Atë and I had been dancing when my phone buzzed in my jacket pocket. I had been waiting all evening for this call. I could feel her eyes on me every time it went off. I’m pretty sure she thought there was another woman. She always thinks there’s someone else, a repercussion from the dating show drama. I don’t think I would ever live that one down. Atë and I had been tip-toeing around one another for a couple of weeks now. Neither one of us wanted to admit our feelings. After Paris, I thought for sure things would progress, and they had little by little, but we still hadn’t said the words out loud, not really. Sure, we flirted more openly now, and she didn’t cringe at me anymore when I complimented her. That was a good sign.
I knew all eyes would be on us here tonight. I spun Atë around the dance floor, holding her close. This wasn’t a real date, not really. We hadn’t come in the same car, and she came trashed with Eris and Clio. I had some ideas about how our first date would go, and this wasn’t it. We couldn’t even admit our feelings out loud to one another. Besides, I didn’t think she was ready. I hoped that maybe after tonight, and if all went well with my plan, we would be a step closer. My phone buzzed again.
“What’s that?” Atë asked.
“Ahh…” I hesitated. “I’ve been waiting on a call.”
Her brow raised. “For what?”
I pulled away from her, holding up a finger. “I have to take this. I’ll only be a minute. I wouldn’t take it if it weren’t something very important.”
She folded her arms across her chest as I walked away. I passed Eris on the way out and grabbed them by their arm. “Keep her company, would you? I’ll only be a minute.”
I looked back over my shoulder, Atë’s sour face turning content as Eris pulled her in to dance, but I could see the hurt and questions in her eyes. All will be answered soon. As I walked out through the double doors, I could see that my surprise had been set up. Christmas trees lined the way, each one strung with as many twinkling lights as a branch could hold.
“Everything is set?” I asked into the phone.
“Perfect, we will be down in a few minutes.” I hung up and smiled as I headed back inside.
I didn’t think I had taken that long, but when I walked back in, a crowd had formed around Atë. That could only mean trouble. It was time to smooth the waters. I walked over slowly, trying to read the situation. Eros spun Atë over to me. I caught her firmly in my grasp, smiling at her.
“What did I miss?” I asked.
Atë glared at me with icy coolness. “Oh, that was fast…So just a quickie then?”
I knew taking the call wasn’t a great idea, not after we had just finished having such an intimate conversation moments before.
Atë stopped moving in my arms. “I don’t want to dance anymore.” Her arms dropped from mine, and she walked towards the table where we had been sitting. I jogged to catch up to her, and the tiny crowd that gathered watched us closely.
“Look, I’m really sorry.” I put my hand on her arm as we walked. “I had been waiting on that call all day.”
Atë held up a hand, stopping me. “I really don’t care. I just don’t know why I thought I could have, like one normal evening.” She moved her dress to the side, so she could sit down, tucking herself in closer to the table. I sat down next to her, taking her hand in mine. She lifted a butter knife with her free hand in response. I guess old habits die hard. I carefully wrapped my shadows around her shoulders like a comforting blanket.
“Now, now. We haven’t been this angry in weeks. Let’s talk it out,” I suggested letting go of her hand.
“I’d rather eat.” She put her butter knife down, pushed her plate forward, placed some seafood onto it, and started eating. “Actually, you’re right, let’s talk. Who was the bitch on the phone?”
My brow furrowed. “Bitch? Why does it always have to be another woman with you?” I gave her a stern look. “Can’t there be someone else on the other end of the phone?”
She continued to shovel food into her mouth. I didn’t peg her as an emotional eater.
“Well, given your track record…” she let her voice trail off as she reached for the wine in the middle of the table and filled her glass to the top. An emotional drinker, on the other hand, made perfect sense.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were back to where we were this summer? I thought we moved past this jealousy bit?”
The rest of the table had rejoined us, and although they carried on with their own conversation, I knew they all just wanted to see the fireworks that were threatening.
“Speaking of summer…” Eros chimed in.
Dion was saying something about puppies to Clio, all the while eyeing Atë. Sure as shit, if I ever turned my back, he would be right there trying to make a move on Atë. I shot him a glare. Atë sipped from her glass of wine, looking over its rim at Dion. The corners of her mouth drew up into a playful smirk as she egged him on.
Eros pulled out a familiar envelope. Plucking the note from inside, he made it into origami. My goodbye note to Amy…or was it Ashley? He chucked it to Atë. There he went, trying to stir the pot. As the God of Love, he was certainly determined to mess with my love life for as long as possible. I ripped the note away from her before she could open it.
He smiled. “I hear the person it was intended for is dead now.”
Atë stared at the note. “What’s that?”
“Nothing, Eros is trying to start shit, and we don’t need to go there again.” My glare cut through him.
Clio and Eris were giggling about something.
Before this evening went to shit, I needed to take Atë outside and get her away from all this drama. She turned to yell something at Amphitrite and the evening. Eros, still in good form, was trying to tell Atë there was another woman. I could see my plan unraveling before my eyes. I quickly ripped the note into pieces before shoving it into my mouth, chewing it into pulp, and washed it down with some red wine. Atë was giving me the silent treatment or pretending not to care as she continued to speak to Amph.
Eros barked out a laugh. “What do you think this is, amateur hour?” He pulled out an identical note.
For fuck’s sake. I needed Atë alone.
“Atë, Atë! Would you listen to me?” I placed my hand on her arm.
She moved her attention back to me briefly, only to express her suppressed feelings of wanting to stab me. I turned and shooshed the peanut gallery that was Clio and Eris egging her on. Eros continued to pull out one identical note after the other, making an army of origami animals. I’d had enough of this chaos. Standing from the table, I pushed back my chair and took Atë by the hand, causing her to spill some wine. I pulled her out onto the dance floor and away from all the prying ears and eyes. Spinning her to face me, so all the drama was at her back, I held onto her shoulders.
“Listen, you stubborn, impossible woman!”
Atë knocked my arms away, crossing them in front of herself. She cocked a hip out to the side.
“I was trying to do something nice for you, but you always have to jump to the negative.” Atë stared back at me, unforgiving.
“I know you haven’t had a Christmas with family in, like, forever. I just wanted this one to be happy and memorable. But now you’ve gotten all pissy, and it makes me think we are back at square one.” I searched her face for some sort of answer. When she didn’t respond, I prodded her some more, “Are we?”
“You’re keeping things from me.” She pouted. “You literally snapped at me in Paris over me doing the same thing.”
Clio had snuck up behind us and handed an origami fox to Atë, which she immediately shoved into her cleavage. Clio lingered by Atë’s side.
“Paris was different. You were not supposed to take off. You were under strict orders from the doctor not to leave, and you fucked off to Paris. Me leaving for a few hours a day is different.”
Eros yelled something across the room to us, but I was completely focused on Atë and our conversation, determined to get her outside.
“Listen, Shadows, she’s mine.” Clio stepped up.
I looked over to the little muse who had been my friend for decades. “Yours?” I laughed. “You’re drunk. Go sit down, Piglet.”
Clio gave me a gentle push in the chest. “Wanna go, big boy?” She took a step back, pretending to roll up sleeves that weren’t there and cracking her knuckles. I looked over her shoulder back to the table where Eros was laughing. He was enjoying the show amongst other people. I literally had to put my hand to her forehead to stop her from charging me. She attempted to take a swing. But I was on a mission. I spun her around, trying to send her back to the table. “Go eat some bacon.”
“Listen,” I said, turning my attention back to Atë. “Will you step outside with me? There’s something I want to show you.”
Atë looked over to Amphitrite. “Well, I don’t want to cause a scene on her big night.” Her eyes slid back to stare deep into mine. “Fine…” she huffed, exhausted.
Clio stood in the middle of the dance floor, moping. I placed a hand on her shoulder. “We will be right back, Clio, and then she will be all yours.”
She looked up and smiled. “Deal.”
I walked slightly ahead of Atë so that I could give the signal. I could tell Atë was beyond impatient as she slapped her shoes down on the concrete. “Okay, what is it?” she demanded as she stopped beside me, folding her arms.
I nodded to the man standing off to the side.
“Are you trying to kill me!” Atë tried taking a step back, dropping her arms.
I reached out, grabbing her hand. “Just shoosh.”
The trees outside suddenly went from dark to brilliantly lit up, and fake snow started to fly all around. I looked over to watch Atë’s expression. She was holding her hands outward and spinning slowly. “What is this?”
“It’s a White Christmas.” I smiled, loving her reaction. I stepped forward. “Just hold on. There’s more.” Even I was getting excited.
On cue, a horse-drawn carriage pulled up.
“I thought we could take a quick ride.” I held out my hand.
Atë stopped spinning. “This is what your phone call was about,” she said, smiling.
“Yes. I’ve been waiting on these damn horses all day.”
Atë stepped forward, taking my hand. “Where are we going?” she asked, still smiling.
“Just around the building, don’t want to leave the party just yet.” I hopped into the carriage, pulling Atë in with me. On the bench, there was a heavy blanket that I spread over our laps. The fake snow continued to fly all around us as we circled the building.
“I wanted to make sure you had a memorable Christmas. I know we gave each other gifts already. But I wanted to make sure you know how special you are to me.”
Atë nestled up close to me, putting her head on my shoulder. “Okay, my anger is leaving slightly…keep talking.”
I reached into my jacket and pulled out a long velvet jewelry box. Just one more surprise to top off the evening. I handed it to her.
She wiggled in excitement. “Ooh, what’s this?” She took the box, opening it slowly. Her eyes gleamed as she took in the gold necklace and the charm in the middle that spelled out Home in a foreign language. I wasn’t expecting her to hug me, let alone see tears rolling down her cheeks.
I reached out, drying her tears. “Last year, I felt so alone. I had no family. My house was empty, and my work was my life. I hated everyone and everything. Then you came along. Even though we’ve had many downs, you were there for me when I least expected it. Your friendship, as volatile as it can be, is real and refreshing, and you keep me on my toes. Since you moved in, things have been challenging, but I have never felt more at home than when I am with you.”
She sniffled, wiping a bit of the fake snow from her cheek as she turned to face me. She looked down, fiddled with her hands, then looked back up at me. I could tell whatever she was about to say next was going to take a lot from her.
“I am sorry for how violent I can be, and well, just for being me. I’m hurt, well, I have been.”
I moved closer, tucking a stray hair behind her ear, and listened to her. I didn’t want to say or do anything just yet, afraid it might derail her train of thought. Atë was opening up more than she had in the last few weeks.
“In Tartarus, when you came to visit me, I didn’t mean what I said. I regretted it for a thousand years afterward. I know it sounds cheesy and stupid, but I dreamt of you the entire time I was there. You were the only positive thing in that place.” She paused, shaking her head as she forced a smile, trying to convey her emotions. “I kept thinking you would come back because, well, I don’t know…and then I got out and found out about the show and everything. I feel like I have been punishing you ever since.” She patted at her damp face. “I’m trying, Erebus. I really am, but it is going to take me a while, okay? Can you just promise me one thing?”
I smiled at her. “Anything.”
“Just don’t give up on me, okay?” Her brow furrowed, and she looked nervous.
I reached over, wrapping my arm around her, and pulled her in close. “Never.”
She smiled softly, wiping the last of her tears away. “Good. Also, I want to keep the horses.”
The carriage pulled around to the front of the building, our ride over.
“Why do you think it took me all day to acquire them?” I said with a smirk. “Shall we go back in? I’m sure the rumor-ville is just swarming.”
“Actually, one more ride.” Atë smirked.