Chapter 4: Cracks
Half an hour later, Athena sat on her bed holding Mr. Peanut close to her chest. She was still upset, and all she could do was wait for her mother to come home. The silence in the house allowed her to think too much. She felt deeply guilty about what she had said to Jake, but she knew she wouldn't apologize, she was too proud. She sniffed and pressed her head against the fluff in her arms. Her tears had stopped but the pain was still too real. It was, like Jake had scratched a scab open and now she could feel the pain like it never left. She shook her head. She couldn't even call Kelly. No one would understand what she was going through because no one knew the truth. Not even her mother knew how she truly felt. Not that she could tell Emily. That wouldn't be fair to her. The gentle sound of the doorbell made Athena's head lift. She stared at the staircase as if she could see through it to the front door.
The doorbell chimed again ... and again ... and again. When it became consistent, she finally put the stuffed animal down and walked towards the stairs. The doorbell kept on ringing even as she reached the door. "Yeah, yeah, keep your panties on," she mumbled to herself. Athena unlocked the door and twisted the knob. The door had barely opened a crack when a foot was placed between the door and the frame. The first thing she saw was a large box of Astros. Her gaze slowly traveled up the navy blue sleeve that covered the arm that held out the Astros to broad shoulders, and finally Jake's dark and apologetic eyes. He stepped inside before she could even process what was going on. "Look, I'm really sorry about earlier. I get it. You're mad. You're pissed. You have no reason to forgive me for what I've put you through, and you don't want to talk about it. I understand that," he babbled. Athena looked at him with her hand still on the door handle. Jake waited, but when she didn't say something, he lifted his one hand that held a white gift bag. Athena looked at it. She couldn't fight a smile when she saw the cheerful face of Winnie the Pooh on the bag.
"What's that?" She asked, raising her eyes to Jake. He smiled a little. "This is your Band-Aid," he said and walked over to the living room. Athena watched as he placed the bag on the table. She looked at her hand, hesitated then closed the door. She followed him into the living room. Jake handed her the box of Astros. She took it with both hands, almost carefully. Jake held her gaze for a few seconds before he let go of the box. He seemed a bit worried. Although, with her slow responses, who wouldn't be? He lifted a finger, indicating that she'd wait, then jogged towards the stairs, taking them two by two. Athena felt like she was in a daze. Her reactions were delayed. She looked at the bag on the table. She stepped closer and peered inside. A surprised smile appeared on her face when she saw its contents. "Hey! No peeking." She looked up at Jake as he reached the bottom of the stairs. He had a light blue blanket over his shoulder and Mr. Peanut in his hand. He held the elephant out to her. "Jake-"
"No," he stopped her and pressed the stuffed animal into her hands. She held the Astros in one hand and Mr. Peanut in the other. "I've been a total arse and I hurt you, I know that. So let me just try to make it better," he said and gestured towards the couch. Athena felt a small smile tug at her lips. She sat down on the couch. Jake spread the blanket over her then turned towards the gift bag on the table and started packing it out. Athena kicked off her sneakers and brought her feet up on the couch, making herself comfortable as she watched him. Jake took out two packs of Jumpin' Jack popcorn, three DVDs, and a deck of UNO cards. Jake held out the three DVDs to her. "Pick one," he instructed. Athena held his steady gaze for a second before looking at the movies in his hands.
"Oh, my gosh," she said and sat up a little. Her eyes traveled over the covers of The Lion King 2, Lilo and Stitch, and The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl. "I haven't seen these in years," she said. "Uhm..." She placed a finger on The Lion King 2. Jake smirked and turned around. "Still got a soft spot for Timon and Pumbaa?" He asked as he turned on the TV. When the previews were playing, Jake grabbed the remote and dropped down in front of the couch she was sitting on. She smiled. "And welcome, my dear Piglet, to Jake Brown's intensive care program, guaranteed to cure any emotional pain or at least numb it," Jake said opening his arms to the setting and looking at the snacks on the table. Athena giggled, remembering.
Jake always brought Disney movies, his UNO cards, and those exact snacks to her house every time she was sick or sad. He always sat on the floor because it was closest to the snacks and she was always curled up with Mr. Peanut on the couch. There was something missing though. "You forgot the milkshakes, dumbass," she said. He snapped his fingers. "I knew there was something I forgot," he said and looked back at her. His eyes brightened. Jake got to his feet. "Will Emily mind if I invade your kitchen?" He asked. Athena watched him walk towards the kitchen, just glancing back at her as he did. "Mind? She'd encourage it," Athena said. Jake chuckled. He opened the freezer and took out the blueberry ice cream tub, then took some milk out of the fridge. He walked towards the blender and filled it almost halfway with ice cream, splashed milk over it. "Ice!" Athena called before he could start the blender. He looked at her. "Right," he said and walked towards the freezer again. A few minutes later, he handed Athena a tall glass that was filled with the contents of the blender. Athena grimaced a bit as she studied the light purple, bubbly concoction. It smelled divine though. Jake shrugged. "Same difference," he said and handed her a straw. He took his place in front of her and pressed play on the remote.
"And with that, I think I just won―again." Jake said with a smug smile. Athena dropped her cards on the floor, took the pillow off the couch and threw it at him. Jake caught it easily and laughed. Athena crossed her arms over her chest and huffed, smiling slightly. "You always win!" She whined. Jake started gathering the cards. "Hey, that's not true. You win ... every fifty games or so―oef!" Athena threw another pillow at him. This time it hit his head since he was focused on collecting the cards. She laughed. "Fine, be mean about it." Athena said. She got up off the floor. Jake laughed again. He put the pillow back on the couch. "One more game?" He asked, looking up at her. He was already shuffling the deck. Athena shook her head. She stretched. "What time is it?" She asked when she saw how dark it was outside the window. Jake checked his phone. "It's almost eight-thirty," he said. Athena's eyes widened a bit. "When's your mom getting home?" Jake asked. She looked at him. "I'm not sure. She usually comes home when I'm asleep," Athena said. Her eyes landed on the mess they had made.
An empty box of Astros lay on the mangled blanket on the couch, a bowl of kernels was on the coffee table along with two dirty glasses. The two empty packs of Jumpin' Jack lay on the floor beneath the coffee table. Jake packed the cards away and stood up. Athena placed the glasses in the bowl and walked over to the kitchen. She put the glasses in the sink, emptied the kernels into the bin, and placed the bowl in the sink as well. Jake walked in after her and tossed the rubbish in the bin. Athena leaned back against the sink. She looked towards the fridge, wondering if she should eat. "Do you think it would make sense to cook dinner when I'm probably gonna fall asleep within the next hour?" She asked and looked at Jake. He stood next to her and leaned back against the sink as well. He crossed his arms over his chest. "I can always eat," he said. Athena raised an eyebrow at him. "Isn't your mom going to be pissed that you let her eat dinner alone?" Athena asked. Jake shrugged. "Nah, I texted her that I was gonna be home late," he said. "And she was okay with that?" Athena asked. "Yeah, it was weird. Usually she gets upset but I think mentioning your name helped," he said with a smile. "How is she?" Athena asked. Jake shrugged. "The divorce was kind of the best thing that could've happened to her. She's healthier, happier, more focused on work ..." His eyes became distant. "She's handled things a lot better than I did."
Jake ran a hand through his hair. "She was so optimistic when I told her you were tutoring me ... She misses you," he said and looked at Athena. Athena dropped her eyes, embarrassed. "Yeah, I wanted to come visit but ..." She trailed off. She looked at Jake through her eyelashes. His eyes were on the ground as he nodded, indicating that he understood. He remained silent for a while then pushed himself off the sink. "I should probably get going," he said and turned to look at her. "Unless you want some company until your mom gets home," he said. Athena shook her head. "No, go home. I'll be fine," she said. He hesitated. "You're sure?" Jake asked. "Yes Jake, I'm used to it. You don't have to take care of me anymore, remember," she snapped. Jake's expression softened. Athena blew out a breath of air when she realized how unnecessary that was. He was being so nice but she couldn't find it in her to completely relax around him.
The atmosphere thickened again. "Right," Jake breathed out. She led him to the front door. Jake turned around again when he was on the front porch. Jake dropped his eyes then raised them to her again. "I'm sorry about this afternoon. I was upset and it was wrong of me to take my frustration out on you ... especially after everything," he said. Athena leaned onto the door frame, she dropped her eyes. "Uh ... yeah, I'm-" She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have said that to you. You were a great friend, I was just angry," she said without looking at him. "I really messed up, didn't I?" He asked after a few seconds. Athena looked at him. He looked so lost. She felt hurt twinge at her heart and dropped her eyes when she felt them sting again. She swallowed at the growing lump in her throat. "Yeah," she said, barely audible. Jake sighed. "I know ... I'm really sorry. I know how little that might mean to you, but ..." He bent down a little and peered into her face. Athena looked at him. "I promise I will make things up to you. I miss you. I want things the way they were, Piglet. I can't remember the last time I had as much fun as I did this afternoon. I miss having you around." His words caused another ache inside her.
Athena looked up from the book in her hands. Kelly was running towards her with a massive smile on her face. Her blond curls were flying all over the place. Kelly smashed into the locker next to Athena and smiled excitedly at her best friend. Athena closed the book. "What happened?" She asked. "Josh! He asked me out," Kelly said and did a little jump. Athena laughed at her friend's excitement. "Kells, that's great," she said. Kelly clapped her hands together. "I know! He's taking me out Saturday to some restaurant. I am so psyched!" Kelly suddenly pulled in a breath of much-needed air. Her eyes widened. She grabbed Athena's wrist. "We have to go shopping! Like, today! I need a new outfit for this date. Oh, my gosh, can you believe it?" Kelly asked and started bouncing again.
Athena chucked as she eyed her friend with curiosity. What had gotten into Kelly? She was used to getting her way with boys. What could possibly make Josh have such an effect on her? Josh was cute but he wasn't really the hottest guy she's ever dated, nor was he the most athletic, but he was funny and clever. Maybe Kelly was finally seeing the light. Looks aren't everything. "Today?" Athena gave her friend an apologetic look. "Kells, I have a chemistry test tomorrow. I need to study," she said. Kelly stopped bouncing. The smile dropped from her face. She shook her head. "Okay, that's fine. Tomorrow then," she said. Athena winced. "I'm tutoring Jake tomorrow," she said. "After," Kelly said. "All the best stores will be closed by then, Kells," Athena said. Kelly's shoulders slumped. "Thursday then," Kelly said. "You know we have a Math test Friday." Athena said.
Kelly groaned and stomped her feet. "This is so unfair! Friday is so far away and it gives me so little time." She sighed. "But I guess it'll have to do." Kelly brightened again. "Thneed, I'm so excited, for this it feels like I'm gonna burst," Kelly said and squeezed Athena's arm. Athena smiled. "There are two of my favorite girls. Athena looked over her shoulder at where the voice came from. Jake walked over to them, smiling. "Jake! It's a good thing you're here. You and Athena have a session tomorrow. How much do I have to beg for you to allow her to move it?" Kelly asked when Jake was close enough. Jake raised an eyebrow. "What's the occasion?" He asked. "She's got a date with Josh, Saturday, so we need to go shopping," Athena explained. Jake smirked.
"Lucky, dog." He shrugged. "I'm okay with it. When do you want to move it?" He asked, looking at Athena. "I guess Friday's the only day that will work," she said. Jake smiled. "You really wouldn't mind being stuck with me on a Friday afternoon?" He asked. Athena shrugged. "I've got nothing better to do," she said. Kelly's eyes darted suspiciously between the pair. "Is it just me, or does she not hate you as much as she did a few days ago?" Kelly asked. Athena rolled her eyes. "He bought me a box of Astros," she said, not wanting to go into detail. Kelly laughed. "Oh," she said, stretching out the 'o'. "Wait, that's what got you to crack the ice?" Jake asked. "Do you know how much time and money I could have saved if you had just told me a box of Astros was all it took," he joked. Athena couldn't fight a laugh. Jake smiled. "Look, I should get going. I'll see you guys later," Jake said and jogged off.
"What happened?" Kelly asked as soon as Jake was out of earshot. Athena turned back to her locker. She dialed the combination and opened it. "Long story," she said, shaking her head. Kelly shook her head. "It really was the chocolate, wasn't it?" Kelly asked. Athena smiled. "Yeah," she said. Kelly giggled. Her giggling halted with a sharp intake of her breath. "I don't like the look Tammy's giving us right now," Kelly said before Athena could ask. Athena looked across the hall in the direction Kelly was and noticed Tammy's sharp blue eyes glaring at them. Athena's eyebrows came together above her confused eyes. "What the heck is that about?" She asked, turning back to her friend. "I don't think she's comfortable with you talking to her boyfriend so much," Kelly said. "Why? I'm only his tutor," Athena said. Kelly shrugged. "You know how these cheerleaders get. She's probably just afraid someone else gets the wrong idea. I mean, it is a bit suspicious when you think about it from their view. You guys hang out after school at the library twice a week and suddenly Jake's all buddy-buddy with you, and he's going with you to your cousin's birthday party ... if Jake's told her about that," Kelly said. She tilted her head a bit. "Okay, she's gone," Kelly said, then looked back at her friend. "Plus, the guy's hot. I can understand why she could get jealous so easily," Kelly said. "She has no reason to be jealous or upset. It's not like we're doing anything she wouldn't approve of-"
"Except maybe going to a party together," Kelly said. Athena shook her head. "That is Jake's fault! The asshole blackmailed me," she lowered her voice at the last sentence. Kelly burst out laughing. "Ah, that guy is a genius," Kelly said, shaking her head. Athena's eyes widened. "Whose side are you on?" She asked with disbelief. Kelly smiled. "I'm not choosing sides. Although, if I were, I'd be on Jake's since he's playing smart and you're just being stubborn. He seems like an alright guy. I'm starting to understand why you guys were best friends," Kelly said. Athena rolled her eyes, wondering where Kelly left her brain cells. "Oh, come on! He's funny, he's fun, he's thoughtful, and he's already apologized more than once." Kelly said.
"Well, forgive me for being guarded. Pain does that to you." Athena said dryly. She shook her head. "Look, Jake and I might become friends again, we might, but even if we do, it's never, never going to be the same again. I'm never going to be able to trust him the way I used to. I'm always gonna have my guard up with him." Athena took a deep breath, remembering their conversation the day before and thinking about how nice it was to just feel like she did when her life seemed perfect. "A lot of times I wish what happened, didn't happen. I know my life would have been easier and less complicated if we were still friends but ... things happen for a reason, I suppose. I had to grow up sometime, and with Jake around, it was difficult. I felt too safe." Athena said, trying to convince herself more than Kelly. Kelly smiled encouragingly. "A break from Jake might have been a good thing when you were younger, but look at you now. I don't think you need a break anymore. Right now, you might need a little Jake in your life."
Okay, before I get to the comment replies, there's a poll at the bottom about your favorite character. The poll doesn't allow you to explain, so I'm not hinting for more comments. But I'd love to know the reasons behind your favorite characters if you do vote, so I have a better idea of how to use their personalities to the best extent.
Thank you, all my lovely readers.
*Kiki: Thank you. I think he grew up a teensie bit in this chapter.
*Mandy E: Hahaha! That made me laugh out loud. Thank you.
*Kome: Aaaw, that's so sweet! Thank you, love.
*BriBri: You guys have short breaks ... but ah, well. How'd you like?