........ ...... ......
Staring at her reflection in the mirror, Athena enjoys the precious, quiet solitude the bathroom has to offer and knows all to soon, the solitude will come to an end.
"Athena-- come on, it's time to go!"
And there it is.
There is the end of her time constricted solitude, broken by her husband's booming voice which sounds from out in the living room.
"I'll be out in a minute!" The words feel empty but their spoken anyway, almost an automatic response.
Even though she would much rather stay here, hidden away in the bathroom. Because it has been such a long few days at work and all she really wants to do is relax, spend some time with the kids then go to bed and just sleep. Sleep for hours on end until her body at least, feels rested and rejuvenated, even if her mind doesn't because her mind feels forever restless, no matter the amount of sleep she has. But there are two things right now preventing her from accomplishing what she so desperately wants. First, is the atmosphere, which seems to constantly loom over this house. A house where she no longer feels at ease but rather like she's crawling out of her own skin, crawling the very walls even, to try and escape the claustrophobia that is forever closing in around her. The second reason is simple, it's Hen's birthday. There is no way she can turn down an invitation to celebrate such a event. Hen is her best friend, so attending a party in her honor is not too much to ask. Well, any other time it wouldn't be but it is when you're attending with a man who feels more like a stranger these days, than your own husband.
Which is a line of thought she really doesn't want to focus on right now. That road is long and bumpy and fraught with so many hazards, and there isn't enough hours in the day or enough energy within her body right now, to travel the distance. So instead, that particular line of thought is cast aside as her extra few minutes of solitude draw to a close and she has no other option but to stop hiding in the bathroom. Not that it would ever be admitted that's what she is doing. Even though deep down, it is exactly what she's doing. Which says it all, really. A wife hiding from her husband in the bathroom, because she feels burdened and suffocated by his presence, by his distance and by his lies.
"Athena?!" Michael shouts in exasperation. "Come on, we're gonna be late."
Hands clench into fists and she takes a deep, steadying breath. Then takes a last moment to study herself in the mirror, where Athena declares herself ready or as ready as she ever will be.
The bedroom is empty when she steps out and Athena doesn't allow herself to pause, because if she stops, there's a fair chance her feet won't carry her forward thereafter. So onward she goes to head into the living room. Where May and Harry are on the couch, looking over a takeout menu when she enters the room.
May immediately glances up at her mother, taking in her appearance. "You look really nice Mom." She offers sincerely with a smile. "Right Dad?"
"What? Yeah-- absolutely."
Michael barely spares her a glance, to busy on his phone and Athena has reached the point in life, where such behaviour no longer has any impact whatsoever. It should really hurt, the lack of interest shown from her husband but it doesnt. Not anymore, hasn't for a very long time. It is a fact that has become the way of things, now so normal she barely blinks an eye. She could be wearing a paper sack or nothing at all and Michael probably wouldn't notice. But she isn't wearing a paper sack and she definitely isn't naked. Athena glances down and allows her hands to smooth over the material of her little black dress. Despite the lack of enthusiasm from her husband, Athena knows she looks good tonight. Even though it's nothing over the top, the effort made is solely for herself. Not anyone else. She has the right to look and feel good about herself, even if the latter is lacking somewhat.
"Thank you May." Athena chooses to ignore Michael's absent agreement to their daughter's question, to instead focus her attention upon her children. "Have you decided on what you are going to order?"
"Yeah! I wrote it down!" Harry says with enthusiasm as he holds up a piece of paper, which his mother promptly takes.
Athena looks sceptical, first down at the list then at her boy. There is a lot of food listed.
"What? I'm hungry."
Her son seems to be forever hungry, a hazard of growing, she supposes but still, the list is handed back to him regardless. Athena then looks between Harry and his sister. She feels bad about leaving them, even though she would much rather be here, than going out tonight. "You sure you're gonna be okay here alone, while we--"
"Mom, we're good." May interrupts, rolling her eyes in a gesture so much like her mother. "I'm fourteen. We don't need a babysitter. We're gonna eat too much food and watch Netflix. Then go to bed."
"You have our numbers and Hen's. If you--"
"We'll be fine. Yes, we have your numbers, we have the Johnsons next door and we also know 911."
Athena frowns, especially at the latter. "Alright, if you're both sure."
"We are!" Harry happily exclaims, as he looks over the list of food his sister will call out for.
There isn't opportunity for anything further to be said, because Michael cuts in.
"Okay. Bed and lights out at eleven. Both of you." Michael instructs in a hurry as he hands over money to pay for the kids mountain of takeout. At least there will be leftovers.
"We know Dad." May waves them away, clearly unbothered about being home alone with her brother. "Shouldn't you be going?"
Athena reluctantly picks up the gift bag which holds Hen's present then motions to the door, where Michael is already headed. "We're going. Be good."
"We will. Wish Hen a happy birthday from us. Bye."
"Bye Mom!" Harry says, not bothering to acknowledge his Dad who has already left the house. "Have fun."
Athena looks between them knowing she can't stall the inevitable, then heads for the door after her husband.
....... ....... .......
All around her, the party is in full swing, the Wilson's home is brimming with laughter, food, music and conversation as everyone turns out to celebrate Hen's birthday.
Any other time, Athena would feel right at home here, in among the throng of people but not tonight. Tonight she feels disjointed, not only from the festivities around her but from the man across the room. The distance which seperates her and her husband feels far greater than the span of this living room and the people between them, and Athena doesn't know how to fix it. Which swiftly leads to two very simple but different questions. Number one, does she even want to fix it? Number two, is there even anything left between them to fix? The latter is highly doubtful. The former is leaning heavily towards no.
Things between them and in the marriage have been rocky for awhile now, years even and there is a tension hanging overhead constantly that she has no label for. What it is or why it exists she couldn't say but it's there, creating a divide that renegotiates the foundations to the point where she doesn't feel they are Husband and Wife, but more like best friends. Best friends, who are stuck in a rut, in a routine that was long established years prior and one which feels only held together by their children. They aren't Husband and Wife, not in the true meaning of the words and haven't been for a very long time. Sex has become non existent and if asked, Athena wouldn't even be able to pinpoint when exactly they were last intimate. Maybe before Harry was born, but could it really be that long? Whatever the answer, it doesn't change facts. Though at first, it seemed a normal occurrence because after being married for so long, it was only natural that sex became something that was put on the back burner. It isn't just her own marriage, she has friends who have said the same thing but her marriage isn't the same. There is a difference. The intimacy found in her marriage-- before it disappeared-- had never felt as it should, there hadn't been any real connection between them as lovers and it never left her satisfied. Instead, now as she looks back, it feels like they had been going through the motions, like it was expected of them, like it was a means to an end and it had been. It had been for the children, to have May and Harry. Then, it ended completely. Because the job was done.
Deep down inside, trapped in a box buried deep, there's a reason for it but she refuses to acknowledge exactly what it is. Just like she has since the very beginning. It doesn't matter, not really, because they are broken beyond repair either way. With or without the truth. She will still be trapped in an unhappy marriage with a man who keeps secrets and lies. Who makes her feel less than her true worth.
Which is something Athena has slowly come to terms with, over the last few years. It should bother her, how little she cares about her fractured marriage but it doesn't, not anymore. There's only so much one person can do. There's only so much time and effort one can give before giving up and Athena has. Why should she fight and be bothered, when he doesn't.
Eyes move throughout the room, then across toward to where Michael stands, chatting to a man she doesn't know.
Athena looks away.
Her gaze continues to wander, to take in everyone spread throughout the room here to celebrate the birthday girl. There's people she doesn't recognise, probably people Hen knows through her wife and then there's the ones that she does. The 118 is gathered together in the corner, laughing and joking among themselves.
All except one.
Athena doesn't know why she has such trouble shaking him from her thoughts. Almost constantly, he's there in the back of her head, randomly popping to the forefront of her mind throughout the day. Ever since that first night months and months ago when they first met and he unceremoniously dumped a rooster in her arms with a charming smile and teasing words, she hasn't been able to shake him or the feelings evoked. Despite how hard the attempt has been to push away any and all thoughts of him, he's there, constantly in the background, almost as though he's haunting her.
Even tonight when they arrived and stepped inside the house to offer birthday wishes to her best friend, almost immediately her eyes had found his across the room and the soft smile sent in her direction is still crystal clear in her mind. It sent a warmth straight through her body, to see how pleased he was to see her. That warmth had intensified ten fold when her and Michael made their rounds to greet people, before they eventually found themselves surrounded by the 118. Like countless times before, Bobby greeted her with an arm around her shoulders and a side hug, but his lips against her cheek had been new. Time didn't halt for her to analyse or recover from the flip in her stomach, because suddenly Hen was making introductions and Michael's hand was shaking the hand of the man she couldn't stop thinking about. That moment had her rooted in place almost feeling trapped and it didn't help to see the flash of emotion she caught in Bobby's eyes as he looked between her and Michael.
The only option Athena found available was to remove herself from standing between the man she feelt trapped with and the man she longs to have. The latter something she had long ago admitted to herself and a truth she holds close. For the most part, her decision to retreat had been successful but it had taken its toll, having to maintain conversation after conversation with others so she wouldn't find herself back to that middle ground. Between two vastly different men.
Now, after finally escaping a conversation with Hen and Karen's neighbour, Athena takes refuge in the kitchen. Despite the door being closed behind her, the ruckus of the party still invades the quiet solitude she sought. Reaching for a bottle, she tops up her wine and turns to the window which overlooks the garden. Before it really registers, her feet carry her forward and out onto the back patio, the door closes softly behind her. The night air hits along with a gentle breeze which is welcome after the suffocating atmosphere of being inside the house. The smell of grass and flowers fill her nose and the quietness envelopes over her, like a warm embrace offering the solitude she so desperately sought. The garden is dark, only lit by the decorative lights which line the path and flowerbeds, along with strands of twinkling string lights which sweep along the boundary fences. It's nice, quiet and not at all suffocating, and it draws Athena further out, further into the sanctuary and darkness the garden offers.
This is exactly what she needs.
A moment to clear her mind and a moment to simply breath. To steady and center herself, so it's easier to rejoin the party when the time later comes.
However, the sanctuary offered doesn't last nearly as long as she'd like. Of course it doesn't, because nothing is ever that easy.
Every fibre of her being tenses before Athena turns to her left. The familiar voice cuts through the darkness and silence, and suddenly everything comes crashing down around her because of course, it would just have to be him. As if the Gods are mocking her.
It would have to be Bobby.
As if the night couldn't get worse. It now serves up this hellish torture in the form of the tall, handsome fire Captain. A fire Captain with striking brown eyes and such a lovely smile. Such an unshakeable combination which not only haunts her days, but also her nights.
Athena watches Bobby shift where he's sat on the low wall and even in this partial darkness that surrounds them, that soft smile of his is easily seen as he directs it toward her.
"Needed to escape too huh?" He asks quietly.
A part of her wants to quip, to ask if he meant escape the party or her husband or you? but she restrains herself. Barely. "Something like that, yeah."
Athena stands there, cradling her wine glass against her chest as silence falls between them. A part of her knows this is the moment where she should leave, where feet should carry her away and back into the house. Away from danger and back to disaster. But they don't, feet remain firmly rooted in place because the other part of her, argues to stay.
It's frightening how easy that part of her wins.
"May I join you?"
Bobby smiles. "Of course." He makes a show of patting the wall beside him. "Pull up a brick, Sergeant Grant."
Athena laughs and moves to sit down, far closer than she should have but finds that she doesn't really care.
For awhile, silence falls to rest between them, neither find the need to break the quiet they each sought out with needless conversation. The silence is not uncomfortable but then, it isn't exactly comfortable either because a tension rests between them.
How convenient. One tension swapped for another.
But for Athena, the reason for the tension is clear and there comes a point where maybe, she should say something, anything, to ease it's looming presence. Her mind tries to find something to say but then her attention is stolen away when Bobby shifts beside her and his arm brushes against her own. The touch is accidental and should mean nothing, and yet it makes her even more aware of him beside her, solid and warm. It makes her finally break the quiet between them.
"It's a good party."
"It is," Bobby replies quietly, staring off into the distance. "Hen deserves a good celebration. Plus there's never a dull moment, especially with Buck around."
Athena chuckles. "It didn't escape my notice, the boy seems to be the life of the party."
Bobby hums low in agreement. "Too much sometimes. I'm wouldn't be surprised if tonight is any different."
"Buck tends to find himself in situations where-- lets just say, restraint isn't one of his strong points." At her questioning look, Bobby clarifies further. "I suspect he's a sex addict."
The mention of sex fills her with a whole different kind of tension. She's already hyper aware of Bobby beside her, without needing the additional fuel to further the fire, which is ironic considering his profession. He's supposed to put out the fire, not create them and now her mind is filled with images, images she would rather not have. Not now. Because it only makes things worse.
Good god, save her from herself and her wandering thoughts.
They fall silent and Athena takes a sip of her wine, eyes stare off into the darkness as she takes a moment to center herself. It barely lasts seconds because something makes her glance at him and Athena realises almost instantly-- that something-- is the weight of his gaze as he watches her. The expression on his handsome face makes her breathing falter.
There's a fire in his eyes that's unmistakable.
"What?" Athena asks eventually, quietly. It doesn't escape her notice that her voice trembles far more in that one word than she would like.
"Nothing, just--" Bobby starts to reply before offering a shrug and what he really wants to say. "You look beautiful tonight, Athena."
The words are spoken so simply, yet hold a weight that almost brings her to her knees. Thankfully, she's already sitting down.
The tension between them, suddenly sky rockets to extraordinary heights.
He shrugs again. "It's the truth, you look beautiful tonight." Bobby pauses, then corrects himself. "You always look beautiful."
Athena doesn't know how to respond, so she doesn't say anything. What could she possibly say to his honest words?
Not knowing what to say is all well and good, because talking seems to be irrelevant.
She watches him watch her, his eyes so dark as they move over her face, lingering for far to long upon her mouth. It's coming. Athena knows it's coming and now should be the moment to retreat. To run. To flee. To get as far away from as possible.
But she doesn't.
Athena doesn't move.
Bobby shifts slightly to lean towards her slowly, his eyes locked onto her own.
Her gaze is captivated by him. Her heart thuds a frantic rhythm within her chest as Bobby closes the distance and he's nearly there... so very close, when she moves a hand up between them so her fingers can rest over his mouth to halt his progress.
The words sound ever so weak, even to her and far from convincing. Athena idly has to wonder if she's really trying to convince him or herself of the fact.
The two words are whispered against her fingertips, his breath rushes out to warm across her skin.
"I know, but I--" Bobby stops to reach up, where his fingers wrap delicately around her wrist to draw away the hand. "Tell me to stop."
Athena feels like she has lost the ability to breath as he moves closer, teasing her as his mouth hovers above her own. Everything feels thrown so off kilter, this moment has escalated so fast it's made her head spin but she can't deny the pull, she can't deny the want or how right this feels. How right it feels to be here like this with him. So when his lips brush her own, Athena doesn't tell him to stop or stop herself.
It's almost like an impossibility to even try.
Because the pull is too strong.
The kiss is made up of a barely there brush of mouths, but it's enough. It is enough to tell her all she needs to know.
She wants this man. She wants to discover who he is, discover everything there is to know about him.
"Bobby..." Athena mutters again, against his lips. Desperation, warning, disbelief and encouragement, against all her better judgement wraps around his name.
And he hears it. Loud and clear.
At first, Bobby's kiss is soft, sweet and slow and Athena melts easily, into both it and him. However, after the initial softness, it doesn't take very long to ignite between them. What started slow and sweet turns into anything but. His mouth moves against her own with purpose- hot, heavy and wanting. Her fingers curl into his shirt to draw him closer and Bobby goes willingly. He shifts position to move from beside her to his knees before her, where he presses between her legs as his tongue slides into her mouth.
Athena's head positively swims, completely clouded by the man setting a fire within her. Deep down she knows this is wrong, so very wrong because there are vows which exist that were spoken so long ago and they should mean something, but now they mean nothing because he makes it all fall away. Everything becomes irrelevant except for this.
Everything falls away.
Until nothing exists outside of them and the darkness which surrounds them.
Every feeling of hurt, inadequacy, hopelessness, suffocation, anger and... well, the list is unfortunately endless. But with Bobby, everything simply drifts away to be replaced by the exact opposite.
He makes her feel.
When Bobby's hands skim up her legs to slide beneath the hem of her dress, the warmth of his palms upon her bare thighs sear into her skin and she whimpers into his mouth and almost without thought, legs curl around him. A moan escapes as he presses himself to her center and she can feel him hard through his jeans.
But reality suddenly rips violently into the moment, when laughter echos throughout the night followed by a car door slamming close by in the distance.
Athena tears her mouth away from his, to jerk her head in the direction of the house. Reality of where they are and what they've just done hits her like a freight train. Her hands shake as she attempts to push him away to allow enough room to remove herself from the position she allowed herself to fall in to. Turbulent thoughts race within her mind questioning what she had just done, even as her body craves a return to his embrace. Wanting more. Needing it. Idly, she has to wonder how far they would have gone, if not for the interruption. It is with shock that Athena realises, she wouldn't have stopped. She wouldn't of stopped until her panties were moved aside to allow him access to press deeply inside of her.
She shakes her head and proceeds in taking a step back as she looks down at him still on his knees. "No-- I-I can't..."
Bobby gets to his feet. "Athena."
"I'm married." Athena tells him weakly. If before the words were weak, it is nothing compared to now. Now they mean almost nothing, having been smashed to smithereens by their actions.
"Then why did you--"
Bobby anticipates her question and interrupts. "I wanted too," he answers quietly, honestly. "We both did."
Yes. Athena takes another step back as if distance is the answer to fix this. "No." The denial is an automatic response and so very fragile, because she did want it and still does.
"Yes." Bobby takes a step toward her, tracking her movements. "You feel it Athena. You feel this pull between us. The connection." He reaches out a hand to her, which she evades. "I don't do this Athena, I'm not the type of man who chases married women. This isn't who I am but I can't-- I can't ignore this. I don't want to ignore this."
Athena doesn't offer anything in reply. To afraid of what could come flying out of her mouth if she did.
"And I think, you don't want to ignore this either." Bobby goes on to add softly. As if admitting a great secret on her behalf.
Her chest heaves as she takes in deep breaths, trying to calm the panic rising within her. The line so clearly drawn has been crossed and she wants to cross it again and again and again... because the pull he spoke of, she feels it too, acutely. And Bobby is right with the fact that she doesn't want to ignore this between them but she must, because she's married. Even though the marriage is broken and even though her husband has so many secrets of his own.
"Hey you two! Why are you hiding out here? Party is inside." Hen shouts across the garden from where she'd quietly emerged from the house unbeknownst to them.
They had been so wrapped up in the moment, they hadn't even noticed.
Athena tenses, startled at the interruption but also glad of it. She needs to get away from Bobby. Needs to run and escape like she should have when he announced his presence earlier. So plastering a fake smile across her face that she can only hope is at least a little convincing, Athena turns to her best friend. "I needed some air and found him hiding out here."
"Chimney mentioned karaoke, so I quickly made an escape." Bobby adds nonchalantly and shoves his hands in his pockets.
Clearly the woman thinks absolutely nothing of it, thinks nothing of finding them alone in the garden. The excuses offered are obviously accepted without even a hint of suspicion.
"Well you can come back inside, Buck has Chim distracted with a card game, so you're safe from singing." The birthday girl doesn't wait for a reply, just wanders her way back to the house on less than steady feet.
Silence once more envelopes the garden.
Immediately, Athena is faced with racing thoughts and emotions.
What have they done? More importantly, what has she done? Kissed another man is what she's done. A man who isn't her husband. The vows she spoke so long ago and promised to uphold, are now broken. Broken by allowing herself to feel, to fall into a moment and a man that makes her feel so many things. Thrived on the emotions he evoked within, during the short period of time he touched her. But why now? Why this moment? After months of pushing aside every thought of him. Of ignoring the stir of feelings. Why did this happen now? Why?
Her raging thoughts won't allow her an opportunity to even try to formulate answers to explain or justify what just happened and why. Her mind is clouded, consumed by him, his touch and-- she needs to go. Now. Before something else happens.
Athena chances a glance at the man before her only to find him staring right back. She swallows hard. "We should go back inside, get back to the party."
"Athena--" Bobby reaches for her, unsuccessfully. "Stay. Please, we need to talk about this."
But Athena shakes her head, turns around and walks away from him.
And it hurts.
It hurts far worse to walk away, more than she ever imagined it could.
....... ....... .......
The rest of the night had simply been a nightmare.
Distance had once again been created and it was exhausting to maintain, to keep not one man but now two, well away from her. The looks sent in her direction from Bobby she could practically feel. So it came with mixed emotion when the time to leave finally arrived. Athena was relieved but she also dreaded returning home to the feeling of claustrophobia.
Now, the drive home seems torturously slow and the silence feels all consuming.
With every passing minute, what happened back at Hen's in the garden, replays continuously over in her mind. She can't stop the loop, over and over. There's no escape from it. Athena simply can't stop thinking about him. How Bobby felt against her, his kiss, the touch of his hands sliding up her thighs... he lit a fire within her and it felt like nothing ever had.
It was frightening.
It is frightening.
Both at what she felt then but also by the emotions she feels so acutely now. Because she wants to feel it again. Bobby. Him against her. His mouth against her own, his hands tracing across her skin, the warmth and strength of his body pressing to her own.
What happened in the garden goes against everything she stands for, her beliefs and her vows. But how right it felt contradicted everything she thought she knew, even about herself.
Athena doesn't know what to do with the knowledge. Her mind keeps throwing things at her which she doesn't know how to deal with. How to process it. How to move forward. What does moving forward even look like? Now that she has committed this... sin.
Maybe tomorrow things will become clearer with a clearer head but not now. Her mind is too foggy, filled with a tall handsome fire Captain.
Especially not now, as they pull into the drive way, finally home. It hasn't long passed eleven when Athena drags herself through the front door into the house and takes the time to check in on the kids, who are both sound alseep. On arrival downstairs, Athena is greeted by her husband.
"You okay? You don't seem like yourself? Didn't you enjoy the party?"
He certainly got that right. Right now, even Athena doesn't know herself who she is. "I'm fine, I just have a headache that I can't seem to shake. I'm going to call it a night and head to bed. I have a shift early tomorrow."
Michael nods and seems satisfied by her answer, because he disappears into the kitchen without even offering a goodnight.
Athena watches him go before she flees to the bedroom. Her body screams in fight against her mind, both reliving what happened tonight. She changes on autopilot as well as sets her alarm. Falling into bed is easy while it's empty and yet she clings to the edge. She's exhausted, emotionally as well as physically but fears sleep, knowing when eyes close, images will haunt her of a man she craves to know more of.
And true to her fears, when Athena does eventually close her eyes hoping for dreamless sleep, what she feared would appear, does appear.
The dreams answer the question she won't allow herself to answer.
Even though, the outcome has always been inevitable.
....... ...... .......