Neither of them spoke as they sat under the tree. The silence seemed to speak for itself. Athena relaxed into Jake’s arms. His one hand was slowly moving up and down her arm, sending chills through her body at each stroke. She was sure he could feel the goose flesh that sprung up from under her thin sweater. She felt the urge to say something. "So... where did that come from?" She asked. Amusement made his chest vibrate. She raised her eyes to him. His charming smile was back on but somehow gentler now. Jake pushed a strand of her hair out of her face with his free hand. "It just felt right," he said. A shadow passed over his eyes. "Unless..." his grip loosened around her shoulders. "Athena, if I made you uncomfortable I... I’ve been losing my mind over you since that day you fixed me up in the hall. I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I thought it was because I wanted our friendship back but... If you don’t feel the same I’ll understand," he said. Athena couldn’t believe her ears. She felt a smile tug at her lips. "Would I really still be sitting here if I didn’t?" Her rhetorical answer caused Jake’s features to relax. He brushed his lips against hers. "So," he murmured against her lips. "What are you doing tonight?"
"Mom, I’m heading out," Jake said, grabbing the keys off the kitchen table. He headed towards the front door but his mother was already waiting there for him. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she had a stern look on her face. Jake hated that look. He was in for it. He hadn’t seen that look for a while. The last time she had it was when she lectured him about his drinking. Ever since he started hanging out with Athena again, the need to drink had disappeared. It was only that one night when he heard about his father that he felt he needed something to ease his mind, even then he wanted to call her first but wasn’t ready to have her see him that low - boy, did that come back to bite him in the ass. "Jake, I need to know where you’re going tonight," she said. Jake almost laughed. She thought he was planning on getting wasted. She was just worried. He coughed to suppress the need to laugh it but couldn’t stop a smile. "I’m not going to drink tonight, mom," he said. Her eyes narrowed. "Then what are you going to do?" She asked. "I’m..." He felt his smile soften. "I’m taking Athena out." Ruth’s stern look melted away. Her eyes widened and her arms dropped to her sides. "You are?" She asked. Jake was sure if her cheeks weren’t in the way, her smile would have gone all around her face. He gave in to the laughter. "Yes, I asked her out today," he said. His mother grabbed his hands and pulled him to the living room. "You can’t just drop this on me! Come on, we need to talk about this," she said. Jake sat down next to her on the couch. He checked his watch. "I have to pick her up in ten minutes," he protested. His mother waved a hand. "Trust me, she’s not ready yet," Ruth said. Jake raised an eyebrow. He chuckled. "She’s pretty efficient," he said. "Text her! You’re not going to just tell me you two are dating and expect me to just drop it. How did this happen?" Ruth was leaning forward in anticipation. Jake shook his head, amused. He pulled out his phone.
::Got stopped by the mom police. I’m gonna be a little late. I’m sorry.::
A few seconds later Athena replied.
:: Haha. That’s okay. I’ll see you soon.::
He smiled to himself and stuffed the phone into his jacket. His mother eyed him, still grinning like her life depended on it. "So? What happened? When did you guys suddenly move past friendship?" She asked. Jake felt his shoulders relax. "I don’t know," he said. He looked away. "I guess it was there from the beginning or, at least, since we started talking again. I never realized how much I missed having her around," he said. Ruth made a humming sound that Jake took as a sigh. He looked at her. "Where are you taking her?" She asked. Jake shrugged. "Nothing big. We’re just going to the movies," he said. Ruth gave him a bland look with arched eyebrows. "What? It’s a short notice date and..." Jake felt the heat rush up his neck when he thought about the moment he had shared with Athena that afternoon. He could barely think straight after she said she’d go out with him. His mind could only register the fact that she had agreed. When she had asked him what they were going to do, he started stuttering , realizing he hadn’t thought that far. She had giggled that sweet giggle and they decided a real date would come later. "She agreed," he finished his sentence. He wasn’t going to tell his mother everything.
Ruth’s smile became a knowing smile. "I’m glad she did. I knew having her around would do great things for you," Ruth said. Jake’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. "What do you know that I don’t?" He asked. Ruth’s mouth dropped open. Her eyes shot to the clock that hung from the wall. "Look at the time. You should go pick Athena up. She’s probably waiting by the door." Ruth stood up. Jake followed. He smirked. "I thought you just said she wouldn’t be ready yet," he said calmly. Ruth grabbed his shoulders and spun him around. She pushed him towards the front door. "Yes, but girls hate it when a boy’s late to pick them up. It sparks insecurity. Now go!" Ruth pushed her son out the front door. Jake laughed. "Okay. Okay." He turned around, walking backwards towards his car. "But don’t think we’re not done talking about this. You know something and I’m gonna get it out of you," he said. Ruth waved. "Bye, Jake. Have a great time with Athena," as she called Jake lowered himself into his Volvo. Jake’s smile never faded as he drove to the Thompson residence.
When he got to their house and knocked on the door, Emily opened. The doctor was in a casual white tank with beige shorts. Her long hair hung loose over her shoulders. For a split second Jake pictured an older version of Athena. Judging from her mother’s looks, her beauty was not going to fade with age. "Evening, ma’am. You’re looking lovely tonight," he teased. Jake looked over her shoulder into the house just as Athena reached the last step of the stairs. His breath slammed back into his chest when she caught his eyes and smiled shyly. He returned her smile. Emily giggled. He looked at her. She crossed her arms over her chest. "I hear you will be taking my daughter out tonight," she said, smiling. Jake nodded. "That is correct, ma’am. I am willing to abide to any rules you have constructed for me in order to secure your daughter’s safety for the night," he said. "Oooh, bad move, Brown." Athena walked up behind her mother. Jake chuckled. Emily put a finger under her chin and stared at the clouds as she pretended to be deep in thought. "Well, let’s see... Have her back in one hour. No touching. No flirting. You are not allowed to tell her she looks lovely or beautiful or anything in that direction. And most importantly, no kissing! Have I made myself clear?" Emily looked at him with a playful smile on her lips. Athena raised an eyebrow at her mother. She was clearly amused.
Jake resisted the urge to laugh. "What was that last one?" He asked. "NO kissing," Emily said, crossing her arms over her chest again. Jake brought a hand up to his chin. He looked down. "Uh huh..." he shrugged. "Well, I said abide, not follow, right," he said. Emily laughed. "That you did." She turned around and put one arm around her daughter then pulled her close. "Just make sure she’s home safely by eleven," Emily said with a wink. "I will do my best," Jake teased. Athena rolled her eyes and pulled out of her mother’s grip. Emily laughed. "Have fun, you two," she called after them as they walked towards the car. Jake unlocked the doors. They both got in and buckled their seat belt. Athena waved at her mother and they drove off. She sunk down in her seat, blowing out a breath of air. Jake glanced over, finally getting a good look at her. He smiled with admiration. She was wearing a skinny jeans with a light blue spaghetti strapped shirt that had a ribbon below the bust. Her face was lightly made up. It seemed she only had eyeliner and mascara on but it accentuated her brown eyes beautifully. Best of all, her hair was up and in a high ponytail with the front parted to the side. She looked at him. "Eyes on the road, buddy," she said. Jake chuckled. "You look beautiful," he said, turning his eyes to the road. Athena giggled. "Well, that’s one rule down," she said. Jake laughed. "Well, if there’s one thing I’ve always managed, it’s breaking rules," he said with a mischievous smile.
"You’ve got to be kidding me," Jake said when they drove by the cinema. Every parking space was taken and they could see the lines from outside. Athena shook her head. "No, way are we getting in here," she said with a laugh. Jake looked at her. "So what do we do now?" She asked. Jake held her gaze for a few seconds before turning his eyes back to the road. "We make our own cinema," he said, now driving with direction. Athena wasn’t sure what he meant until she saw him pull up to a DVD rental store. "No offense but I never really pictured spending tonight with your mother just a room away." Athena placed a DVD box back onto the rack. "Not that I have anything against your mother... it’s just that..." Jake stepped in front of her. His eyes were playful. "I never said we were having it in my house," he said. Athena eyed him suspiciously. "Then... where?" She asked. Jake smiled teasingly. "You’ll see. Just pick a movie and I’ll buy the snacks," he said.
Athena looked at Jake as they turned into his street. "I thought you said we weren’t having it in your house," she said. "I did say that," Jake said, not taking his eyes off the road. Athena’s eyebrows lowered. "What am I missing?" She asked. Jake’s smile deepened. "Trust me," he said. His smile suddenly fell away and was replaced by a grim expression. Athena looked at the street and instantly understood. There was a car parked in front of his house. She turned back towards Jake. His hands were tight against the wheel now. "Jake, relax. It’s got our town’s license plate," she said. "He could’ve gotten a rental," Jake said bitterly. He pulled into their driveway. Athena felt as if she could cut the tension with a knife. Jake grabbed the snack bag from the backseat and she took the two DVD’s they had hired. All of this was done in silence. When they got to the front of the house she took his hand in hers. The gesture seemed to momentarily startled Jake as he first dropped his eyes to their hands then looked at her. Athena offered him a small smile. "Hey, I’m here, remember. I told you." The lines in his forehead softened. His fingers tightened around hers. Jake opened the door and stepped into the house. The sound of cheerful laughter filled the halls. All the lights were off except for some illuminating from the dining room. Jake wasn’t sure what to expect when he turned into the dining room, but the sight made him freeze on the spot.
Athena was grateful she hadn’t snacked on the way over to the Brown residence. If anything were still in her mouth, it would have gone flying across the room when she stepped into the dining room next to Jake. "Mr. Wellers," she said, sounding over-cheerful even to herself. She was surprised as hell but she knew she had nothing on Jake. He had gone full statue. Ruth stood up from the heavy wooden table that had a white table cloth over, two kit candles and two plates dished with something that looked and smelled like pot-roast. "Well, it was supposed to be dinner for two," she said casually. Athena bit hard on her lip. "Uhm, may I switch the lights on so we can discuss this properly?" She asked but her fingers were already blindly searching the wall for the switch. Mr. Wellers also rose from his seat.
In the darkness Athena could make out he was wearing beige khaki pants and a button up shirt. Okay, this is weird, she thought and almost said out loud. "Yes. Thank you, Athena," Ruth said with her gentle smile. Athena’s fingers flicked the switch and almost wished she hadn’t. The darkness was more comforting. Before she switched the lights on, she and Jake for that matter, could have said they didn’t see who it was. Now there was no escape. Ah, well, her mother had always believed in the band-aid method anyway - no pun intended. Ruth smiled brightly at Athena. "It’s so good to see you, Athena!" She hugged Athena awkwardly. Athena still didn’t let go of Jake’s hand, not that he was allowing any of that judging from how tight his hand was around hers. Athena let out an uncomfortable laugh. "It’s great to see you too, aunt Ruth. You look great," she said earnestly. Ruth did look good in the pastel green dress she was wearing. Mr. Wellers came to stand next to her with two glasses in his hand. "Hello Athena, Jake," he said with a smile that was just as calm as Ruth’s. Athena couldn’t believe how casual they were.
Mr. Wellers filled both glasses with Champagne and handed one to Ruth. "Uh, what are you guys doing?" Athena asked, realizing that Jake was stunned speechless. Ruth touched her glass to their Math teacher's. "Celebrating," she said. Each of them took a sip. "Okay, celebrating what?" Athena asked. Ruth swallowed. "Well, you two, actually. I knew if I could get you back into Jake’s life everything would just fall into place," she said. Athena’s jaw dropped. "Wait, you planned this?" Athena was surprised to hear Jake speak when she couldn’t. She looked at him. His expression was still completely stunned but at least he was able to form sentences now. Ruth chuckled. "Of course we did! I couldn’t really get through to you anymore so I thought maybe you just needed someone your age to do it for me. Athena was my first choice." Ruth took another sip of Champagne. "And when Brian called me in to talk about his concern for your grades, we made a plan," she said. "So... it was your plan to get me to tutor Jake?" Athena asked. Ruth nodded, clearly proud of herself. "Brilliant, wasn’t it? Although, I must say-" She looked at their intertwined fingers, raised an eyebrow and smiled approvingly. "-I didn’t think it would work out this well." Athena suddenly felt at loss for words. Not to mention hyper aware of Jake’s hand in hers. "Uh, I’m sorry for asking this - believe me - but in order to clear out some confusion... uh, are you guys..." Athena almost couldn’t say it. "Dating?" She finished. "Yes," Ruth said cheerfully.
Jake’s hand tightened around Athena’s. "How long has this been going on?" Jake asked. "Three weeks. I was going to tell you after your date but here we are," Ruth said. She finished her glass then placed it on the table. "Now I have some questions. Aren’t you two supposed to be watching a movie?" She asked. "They were full so we decided to..." Athena looked at Jake. "What was the plan again?" She asked, winning a smile from Jake. "We’re gonna go have our own movie night in the tree house," he said, looking at his mother. Athena’s eyes widened. "Wait, it’s still there?" She asked. Jake looked at her. He smirked. "Of course it is. That thing’s more solid than this house," he said. "Well, don’t let us stop you," Mr. Wellers broke in. He put an arm around Ruth’s shoulders. "Yeah," Jake said. Athena almost burst out laughing at his expression. He led her to the kitchen. "Uhm, it was nice seeing you, sir," Athena said as they left the room. She wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to say but she couldn’t think of anything less awkward. Jake led her out the back door. As soon as the door closed behind them, Athena stopped and stuffed her head into Jake’s shoulder. She laughed into it, shaking violently. "That was probably the most awkward moment of my entire life," Jake said, his voice sounding oddly serious.
Athena looked up at him. His face was pinched into a half-grimace. That made her crack up again. "Oh, come on. It wasn’t that bad," she said when she recovered. Jake raised his eyebrows, mocking the statement. Athena suppressed more laughter. "Okay, you’re right. The real joke comes when you have to face this at school," she said, reaching up and putting her arms around his neck. Since her one hand still held the DVD’s she used her free hand to play with the hair at the back of his neck. This seemed to relax him instantly. "Don’t remind me," he said through a reluctant smile. Jake leaned down and placed his lips against hers. They shared a sweet kiss. One that spread warmth all over Athena’s body. She smiled when he pulled away. "If it helps, I already did my laughing. I won’t ridicule you at school," she said. Jake shook his head. "Thanks," he said sarcastically. "You’re welcome. Now come on, I want to see the tree house," she said, dropping her hands from his neck.
She followed Jake to the corner of the backyard where an oak tree stood. Athena could hardly make out the outline of the tree house in the dark. "Is there even electricity up there?" She asked. Jake smiled knowingly. "One of the perks of having an architect father was this tree house," he said when they neared it. Jake helped Athena up the side of it where the steps were. She almost slipped once but managed to get to the top. She had vague memories of the tree house. She remembered it always feeling too hot or too cold. It was about the size of an average bathroom. It always seemed to become dark too easily but, when you’re a kid, none of that mattered. Athena stood up and tried making the shapes out in the darkness. "Allow me." Jake’s words had barely left his mouth and the lights went on. Athena gasped. The floors were now tiled with an earthy and rough light brown tiling. There was only one window at the side of the tree house with a black couch below it. A plasma stood across the couch and there was a white shag carpet in the gap between the two. A black chest of drawers stood in the corner opposite the door. Athena gawked at the place.
"It’s not what you remember," Jake said, coming up close to her. "No." Athena laughed through her shock. "Definitely not." She walked over to the plasma. Their coffee table wasn’t even half the size of this thing! She shook her head. It stood on a wooden frame that had three open compartments. The two on the sides had doors but the one in the middle was open. There was a PlayStation and an Xbox in that compartment. Athena bent down and opened the one cupboard. She found it neatly stacked with DVD’s. "The other side has all my games in," Jake said. He strolled over to the chest of drawers. "How much did all of this cost?" Athena asked, referring to the remodeling of the tree house. Jake shrugged. "It was one of my dad’s guilt projects. When he started seeing that other woman, he tried to hide it by spoiling his family." There was a pause as he opened a drawer. "At least some good came out of this leaving. I almost tore this place down when I was still angry but was sensible enough to realize I’d need it." He turned around with a thick gray blanket in his arms. "Good thing, too. I would have driven my mother crazy with all the gaming I do up here," he said, his smile genuine. Athena’s shoulders relaxed. She was grateful he didn’t go back into his tense state.
*Zelia: Haha. Thank you. That's a huge compliment!
*Mr. Blobby: Thank you.
*Anne: Haha. Hope this one was as surprising.
*Mandy E: Aw, that's so sweet! Thank you, that means a lot.
*Kome: Ah, thanks. I'm so excited. Starting in just a few hours so I'm using the time I have to update you guys because I'm not sure how much spare time I'll have from here on out.
*BriBri: Hahaha. I will say it again, your comments always make me laugh and smile. Thanks.
*Taffy: Thanks. There'll be more to come.