The park is packed with old men in high-waisted trunks, harried mothers chasing wee ones, and artificially tanned teenagers enjoying a last hurrah before school returns like a drunken sailor getting home at dawn. Water rides loom far overhead as far as the eye can see, behemoths that curve and twist into pretzel shapes, and spit out screaming riders at alternating intervals. Over the PA system Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” booms loud and proud as groups of people relax on beach towels and folding benches, reading books, sunning themselves, or eating late lunches.
At the park’s signature ride — the highest enclosed water slide on the premises — the line appears to be a quarter mile long, as excited riders grab their tubes and latch onto the end of the writhing queue. Somewhere near the middle of the line Kara stands impatiently with her single tube in hand, her face red in spots where she has forgotten to apply sunscreen. She keeps looking behind her as if something will appear if she turns around enough times. Nothing appears.
Ben is two spaces ahead of Kara in line. He also carries a single tube, and it is at first unclear if the two even know each other. Ben stands listless as he stares straight ahead. In front of him in line are two girls, probably 16 or 17 years old, the one blonde and the other brunette. When she’s not looking behind her, Kara is looking ahead, scowling at the two girls. The brunette wears a stylish swimsuit cover-up, but the blonde has on a barely there bikini that reveals more than half of her tanned posterior.
“Stare a little harder, Ben,” Kara says under her breath, punctuating the comment with a drawn out sigh.
From behind a short, squat girl, who also has red spots on her face, shows up carrying a double tube and breathing heavily. Kara doesn’t take her eye off the blonde as she acknowledges her friend by taking one of the tube’s handles. When the other girl spots Ben ahead of them in line she smiles, an ingrained reaction that quickly changes when she too notices the blonde.
“Ben,” she says in a low tone that fully exposes the depth of her feelings.
He barely turns his head to look at her and nods. It’s a gesture that could easily be missed if someone didn’t know any better.
“Ben,” she repeats, louder. “Don’t you want to ride with me?”
“I have my own tube,” he says, barely moving his lips.
“But we can ride together in this one,” she replies, the forceful hint pressed against her lips.
“You can ride with Kara,” he says, turning back around, the conversation over. But she won’t let it drop.
“You know why he won’t move back here,” she told Kara, nodding in the direction of the two girls ahead.
“That girl needs to put on some clothes,” Kara said, loud enough to be heard even at the end of the line.
The blonde in question turns around to stare at the two other girls, looking them over from head to toe and finding them wanting. She raises her pert nose to the air, her only response to their analysis, and then resumes her conversation with her friend as if they are the only two beings in the world. Ben continues to stare in their direction, seemingly oblivious to the charged atmosphere that has taken control of the slowly moving line.
“It’s our last ride,” the girl says. “Don’t you want to ride it with me?”
“No,” he replies without turning around.
“Why not?” she shoots back, her ire rising sharply in the humid air.
“You can ride with Kara,” he says, still staring ahead.
“She wants to ride by herself,” the girl says through gritted teeth.
Ben ignores her and shuffles forward. The brunette and the blonde are climbing into their tube in front of him, and their lithe movements are almost acrobatic as they slither in. His eyes are trained on the firm globes of the blonde girl’s rear, and his girlfriend’s eyes are trained on his, following the line from eyes to target. She lets out an expletive as she leans across the rail to let him know what she thinks.
“Ben, you’re an asshole,” she says to pretty much everyone in the water park. “We’re done after this.”
“Okay,” he says, climbing into his tube and following the blonde into the darkness.