Chapter 6 - Blooming
Jake smiled at himself in the mirror when Kelly finally thought she was finished with him. He was wearing dark jeans with a white t-shirt under a black blazer. Kelly had gelled his black hair in an upward style that he knew would remain that way all night, given the amount of gunk she sprayed on it. She had made him shower much longer than usual and made him wash his face―twice. It made him a bit uncomfortable knowing that she had timed how long he showered and how bossy she could get, but he had to admit, the end result was worth it. He looked good.
"You look so sexy!" Kelly called and placed her fingers over her lips. She did a little jump. "I have to get a picture of this," she said. "No!" Jake called out and hid his face from her phone just as a flash went off. "Whaaaat?" Kelly whined. Jake laughed. "I hate photos," he said. "Well, you're gonna take pictures with Thneed tonight, aren't you?" She asked. He wanted to say no but knew better of it. "Liz has a photo booth at her party, doesn't she?" He asked. Kelly laughed. "She always has!" She said. Kelly checked her phone. Jake glanced at himself again. Kelly had really done a good job. His mother walked into the room and smiled at him. She leaned into the door frame and admired her son. "Wow," she said. Jake smiled and walked over to her. He looked more like his dad than he did his mother.
Ruth Brown was not a tall woman but she could hardly be regarded as short. She had bright brown eyes and long black hair that she usually wore in a bun. She still looked young even at her age which was forty-seven. Currently, she was wearing a pair of faded jeans and a blue tank without shoes. Jake kissed his mother on her cheek. "I should probably get going," he said, cutting past her. She frowned. "I thought Athena was coming here," she said, seeming disappointed. "Yeah," Kelly said, equally confused. He turned to look at them. "Yeah, but I'm not comfortable with a girl picking me up. It just feels wrong. So I'm gonna go get her," he said. Kelly scoffed. "Does she know about this arrangement?" Kelly asked. Jake shrugged. He was already backing out of the hall to the living room. "I figure the less time she has to decide, the better my chances are. No way am I going to let a girl pick me up. It's degrading," he said and jogged to the living room. He grabbed his keys off the counter then turned around just as the two ladies entered the room. He thanked Kelly again and gave his mother a hug then was off.
The drive to the Thompson residence was quick since he was used to walking there. Jake felt a smile tug at his lips as he walked up the stoned pathway to their front door. He was looking forward to spending the night with Athena. Being around her brought back a good part of his life that he regretted losing. He reached the front door and knocked. The second the door at the Thompson residence opened for him, Jake knew he was in trouble―big trouble. If the sudden weakness he felt in his legs wasn't making it obvious enough, the acceleration of his heart was a slap in the face. Athena seemed surprised but smiled at him. "Hey," she said. Jake's poor brain could barely form a sentence as he stared at her. "What are you doing here? I was supposed to pick you up," she said. Jake was very aware that his jaw had dropped, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to lift it or find his voice. Athena raised her eyebrows. Her shoulders shook slightly as she laughed silently. "Jake."
Jake realized he was making a complete fool out of himself and needed some way to recover fast. He dropped his eyes to her feet. "Jake?"
Jake raised a finger at Athena. He still didn't look at her. "Shhhhh. Don't talk during the movie, Piglet," he said and slowly let his gaze travel from black, open-toed heels up long, smooth legs. Athena laughed. Her laughter caused a skip in his heartbeat. Jake could feel the hair lifting at the back of his neck. "Jake, you're making me uncomfortable," she said. He ignored her and let his eyes travel up the figure hugging, thin strapped and deeply flattering black dress that made a V at her bust―he tried not to let his gaze remain there for too long―up to her lightly made up and gentle face. Her hair was curled at the bottom and hung loose over her shoulders which framed her face beautifully. She laughed again and threw her keys at him. "Perv," she said and turned around. Jake felt his heart hammer against his chest. What was going on? Athena disappeared into the house. "You can come in if you'd like!" She called behind her. Jake stepped inside and played with her keys, not knowing what else to do. Athena was standing by the kitchen counter fiddling with something in her purse. He found himself staring again. A smile tugged at his lips.
"You look beautiful, Athena." He said almost breathlessly. She looked over her shoulder and graced him with a smile. "Thanks. You look pretty good yourself. I think Kelly should consider becoming a stylist," she said then turned her attention back to the purse. Footsteps on the stairs caused Jake's head to jerk in that direction. Emily trotted down wearing a blue, casual summer dress. She was studying a chain between her fingers. "Here you go," she said to her daughter. Emily looked up and saw Jake standing in their living room. She brightened. "Jake!" She said and handed her daughter the chain. Jake noticed Athena rolling her eyes as she took the chain from her mother's fingers. Emily didn't seem to notice since her attention was on Jake. As soon as the chain left her fingers, she was on her way to him. She hugged him tightly. "Oh, my goodness, you look great!" She said. Jake laughed and hugged her back. "Now, you two be good tonight," she said and winked at Jake when she stopped hugging him. Jake chuckled. Athena walked over to them and Emily gave her daughter a hug. "Try not to kill your cousin," she said. Athena smiled. "Is that an order?" She asked. Emily rolled her eyes and let go of Athena. "It's a desperate request. Now go, before you're late," she said and placed a hand behind each of their backs, ushering them out.
Athena glanced over at Jake from the passenger seat. He really did look good. After she got a good look, she lay back against the seat of his Volvo and stared up out of the window, watching the dark sky. After yet another long argument, she finally gave in and allowed Jake to drive, realizing that it would be a bit embarrassing if she got out of the driver's seat at an event where she was to be as lady-like possible―especially with her family. She wouldn't tell Jake, but she was grateful that he was going with now. She hoped Liz still had a massive crush on him so that she could just back off for the night. Plus, knowing she wasn't showing up alone made things easier for her. At least this way she knew there was something Liz wouldn't torment her about.
"Are you scared?" Jake asked suddenly. She looked at him, startled. Jake glanced at her then turned his attention back to the road. "What would I be scared of?" She asked. Jake shrugged. "You've always been a bit scared of Liz," he said. She scoffed. "If you haven't noticed, Jake, a lot has changed over the last three years." She shook her head and stared out of the window again, but this time she watched the lamps fling by. "I'm not afraid of anyone," she added quietly. Jake remained silent for a few seconds. "So, what's our game plan for tonight? How long are we staying?" He asked. Athena sighed. "If it were up to me, we wouldn't even be going, but usually I stay for about two hours, just so that my family knows I was there then make up some completely believable excuse, and bail." She said. "So, two hours ... I thought Liz threw awesome after parties," he said. Athena looked at him. A look of sarcasm was clear as day in her eyes. "You really think I stay for those?" She asked. Jake glanced over again and chuckled. "No, I figured you wouldn't..." She hated the way he ended that sentence. He made it sound like he had more to say. Athena groaned. "What?" She asked. Jake laughed. "Nothing," he said, smiling at the road.
"Jake, spit it out," Athena said. Jake shook his head a little. "I'm trying to picture you drunk," he said. He glanced at her and sent her a smile that made the corners of her lips tug upwards a bit. She looked away to hide it. "What are you like? Are you the sleepy kind of drunk? The loud kind? The quiet kind? Do you blurt out every secret you've ever had?" He asked. Athena rolled her eyes but a smile forced its way to her lips. "I don't get drunk. I can drink but I refuse to get drunk," she said. A thought suddenly struck her mind. The smile immediately dropped from her face. Her head jerked in Jake's direction. "You don't plan on drinking tonight, do you?" She asked. He looked at her with surprise then back at the road. Jake shrugged. "Not anymore," he mumbled. Athena laughed, letting out a breath of relief. "Good," she said and sat back again. She noticed Jake's smile. "I wouldn't embarrass you, Piglet." He said. Athena dropped her eyes. She wasn't sure what to make of that. Luckily, she didn't have to think about it too long because they pulled up in front of the venue for Liz's party.
Athena felt her jaw drop when she realized the guy in the suit that stood in front of the big, old, and beautiful building was the valet. She dropped back in her seat, feeling deflated. "Leave it to Liz," she breathed out as Jake spoke to the guy. She got out of the car before Jake could, mainly because she was already upset and needed the air, but also because she wasn't sure if Jake would have the decency to open the car door for her. Jake seemed to have read her thoughts. "You know, I would have opened the door for you. I didn't lose my manners," he said. The valet drove off with the car, leaving a gap between them. Athena stood there awkwardly until Jake offered his elbow. "Shall we?" He asked charmingly. Athena felt a smile tug at her lips. She took his arm and they walked up the steps to the hall together. When they reached the door, a man asked them for their invitation. Athena almost sighed and dug into her purse. Luckily, she had assumed Liz would do something like this.
"Wow," Jake said when they entered the hall. Athena wished he hadn't, but she would probably have said it herself if he didn't. They both looked up and around the hall. There were huge, crystal chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. The floor was made out of perfectly polished rose marble that Athena found incredibly pleasant to walk on. There was a main table set out on the stage that was on the opposite end of the hall and a black, thick carpet running down the center with round tables perfectly placed on each side of it, all with black tablecloth and silver plates with different shades of pink ostrich feathers in the center of each table. "How many people did she invite?" Jake asked as they made their way to their table. Athena almost rolled her eyes. "Everyone she could think of," she mumbled as her eyes swept across the room. There was one particular table she really didn't want to be near that night. It was where all of Liz's friends sat. All her perfectly polished and fully manicured, half-brained followers. They were yet another reason why Athena hated visiting Liz. Athena was grateful when she realized that their table was on the other side of the hall. Athena sighed. She felt Jake's arm tighten around her hand and looked up at him. He smiled encouragingly. "Hey, cheer up. If you could endure three weeks of tutoring me, then two hours at a party with Liz is nothing." He said with a wink. Athena felt herself smile a bit. She still felt her fingers tremble when she noticed one of Liz's followers give her a sneaky smile. "I cannot wait to get out of here," she murmured.
Athena's head spun in the direction the voice came. She felt her spirits lift instantly. "Gammy!" She said and immediately let go of Jake's arm to hug her grandmother. Miss Thompson was sitting on a table near the isle they were walking down. Athena could feel the warmth of her grandmother's love seep into her as she hugged her tightly. "Oh, my dear! I haven't seen you in so long." Her grandmother released her but held onto her hands. "You look beautiful," she said, playing with her granddaughter's fingers. Athena smiled. "Thank you. You look beautiful too," she said, smiling at her grandmother. Miss Thompson was dressed in a classic cream lady suit. She was a seventy-two-year-old lady with long white and brown hair that was currently twisted up in a stylish bun and held together by a silver rose-shaped hair clip. Miss Thompson's eyes traveled away from Athena. She smiled. "And who's this handsome young boy?" She asked. Athena looked over her shoulder at Jake. The one corner of Jake's lips tilted upwards into a half smirk. Athena rolled her eyes. "Don't tell me that's Jake Brown." Athena could hear the tease in her grandmother's voice. Jake stepped closer. "Hey, Miss Thompson," he said. Athena felt her grandmother release her hands and reach up to hug Jake. The old woman chuckled and held Jake for a few moments before letting go. Jake's smile was now full on. "How have you been? I haven't seen you in a long time. You've grown so much," Miss Thompson said. Jake chuckled. "Not much has really happened. My mother's fine and I'm fine. I'd really like to know what's been going on with you. Are you still badass in bowling?" He asked.
Athena raised her eyebrows. She had forgotten Jake and her grandmother were close. Jake was clearly planning on chatting to her grandmother for a while. She sighed quietly when she realized that if she didn't want to look foolish, she'd have to join them. Jake raised his eyes to hers, teasingly. He knew he was annoying her. Athena stuck her tongue out at him when she was sure her grandmother wasn't looking. Someone on stage announced that everyone should get seated. Athena shot Jake a smug smile. "I guess we should get going. I'll come talk to you later, Miss Thompson." Jake said. He kissed the old lady on her cheek, making Miss Thompson laugh and slap him playfully. "You've always been a little charmer. Go on. We'll catch up later," she said. Athena felt a smile tug at her lips. She had to admit there was something cute about a teenage guy interacting so playfully with her grandmother. Jake looked at her as they fell into step on their way to their table. "What?" He asked. Athena realized she had been smiling but couldn't hide it. She shook her head and looked to the ground. "Nothing," she said.
Athena felt like sawing her ears off by the time the fifth speech was completed. Jake sensed her tension throughout the long and incredibly flattering talks about Liz and her wonderful accomplishes, and tried making it more bearable by commenting on how it sounded like Liz wrote the speeches herself. When Liz finally made her entrance (along with confetti and dramatic music which caused Jake and Athena to burst out laughing by how ridiculous it was) things went from amusing to suicidal for Athena. After sitting through five speeches provided by Liz's parents and best friends, Liz stood up to make her speech. Liz was wearing an extremely beautiful pink dress that was made to catch someone's eye with a clinging, soft fabric, and low back. Athena wished she could call the dress skimpy but Liz had more style than that. "I don't think I can sit through much more of this," Athena whispered and looked at Jake.
With the lights dimmed and the intimacy of the way they were seated, she was beginning to feel a bit claustrophobic. He looked at her and blew out a breath of air. "Same here," he whispered back. Athena smiled a little. "I understand why you never stay too long. Is the whole night gonna be about just Liz?" He asked. Athena nodded and grimaced. Jake did the same. "I hope you've got a good excuse to get us out of here―soon," he said, then turned his attention to the stage as Liz began her speech. Athena looked at her beautifully tall cousin standing with a page in one hand and a mike in the other. She had already tuned out whatever Liz was about to say and tried not to slouch as her cousin produced a set of fake sobs followed by fake tears. Athena fought back an eye roll. This was torture! Athena felt a tap at her fingers on the table. She looked down and saw Jake holding out one end of a pair of black earplug earphones. Her mouth fell open slightly. She looked at Jake. He was still staring at the stage but she noticed the wire of an earphone hanging from his ear. She shoved him subtly. He smiled but didn't look at her in an attempt to not draw any attention.
"Where were you with this idea three speeches ago?!" She whispered as she took the earphone out of his fingers. "You're gonna have to lie against my shoulder if you want to hide it," he whispered as she twirled the earphone between her fingers. Athena almost pulled a face. "Either that or sit through Liz's speech," Jake said. Athena rolled her eyes then stuffed the earphone into her ear. She smiled as she moved her chair closer to him and rested her head on his shoulder. She could only imagine what this looked like, but she could deal with it later. If anyone asked, they patched things up and were friends again for the night. "I love this song," she whispered as she listened to 'My Other Gun'. Jake smirked. "I knew I couldn't go wrong with 'Ne-Yo'," he whispered back. Athena looked at him and smiled. She wanted to tell him he smelled nice, but feared that could set the wrong mood. Four songs later, Liz finally ended her speech and Athena was proud to know she had not heard a single word of it. Athena smiled and sat up straight as she clapped, letting the earphone fall out of her ear. She looked at Jake. He met her eye as she mouthed "thank you".
The MC announced that everyone was free to get some starters before they served the dinner in a half an hour. Athena stood up along with a few other people as the lights brightened again. She resisted the urge to stretch and looked at Jake. He stood up as well. "I'm gonna get a drink," Athena said. Jake smiled. "I'll go. That way I can get a quick chat with your grandmother," Jake said. Athena scoffed. "Well, that definitely won't be quick," she said as he passed her. "Meet me there then," Jake said, looking over his shoulder and smiling at her. "What do you want?" He asked. "Virgin mojito," Athena said. "Got it," Jake said then looked ahead again. Athena shook her head then looked across the hall. Her eyes landed on her grandmother a few tables away. She started walking in that direction. "Hey, 'cuz. Glad you could make it." Athena stopped dead in her tracks. She closed her eyes slowly to keep calm. Liz's voice always sounded too sweet and annoyingly sarcastic. Athena spun around. "Hey, Liz. Nice speech," Athena said, trying to sound convincing. Liz's smug smile made her wish she could punch it away. "Thanks. So, what do you think of my dress?" Liz asked, turning for the full effect. "It was specially made in Milan by a new upcoming designer. Took two whole months and cost half of daddy's paycheck." Liz looked Athena dead in the eye. "But, it was worth it, don't you think?"
"It is beautiful," Athena said, hoping if she played along Liz would get bored sooner. "Where'd you get yours?" Liz asked. Athena couldn't resist rolling her eyes. "At a little boutique in the mall," she said. "Really. It's ... cute," Liz said, smiling. "And did you see Enrique? Total dreamboat, isn't he?" Liz said and gestured towards the starters' table where a good-looking guy stood dressed in a black suit with golden blond hair and broad shoulders. He was in obvious good shape. "Boyfriend?" Athena asked and looked back at Liz. Liz giggled. "Yes. I'm a lucky girl. You wouldn't believe how many girls are after him. He's a model and a swimmer, you know," Liz said. "No, I did not know," Athena said, her tone almost dead as she turned back to Liz. "Where's your date? Or, did you come alone again?" Liz was obviously enjoying this. Before Athena could even say a word, Liz decided to hit another nail into the coffin. "I heard you and Alex broke up. That's so sad. What happened? Was it your huge thighs? Because, dear cousin, you have to start working out." Athena felt her anger rise. "Or, was it because he realized how boring you can be? I'm not trying to be mean, Athena. I'm doing you a favor because if I won't tell you, trust me, no one will. You need to start waking up and get out of your books, otherwise you'll never-"
"One virgin mojito, as my lady requested."
A glass came into Athena's vision and she realized Jake was holding it out to her. He kissed her on the cheek before she could even register what was happening. Athena tensed but took the glass from his hands. She looked at Jake with complete astonishment. What was he doing? Jake winked at her. He looked at Liz. "Hey, Liz. Happy birthday," Jake said. Athena's eyes shot to her cousin. Liz seemed to be mimicking the surprise Athena felt. Jake's arm slid around Athena's waist and she tensed again. A second later she realized what was going on and relaxed. "Remember me?" Jake asked after Liz didn't respond. "Jake Brown," he added. Athena had to bite hard on her lip to keep from laughing at Liz's stunned reaction. This was going better than she expected. "J-Jake Brown ... As in ... I thought you two weren't friends anymore," Liz said and straightened up, trying to redeem herself. Athena heard Jake smirk. His arm tightened around her waist. Athena felt her heart give a flutter. She found herself wanting to be closer to Jake at that moment. "We sorted things out," Jake said simply. Liz's gaze traveled towards Athena. "Wait ... are you guys..." Liz raised a finger and pointed at Jake then at Athena, and back. "A-are you two..." Liz trailed off. Jake chuckled. "What?" He asked. Athena dropped her head and bit harder on her lip. Jake was such a tease. He knew this was torture for Liz to ask. Liz sighed. "Are you two dating?" Liz asked finally.
Athena raised her eyes to her cousin. As seconds ticked by she realized Jake was staring down at her. She looked up at him. His eyes and calm smile told her he was leaving this up to her. She felt a smile spread over her lips. He was actually considering her. "Uh..." Athena felt the familiar warmth spread over her body again. It was a feeling that only surfaced when she was with Jake. Athena looked at Liz. "Yeah," she said simply. It was amazing how effortless it was to lie to Liz. It was something she and Jake often did when they were friends. When the one pretended, the other played along―perfectly, as if they had planned it. It was an art they perfected together due to years of friendship. Jake always knew what she was thinking and what she'd prefer in every situation. He understood her ... maybe that hadn't changed. Athena watched the color drain from Liz's face. "Don't look so surprised, cousin." Athena said, she could hear the laughter in her voice. Liz opened her mouth but her voice cracked before she could say anything. "Uhm, I'm gonna get a drink" Liz said. Athena nodded. "Sure ... Are you alright, Liz?" Athena asked innocently. Liz walked past them with a small nod as she did. Athena had to press her face into Jake's blazer to keep herself from bursting with laughter. Jake's arm moved up to her shoulders. She could feel his chest vibrating as he fought his own battle with laughter.
"Hey, let's go get some air," he said. Athena looked up at him and nodded. They walked towards a balcony door. As soon as the door closed behind them and they were out of sight from the party, Athena burst out laughing. She placed the glass on the rail of the balcony and sat down next to it. Athena looked at Jake. "Oh, my gosh! That was priceless!" Athena said and wiped at her eyes gently as tears started forming at them. Jake laughed as well. He stood in front of her. "You really don't like her, do you?" His tone was sarcastic. Athena shook her head and looked at the beautiful garden beneath them. "I love Liz. She's my cousin, I have to, but I don't like her that much, no." Athena said and looked back at Jake towering over her. His face was hidden in a shadow but she could tell he was smiling. She hit him playfully. "You know that better than anyone else!" She said. Jake chuckled again. He stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Feels like old times, doesn't it?" His question made Athena pause for a while. She sat there looking up at him but she felt no pressure to say the right thing. She dropped her eyes and shook her head. She reached for the glass and tipped it upward at her lips, so the cool liquid could flow into her mouth. After she swallowed, she looked back at Jake.
"Let's go. I'm hungry." She said, deciding to ignore his question. She turned when she got to the door, realizing that he wasn't following her. "Come on, my grandma's waiting," she said. Jake smirked then slowly walked towards her. Jake stood in front of her, too close for comfort. He reached out and pushed a strand of hair from her eyes, his fingers gently tracing a line down her face as he did so. Athena felt frozen as she stared up into his controlled eyes. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears. Was he going to kiss her? Jake slowly brought his face closer to hers. Athena closed her eyes and felt a chill run up her spine when his lips made contact with her forehead. "Liz is watching us." Her eyes shot open at his words. He backed away a bit and looked into her eyes. "I figured the show must go on." His voice was low and that made it hard for Athena to think. This is all an act for Liz, she reminded herself. She hated the disappointment that sunk in after she realized this. What did she care anyway? The pounding of her heart gave her the answer she didn't want. She forced a smile and pushed all thoughts of developing feelings for Jake to the back of her mind. "Right," Athena said, hating her breathlessness. She looked away and pushed the doors open. "Let's go back inside." She said. Athena walked in before Jake could reply.
*Kiki: Thanks. I did, yeah. Much-needed.
*Kome: Haha. I thought of your comment when I named the chapter.
*Vivienne: Thanks. Nice long(ish) chapter there. Sorry for the wait.