"I can’t believe it’s been a month!" Kelly turned around to face Athena while they were going up an escalator at the mall. "You guys have been dating a month. Jake Brown and Athena Thompson. I still cannot believe I didn’t see this coming!" They stepped off the escalator. "I mean, I’ve noticed Jake throwing you vibes all along but I thought that was just the way he was. Who knew the guy was serious? And you-" Kelly pointed at Athena as they walked towards a shoe store. "You were such an ice princess. I saw you starting to get sweet with him but I still didn’t see it! What’s wrong with me?" Kelly groaned. Athena smiled patiently. "You had Josh to focus on. Which is why we’re here, remember? Forget about me and Jake for a while and direct all that energy into finding the perfect pair of shoes," Athena said. She placed her hands on her friend’s shoulders and directed Kelly towards a nearby rack stacked up with stiletto’s. Kelly grinned. Athena took a seat on one of the white ottomans. "You know you should be looking for a shoe as well, right?" Kelly looked at Athena while twirling a studded silver stiletto between her fingers. Athena waved a hand. "I’ve already laid out my outfit for tomorrow. Plus it’s a funeral, not a wedding. I don’t need new clothes," she said," she said. "Yeah, but what girl needs an excuse to go shopping for shoes?" Kelly shook her head and turned back to the rack of shoes.
Athena felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. Somehow Kelly heard it. "Uh-uh, no. We haven’t properly hung out in weeks and you’re only coming back Tuesday. No texting your boyfriend. No matter how irresistible he is," Kelly said while smiling playfully. Athena laughed. "Relax. There’s a reason why it’s on vibrate," she said but her fingers itched to check the message. She knew things were going too well between her and Jake. Over the past month, she couldn’t believe her luck and her ease. There was nothing awkward about being with Jake despite their history. When they were apart she started questioning things but all her insecurities vanished when he was near. The only time she had been even a bit uncomfortable was when she had met his friends at a party. Most of the time she forgot Jake was a social butterfly. He had many friends but at the same time he never really got that close to any of them. Everyone seemed to love him, though. She knew she didn’t really fit into his social group but he didn’t care and she told herself she shouldn’t either. There were a lot of things she had to re-learn about Jake, like the fact that he was still very into sports, but she later learned he still played basketball, just privately for a club in town, and he ran track. Learning about him again was something she never knew she missed doing.
"Listen, my aunt Beth’s coming over today," Kelly said, ripping Athena out of her daydream. She looked up.
"Aunt Beth? You mean the one with-"
"The triplets? Yup. And I know for a fact she’s gonna force those little devils on me. She does it every time she comes to visit. Back me up? Please," Kelly said. She gave Athena the puppy dog eyes. Athena laughed again. "Of course I will! But what about Josh?" Athena asked. Kelly walked towards a rack with animal print wedges. "Oh, he’ll be there too. There’s three of them, indeed! And one alone has the energy of five. Well, all except for Tanya, she’s a doll. She’s quiet and clever and just straight up adorable." Kelly looked at Athena. "Like you. You two should get along brilliantly," Kelly said.
Two pair of shoes and five shopping bags later, they pulled into the Alexander’s driveway. Kelly let out a giggle. "I guess they just can’t live without us," she said. Athena looked over at the Brown residence. A smile spread over her face. Jake was sponging up the bonnet of his car while Josh polished the windows off with newspaper. When they noticed the girls pull up, both of their heads simultaneously turned in that direction. Athena and Kelly laughed. They each gave a wave. Kelly gave a dramatic sigh. "But I must say, they both look good," she said. Athena raised an eyebrow. Josh had an athletic build but also did swimming so had a pair of nicely broad shoulders that was shown off in the black sweater he was wearing. Josh had piercing gray eyes that could be seen from where they were sitting in the car and short light brown hair. He was the typical and all around nice guy that she knew Kelly deserved to have. It was no surprise to Athena when Kelly immediately jumped out of the car and walked over to her boyfriend. Josh, of course, welcomed her home with open arms – literally.
Athena gave another giggle before opening her own door. When she stepped out Jake was strolling towards her in a white tank and a pair of black sweatpants. He enveloped her in his arms before she could even say anything. Athena laughed when he lifted her off her feet. His bare arms felt so warm around her. "Hey. Are you insane to wash your car now? It’s going to rain any second," she said after he set her down. Jake looked up as if he hadn’t noticed the thick gray clouds that had covered the sky for the whole morning and afternoon. He smiled back down at her, his arms still holding her around her waist. "Hey, I was bored and you were off with Kelly. What the hell were you guys doing for five hours?" He asked, not letting go of her. Athena looked away and pretended to think. She brought her hands together so that she could tick things off her fingers. "Well, we went for coffee to energize us while we waited for the stores to open then headed for every proper shoe store we could think of then looked around a few music stores then I went into the book store while Kelly got her nails done. After I thought, screw it and we both got a pedicure then-"
Jake’s lips were on hers before she could continue. He pulled back with a smile. "Let’s just say, we had fun," Athena said smiling. Jake laughed and released her. "Come on and help me rinse off the car," he said while walking back towards the car. Athena hesitantly followed. "Wait, you’re not gonna hose me, are you? I mean, I’ve still got my phone on me and I really don’t want to re-blow my hair and..." She saw Jake’s expression. "Well frankly, I just don’t want to get wet and I don’t trust you," she said. Jake laughed again. "You still don’t trust me?" He asked while picking up a bucket of water. Athena bared her teeth and grabbed her left arm with her right hand. She shook her head. "No. Not when it comes to water, no," she admitted. Jake raised the bucket then emptied it over the car. There was a smirk on his face when he put the bucket back down. Athena’s shoulders relaxed. She gasped when she felt cold water soak through her green jacket and white tank. It ran in thick quantities down her back to her jeans. She tensed instantly. Jake laughed. She turned around and saw Josh with a hose in his hands. Even Kelly was laughing. "Relax! I’ve got your phone," she said, raising her hand to show off the phone between her fingers.
Athena shook her arms to get rid of the water. She couldn’t help smiling when Jake hugged her. "I guess I should’ve seen that coming," she said. She looked at Kelly. "Do you mind? I’m not in the mood to drive or walk home like this," she said. Kelly gave a final laugh before nodding. "Yeah, come on. Let’s get you dried," she said. Athena wiggled out of Jake’s grip. "You guys know I’m gonna get you back for this, right?" She asked with a mischievous smile. Jake shrugged. "Hey, I’m innocent," he said but wasn’t very convincing. "Uh, huh. I’ll try to remember that," Athena said. Jake walked over to his car and opened the door. "Hey," he called before they left his driveway. Jake handed her a heavy black hoodie. "Put that on, it’s gonna rain any second." He smiled as he quoted her words. Athena’s smile softened when she felt the fabric between her fingers. "Thanks," she said and followed Kelly to her house. "Aw, that was so cute. You two are adorable together," Kelly said when they were walking up the stairs. Kelly handed Athena a pair of jeans and a gray t-shirt with Garfield printed on it when they got to her room. A honk from downstairs caught their attention. Kelly sighed. "And there goes my blissful Saturday afternoon." She looked at Athena. "You get dressed and we’ll wait for you in the backyard, okay," Kelly said. Athena nodded and Kelly left the room.
When Athena took her jacket and top off she realized Josh had hosed her lower back so her bra was still dry. After she had changed, she headed downstairs. Jessica and her sister, Beth, were sitting in the living room. Athena greeted them warmly then headed towards where she heard cheerful children’s laughter, the backyard. She smiled at the sight of the Kelly’s three little cousins running around. She looked around for Jake then realized he was the one chasing the kids. Athena could feel her grin widening at the sight. She had forgotten how playful Jake was, especially with kids. Josh was the first one to meet her in the backyard. Josh had a winning smile that seemed like it belonged to a boy band member, one he’s had since she met him two years ago. Athena had to smile but she made sure to narrow her eyes at him. He hugged her around her shoulders. "Sorry ‘bout earlier. I just couldn’t resist," he said. Athena looked up at him. "I’m sorry, who are you again?" She asked and shrugged his arm off her shoulders. Josh laughed. "Oh, so you’re gonna be like that now? That’s cool. You know you’re gonna forgive me as soon as I buy you a box of Astro’s," he said.
Athena raised an eyebrow him as they walked across the grass. She crossed her arms over her chest. I want the jumbo pack," she insisted. Josh mimicked her expression. "You and I both know you’ll take whatever amount of Astro’s you can get and it still forgive me. And why should I? Astro’s never last ten minutes with you no matter how big the pack is," he said. Athena laughed. "Fair." She raised a finger at him. "But you’re still gonna get me the jumbo pack if you want me to forget about my revenge," she threatened and tried to stay serious. "Fair," he said with his smile never fading. Athena smiled, satisfied then looked around the yard again. "Hey, where’s Kelly?" She asked. "She’s in the kitchen making tea for her mom and aunt," he said. Three little blonds ran past them, all giggling and made Athena jump back. She was just about to look up for Jake when he picked her up around her waist and ran a few steps. Athena squealed. Jake laughed and put her down. He didn’t even seem out of breath. He looked down at the hoodie around her. "You look good in that," he said then zipped it up higher for her. Athena rolled her eyes. "You’re kind of obligated to say that," she said, looking up at him. Jake pulled up his shoulders. "That doesn’t mean I don’t mean it." He put the hood over her hair. "Call it a peace offering," Jake said. He gave her a gentle smile.
Rain pounded on the roof of the tree house as Jake sat with Athena on the couch. They started watching an old movie after the triplets and their mother left but Athena had quickly fallen asleep with her head against his chest. She was exhausted from playing babysitter all day. Even though there were four of them, the triplets produced twice the energy they did and that made things difficult. Jake was slowly massaging Athena’s shoulder through his hoodie as he held her close. They had a thick gray blanket wrapped around them. Athena moaned quietly in her sleep then cuddled closer to him. Amusement vibrated in his chest. Jake looked down at the sleeping brunette in his arms. A wave of amazement washed over him when he saw her. Her face was half-hidden in his shirt and in her sleeping state she looked more vulnerable than she had ever allowed herself to be with him. She trusted him. The idea sent a flutter in his heart. He knew he was crazy about her. How it happened, he’d probably never figured out. Why she wanted to be with him was an even bigger mystery. He thought back to that afternoon when she stepped onto the lawn wearing his hoodie. That made it all real. He was hit with multiple emotions at once. Fear of losing her, grateful that she felt he was worthy of her, joy that she was his, regret for everything he had done to her...
Jake pressed his lips against her forehead and held them there. He could feel his heart reacting to her nearness. Every bit of his body was in a comfort and happiness he had never felt.
Athena moaned again. Jake pulled back a bit and looked at her. She slowly opened her eyes. They were kept low as they adjusted. She didn’t move for a few seconds then untangled herself from Jake. He made sure to keep his arm around her shoulders. He suddenly never wanted to let her go. Athena stretched. "How long have I been asleep?" She asked, her voice still a bit raspy from the sleep. Jake checked his phone. "Just a bit over an hour," he said. Athena pushed her hair back and tied it up with the band around her wrist. "Mm, I have to get going," she said. She was about to reach for her shoes when he pulled her back. "No," Jake more moaned then said. Athena let out a lazy laugh. She groaned. "Jake, my mom’s probably waiting for me," she said but didn’t protest when he put his arms around her. "One more hour. You’ll be home before nine," he said while pressing his cheek against her hair. "Come on, I don’t get to see you for two days after this." He breathed in the scent of the peachy shampoo she used. Athena laughed again. She pushed away a little and looked at him. "It’s just two days. You’ll survive. Why don’t you come and have dinner with my mom and me tonight," she suggested. Jake pushed a loose strand from her face. "I actually just want to spend a little more time alone with you," he admitted. Athena’s eyes softened. She held his gaze for a few seconds then gave in and lay back against his chest. "Okay," she breathed out, closing her eyes.
"Are you missing Jake yet?"
Athena looked over at her mother in the driver’s seat as they drove back to the guest house they were staying at. After a funeral of an uncle she had only met once in her life, Athena needed a break. The town they were staying at was quiet and rainy. The clouds hung dark but gentle above them. Athena found it soothing. She waited a few heartbeats before the question registered in her mind. Her mother had a gentle smile on her face. Athena found herself smiling back. "A little, yeah," she said. Emily looked back towards the road. "So everything’s still good between you two?" She asked. Athena looked out the window at the old houses they passed. "Not?" Emily asked after Athena grew quiet. Athena sighed. "Jake is great. Every day I find myself liking him more and more," Athena said. "But?" Emily asked. Athena lowered her eyes. "He hurt me once - badly. It took me so long to get myself together... I don’t want that to happen again," she said. Emily glanced over at her daughter. "I don’t want that to happen either. I hated seeing you like that, especially after hearing about your father... I’m sorry you had to go through all that, sweetie," Emily said and placed a hand on Athena’s. Athena swallowed hard and realized there was a lump in her throat. An ache was starting to form in her heart. She shook her head. "I had a nightmare the other day. I fell asleep while watching a movie with him... It was about what happened that day when you got the call and..." Athena shook her head and gave a shaky sigh. "I'm not sure if I'm over it yet."