Antigone yawned as she knotted the top of the trash bag she was holding. It was nearly 3:30 in the morning. The last of the guests had cleared out about a half hour before, but she had stayed behind to help Eric tidy up. She didn’t mind staying later, but Christ, she was tired. She was about to yawn again, but the sudden presence of a hand on her shoulder made her jump. She dropped the bag she was holding and turned to see Eric standing behind her. “Sorry, sorry!” said Eric, hands up and looking apologetic. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
Antigone shook her head a bit, trying to shake off the drowsiness that had overcome her. “No, no, you’re f-fine,” she said, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a yawn.
Eric smiled gently. “Come on,” he said, “You look exhausted. I’ll walk you home.”
She looked at him, brow slightly furrowed. “Eric, I just live across the square.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” he said, placing his hand on the small of her back and guiding her toward the lift. “But I want to walk you home all the same.”
“Oh...well...alright then,” she said, too tired to argue any further. They entered the lift and rode down without another word. Normally Antigone dreaded quiet moments like this, but this time she found the silence to be comfortable. With a soft ding the lift’s doors opened and the pair crossed the entry. Eric opened the front door and let Antigone pass. A cold breeze was blowing in off the ocean, helping her wake up a bit. She gave an involuntary shudder. “Here,” said Eric, taking off his suit jacket and placing it around her shoulders. “Thank you,” she said quietly, putting her arms through and drawing it around herself. The warmth and weight were comforting, and she was grateful for the protection from the cold. Stray wisps of hair blew around her face as she looked across the square to Funn Funerals, where all the lights were out except for the one in her bedroom. She must have forgotten to turn it off earlier in her rush to leave.
“Shall we?” Eric offered her his arm. Antigone took it silently, and he led them off to the left, away from both Chapman’s and Funn Funerals. “Um, Eric,” she said. “Where are we going?”
“Thought we’d take the long way home, if that’s ok with you,” he said.
“The long way?” she asked.
“Yes, well, if you take the direct route then it’s over too quickly,” he explained. “The scenic route is always better.”
“...Right,” she said, still not completely understanding his reasoning. Scenic route? What on earth was he going on about? It was just the village square, they had both seen it before.
“So,” continued Eric, “did you enjoy yourself?”
“Yes, I think so,” she said, reflecting on the evening.
“I mean the interaction with Lady Templar was unpleasant but–” she stopped herself. “Sorry, I shouldn’t say things like that.”
“No, it’s fine,” said Eric. “You’re right. Vivienne can be a bit...much, at times.”
Antigone cast a sideways glance at him. “Aren’t you two friends or something?”
“Well, yes,” he said. “We haven’t been that close as of late though.”
“Oh,” she replied, not really sure what else to say. “I’m sorry.”
Eric shrugged. “Don’t be.” There was a moment’s pause as they rounded the far end of the square, passing the darkened storefront of The Broken Tooth. “Anyways,” he continued, “what was your favorite part of the night?”
Antigone thought for a moment. “The food, I think. Some of the games were enjoyable too. What was yours?”
“Hmm. I think I’d have to go with you trying to fight off that spider that dropped on your head in the haunted house,” he said with a wink.
“What?? No, you’re lying.”
“It was! I didn’t know you were quite so good at self-defense.” He nudged her teasingly.
“Oh, shut up,” she said, rolling her eyes. They were in front of Funn Funerals now.
“Ok, ok,” he chuckled, coming to a stop in front of the door and turning to face her. “Really though, Antigone, I enjoyed spending the evening with you.”
Antigone drew his jacket closer around her, trying to stifle whatever feelings were bubbling up in her chest, and dropped her gaze. “I enjoyed it too, Eric.”
“I’d like to do that more often, if you’ll give me the chance.”
Antigone could feel her face reddening. She nudged a nearby rock with her toe. “What, go to more parties together?”
“I mean if you want to,” he said. “Or we could do something else, just the two of us.”
She inhaled sharply at the suggestion and took a step back. “I’ll have to get back to you about that.” She gave the reply without thinking, and instantly regretted it. Why didn’t she just say yes? Unsure of how to recover, she continued. “It’s late, I should really be getting to bed.” She glanced up at him and could see confusion written on his face. “Oh...ok then. Let me know what you decide,” he said. Antigone could hear the attempt to sound nonchalant in his voice. It stung.
“Yes, well...goodnight,” she said, turning towards the door.
“Night,” he replied, quietly. Without another word, she opened the door to Funn Funerals and slipped inside.
Antigone closed the door as quietly as she could, hoping beyond hope that she wouldn’t wake Rudyard. The last thing she needed was to be berated by her brother for arriving home so late, and escorted by the competition, no less. She leaned against the door and took a deep, steading breath. Had she just been asked on a date ? No, that couldn’t be. Unless…? As she took a step further into the house, she realized that she was still wearing Eric’s jacket. “Oh, Christ,” she hissed to the darkness. She tried to reason with herself that it wasn’t a big deal, that she could just give it back tomorrow. No, no, that wouldn’t do. She had to embalm Mrs. Erstwhile tomorrow, and she didn’t think she could get away without Rudyard noticing. There was nothing for it. She opened the front door, hoping that Eric hadn’t made it back to his place yet. Thankfully, he was only halfway across the square. “Eric!” she whispered. He didn’t turn, so she whispered his name again, a bit louder this time. He heard her, and turned to see her scurrying across the square. “Oh, hey Antigone,” he said. “What are you–”
“You forgot this,” she said, extending his jacket to him. “Or, rather, I forgot to return this to you.”
“Oh,” he said, looking surprised. “I completely forgot about that. Thank you.” He took the jacket from her and draped it over his arm. The silence hung between them, neither of them sure of what to do next. Eric spoke first. “I forgot to thank you.”
Antigone looked up at him, confused. “For what?”
“For spending the evening with me, Antigone. I wasn’t lying when I said that I enjoyed it.”
“Oh, right. You don’t have to thank me,” she said, clasping her hands in front of her. “I mean if anything, I should be thanking you for staying with me. I’m not very good at parties. This one was better though.”
Eric smiled kindly at her, making her stomach flutter distractingly. “Don’t mention it.”
A moment’s silence passed between them as Antigone tried to steel herself to say the words she had meant to say earlier. “Eric, about what you asked. I-” she paused. “I would like that. To spend more time with you, I mean.”
His eyes lit up. “Really?” he said, looking more excited than she’d seen him look all evening.
“Yes, really,” she said, an equally excited smile forming in spite of herself.
“Okay, how about a movie then? We talked about that earlier, maybe we could do Friday night? And we can just do it at my place. Bit easier.”
Antigone nodded, her heart hammering furiously. “That sounds great.”
Eric grinned at her. “Alright then. Friday night. Be ready at eight, I’ll pick you up.”
She paused. “Ah, I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Rudyard might not be pleased if you showed up to take me on a…” she couldn’t quite manage to get the last word out.
“A date,” Eric finished.
“Yes. That. A date.” she said. The word felt strange on her tongue.
“Fair enough,” he replied. “You’re right, it’s probably not the best way to begin the evening. Come over at eight then? I’ll walk you home after.”
“Alright,” said Antigone. “I should really go home now, it’s late and I have to embalm Mrs. Erstwhile tomorrow.”
“Ah, right,” said Eric. “I’ll let you go. Goodnight then.”
“Goodnight,” she said, and turned to go.
“Hey Antigone,” said Eric, catching her hand and pulling her back to face him. They were close now, closer than they had been all evening. Antigone’s heart stopped as she looked at him. He gave her a soft smile, the kind that gave her butterflies in her stomach and made her fingers tingle. Oh God, what was he doing? He hesitated for a moment, then gave her a kiss on the cheek. “See you on Friday.”