hand not holding the mat raising up to lightly run over the damp Supa Snake hoodie emblem.
There was a pause, as his words were considered. However Dan felt his heart sink as the man stepped carefully to the side.
“I’m sorry. Honestly, you’re really fit, and unfortunately just my type. But I can’t. You can’t.”
Although the words stung, Dan took some comfort from the regret he heard underlying the rejection.
“But why? I don’t understand. Before...”
“Yes I know.” He was interrupted before he could speak further. “You’re really cute and all. I couldn’t help myself when I first saw you. I don’t mind saying that you took my breath away.”
A grimace twisted the man’s face at the admission. Dan opened his mouth but before he could speak the man continued.
“I let it go too far though. I don’t condone cheating on any level.”
“What do you mean?” Dan was now totally confused.
The man sighed. “Your son is adorable. He must have a lovely mother at home.”
Dan’s mouth hung open in surprise, then he quickly gathered himself to rebut this erroneous impression.
“But he’s not my son!”
Dan was now starting to realise why the man had suddenly gone cold. After all, it would look to an outsider like they were father and son.
The glance returned to him was pitying and now cooler again.
“Look please. Don’t try and deny it. I heard him call you ‘dad’.”
“No he didn’t?!”
Dan couldn’t possibly conceive any way Jordan would have called him ‘dad’.
“Please stop it. I’m not an idiot. I’m not going to let myself be some dalliance on the side. I shouldn’t have been flirting in the first place. Neither should you. Your son and your wife deserve better. Now are you going down the slide?”
Dan remained where he was, thinking hard. He couldn’t understand how all this confusion had come about. He looked at the tall figure before him. Their eyes met and both held their own, Dan waiting for inspiration to strike about how to turn this situation around and the other man waiting for him to sit down at the slide.
Suddenly, a patter of small feet could be heard coming up the stairs. Dan was the first to look away, seeing Jordan’s dark wet head appear over the railing. He had the mat wrapped around his shoulders like a blanket.
“Please, please Uncle Dan, can we go get lunch? I’m freezing. And hungry. You promised me a hot dog hours ago. And icecream.” The little face turned up to him was now grumpy and tired. Jordan had finally reached his end point.
“Dan?” A low voice sounded beside him as the man moved towards them slowly.
“Yes?” Dan looked around.
A light was dawning on the face before him.
“Your name is Dan?”
“Yes?” Dan repeated.
“Oh.... I.... I thought he said ‘dad’. Before. I heard him talking to you.”
“He’s not my dad! He’s my Uncle Dan!” The small voice had turned indignant now. “I want a hot dog. Pleeeease!” Jordan started pulling at Dan’s hand, trying to get him to come down the slide.
“Ok, ok. We’ll go down right after I finish talking to....”
Dan turned his head, realising that he didn’t know the man’s name.
A hand was offered, part to shake in greeting and part as a peace offering presumably.
“Phil,” Dan repeated, managing to extract his hand from Jordan, taking the man’s hand in his and shaking it tentatively.
Phil’s grip was strong, his hand still warm despite having been standing in the cold for so long. He kept his hand connected with Dan’s a touch too long, seemingly unwilling to let him go now that the confusion had been cleared up.
Their eyes met and Dan looked into the myriad of colours. Phil’s eyes were concerned and apologetic.
“Dan, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have presumed. After all you could have been a single dad, or a cousin, or his brother or something.”
“It’s fine, I know how it must have looked.”
The pulling returned, wrenching Dan’s hand free. He turned and crouched down, looking at the now mutinous face in front of him.
“Jordan, how about you go down. I’ll join you as soon as I’ve finished talking to Phil. Then we’ll go get that hot dog and an icecream.”
“And a hot chocolate?” Jordan asked hopefully.
“Yes, and a hot chocolate.” Dan smiled at the now happy boy.
“Yay! See you at the bottom!”
Phil helped Jordan onto the mat and gave a small push once he was ready.
Screams of delight could be heard all the way to the bottom.
Dan turned himself to face Phil. He wasn’t sure where things stood now but this was his last chance to see if Phil was still interested in something. Anything. Dan would take what he could get, although he would prefer to get to know Phil properly.
“Listen Dan....” Phil still looked apologetic but a hint of hope had brightened his face.
They were suddenly interrupted by the other group of children clambering up the last of the stairs, yelling excitedly.
“Ok calm down. No running please. Stand in a line there and I’ll help you get started.”
Dan moved to the side as he waited for Phil to get the group down the slide. As the last of the children was sent down and the noise died away, Phil turned back to Dan. He looked like he was thinking of what to say.
Dan took pity on him. After all he couldn’t keep Jordan waiting any longer.
“Phil I know things got off to a bad start but I would really like to see you again. Do you...”
Clattering and distant yells were heard at the base of the slide as the group of children started to move up the stairs again.
Phil spoke rapidly, his hand reaching to grasp Dan’s shoulder.
“I get off at 3pm, if you want to meet me afterwards? I could take you and Jordan for a hot chocolate?”
Dan thought about that. The offer was tempting but he wasn’t sure he could stand another few hours at the water park.
“There’s a laser tag place next door if you don’t want to hang around here? You look even colder if that’s possible.”
Jordan loved laser tag as much as he did water slides.
“Ok, done. I’ll meet you out front? I’m sure I’ll still need warming up by then.” Dan chanced a grin which changed to a smirk as his shoulder was shoved lightly.
“Lame.” Phil laughed. “Come on then. Down the slide.”
Dan placed his mat on the slide entrance and sat down. He looked up at Phil, taking in the smiling face, still smeared glasses and the garish Supa Snake hoodie. His heart gave a sudden jump in his chest as he felt a light warm touch running over his spine again.
“Maybe after I drop Jordan home we could find some other ways to keep warm?” Dan suggested.
Phil’s smile turned into a smirk.
“Maybe,” he said lightly.
As Dan grinned back, the hand on his back stilled and he felt a sudden massive shove which sent him hurtling into the abyss of the snake-like tunnel.
“Oh my fucking god Phiiiiiil!”
All he heard was laughter from above as the darkness enclosed him and he sped down the depths of the tunnel.
After crashing into the pool harder than ever before, he staggered out, trying to shake the water from his eyes and ears. Jordan was waiting, still impatiently bouncing from toe to toe and the mat still wrapped around his shoulders.
“What took you so long!”
“Well. Phil was just giving me some ideas. How would you like to do some laser tag after lunch instead instead of staying at the water park?”
“Laser tag? Really? Awesome!” Jordan’s eyes were shining. “This is the best day ever! Let’s go!”
Jordan grabbed Dan’s arm again and started pulling him towards the cafe. As they dumped their mats back in the cage, Dan turned and took a last look upwards at the platform high above them. Phil had finished helping the other children down the slide and was leaning casually on the railing, watching them. He gave a small wave as he saw Dan looking up at him.
Dan waved back. The afternoon ahead was filled with promise. No more frigid water slides. Laser tag with Jordan which was a much better alternative. Then afterwards, meeting Phil again. He couldn’t help smiling to himself. Somewhere above he knew Phil was smiling also.
Wrenching his eyes away regretfully, he turned his attention back towards Jordan.
“Let’s go get that hotdog.”
“And icecream, and a hot chocolate!”
“Ok, ok.” Dan laughed and let himself be pulled in the direction of the cafe.