Annabeth tucked her phone under her ear and picked up the foreign bra off of her bedroom floor by the straps, making a noise of distaste.
"Thalia," she said through a clenched jaw. "You're not gonna believe this."
There was a deafening ringing in Annabeth's ear and it wasn't from her phone. Her stomach did a somersault and Annabeth dropped the bra, certain she was about to throw up.
Her phone landed on the bed Annabeth shared with her husband, the duvet cushioning the blow, as she leant over, palms braced on the bed as she shut her eyes.
Distantly, "Annabeth? Annabeth?" could be heard calling from her phone."If you're being murdered I can't help you..."
Annabeth's hands curled into tight fists.
Freddie Gibson was a dick.
One. Two. Three. After the countdown, Annabeth reached out with a shaking hand to put the phone on speaker.
"Yes," her friend said impatiently. "God, I thought someone had kidnapped you or something. I told you not to drive home alone at night. In New York that's practically a death sentence..."
Thalia broke up mid-sentence. "Annabeth?" she enunciated for effect.
Annabeth stared at the piece of clothing on the ground. "There's a bra in my room."
It was Victoria Secret's. Lacy. And maroon. One of the expensive ones Annabeth never let herself buy.
Thalia went silent for a moment. "Is it yours?" A pointless question, really.
"Nope," Annabeth pursed her lips. "I think it's a double D cup." She frowned. "Damn."
"Maybe Freddie decided to try something new?"
Annabeth pressed a hand to her temple.
At last, she managed to say, "I'm gonna call you back. Bye, Thalia."
"Wait—" Annabeth hung up before she could hear the full reply.
About three minutes were spent sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed and staring at the bra.
Annabeth didn't know what to think honestly. She had always had a plan for everything life had ever thrown at her.
Didn't get into the course at Harvard she'd been dreaming of for a decade? No problem, there was an offer to do architecture at Columbia instead.
Had she spent too long focussing on her studies instead of exploring the adventure of dating? Not an issue because one week into college she met Freddie, who was doing a history degree, who lived in the dorm across the hall from her, and who had a nice smile.
Never really had a family because her father pushed down the list of priorities once he remarried and his perfect new wife popped out a perfect set of twins? Fine, Annabeth built her own when she got married to Freddie fresh out of college following a six-year relationship.
Well, Annabeth didn't know if she had a solution to this setback. Her two-week business trip to California had been cancelled and she'd caught a flight home, only to find out that her husband do two years was apparently cheating on her.
Numbly, Annabeth unlocked her phone, gaze flitting past the background of her and Freddie on vacation in Greece last year. They were smiling into the camera, and it was false enough to hide the story behind the picture.
They had been arguing; Freddie insisting that coming to Greece was a selfish mistake on her part because it catered only to her interests in architecture and not his own in history. Annabeth proceeded to point out that they were literally at the heart of Green mythology. Freddie had rolled his eyes and whipped out his phone. "Just forget it," he'd snapped. "Smile."
Annabeth knew she'd been ignoring the very obvious cracks in their relationship. But she figured that they'd always been like this. Never really the perfect match but good enough on paper that it could work.
Freddie had always been into petite brunettes, but he'd settled for her. And Annabeth sure as hell settled for Freddie and his stupid, intense dislike for tomatoes and the looks he shot her when she got home from a night out with friends, even though she'd half-heartedly invited him days ago and he had rolled his eyes at that too.
Annabeth opened her online banking statements for the bank account they shared — which had been Freddie's idea in the first place — and scrolled until she found his credit card.
The statement from the last month opened up and Annabeth skimmed the page determinedly until a certain purchase jumped out at her.
The Ritz-Carlton New York
A string of curses fell from her lips. "That bastard," Annabeth spat. The nausea roiling in her gut was fading, replaced by a bubbling feeling — she was angry — no, scratch that — Annabeth was livid. Because she earned twice as much as her unfaithful asshole of a husband, who was spending her money on a staycation with his—his sidepiece.
Her fingers moved as if of their own accord to search of the Ritz-Carlton, the address and customer service phone number popping up immediately. Annabeth dialled the number, teeth gritted.
Her brain-fog was dissipating the more furious she got, and Annabeth's intentions grew clearer in her mind by the second.
There was a momentary wait before the line clicked and someone on the other end picked up.
"Hi, this is the Ritz-Carlton New York, I'm Darcy, how may I help you?" the man on the line sounded cheerful and Annabeth felt slightly bad about what she was going to do.
"Hi Darcy," she returned in an equally optimistic voice. "How are you?"
"I'm good, thanks," Darcy replied, sounding pleased. "What about you?"
"Just wonderful," Annabeth said airily. "My name's Andrea, and I'm actually calling about my boss, who I think is staying in one of the hotel rooms. See, he's there with his new girlfriend — and being the shy person he is — Freddie didn't want to tell any of us at the office about her because he was scared about how things would go with her."
She faked a wistful sigh. "But tomorrow's their six-month anniversary, and all of us from the office wanted to surprise them by sending them a bouquet of flowers."
"That's a beautiful gesture," Darcy assured her.
"Thank you!" Annabeth lowered her voice conspiratorially. "It was my idea."
Darcy's laugh echoed over the line. "This Freddie's a lucky guy."
"He sure is." Annabeth sighed. "But because he hasn't told us a thing about his mystery woman, I have no idea who I should be addressing the message to. So I was hoping, if it isn't too much trouble, of course, that you could maybe check the name of who he's checked into the hotel with?"
Darcy clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "Well, with privacy rules and all, we technically aren't supposed to do that."
"God, sorry," Annabeth feigned a groan. "I didn't even think about that. It's just that Freddie's really been the best to all of us, and I was just hoping we could surprise him is all."
"It's fine," Darcy chuckled. "You've got a better attitude than most of our callers, and it isn't such a crazy request. I can check it for you if you give me 'Freddie's' full name?"
"Thank you so much," Annabeth gushed. "The name's Freddie Ralph Gibson. Not sure how mcuh use the middle name would be," she joked.
Darcy returned it with a humorous quip of his own before there was a long pause. "Ah," came his voice. "I see it. He split the bill with another person, so I assume the name on the card should be the other guest. It's..." Another break. "Mrs Heather Jackson."
Annabeth's eyebrows shot up.
"Oh, don't get any silly ideas," Annabeth spoke into the silence, maintains her false cheer. "Freddie did mention his girlfriend was going through a divorce; part of why he's been so secretive, I suppose."
"They sound like a sweet couple," Darcy mused. "Send them my best."
"I will," Annabeth's lip curled. "Thanks for all your help, Darcy! Have a great day."
She swiftly ended the call, not wasting a second before she pushed herself off the bed and padded calmly towards the desk in the corner of the room.
Freddie's desk was sparkling clean. Annabeth was constantly ragging on him to sort out his seemingly endless supply of unsightly ungraded papers, and Freddie had always snapped at her to stop.
Apparently Heather Jackson was worth the fuss.
The keyboard to Freddie's desktop was slightly askew. Annabeth dragged it over, dropping down into his office chair and crossing one leg over the other.
The screen lit up with a picture of a lake — the default Macbook background. Annabeth had always figured Freddie was just boring, never once had she considered that he might be hiding his actual sentimental pictures from her.
Annabeth logged in with his password — his first pet's name followed by his birthday. Freddie really was boring. The desktop unlocked on the first try.
She opened up Whatsapp for desktop. Freddie was obviously practised at this, seeing as he had waited for her to go away before hopping off to a five-star hotel with this woman. And it couldn't just be a fling — no, Freddie didn't spend $6300 on a hotel room on a one-night stand.
This was a relationship. An affair, to be more specific, but Annabeth thought that sounded far too dramatic.
He wouldn't contact Heather using Messages on his phone. If Annabeth hadn't busted them before this, then Freddie was clearly being smart about it.
Heather Jackson was the first person to pop up on Freddie's Whatsapp page. The contact name was 'Heather' with multiple heart emojis beside the name and Annabeth gave herself a moment to gag.
Their messages began loading up on the page, their last exchange being, 'I'm downstairs' and 'Coming up to our room now'.
Annabeth started to scroll, her mind wandering as she skimmed the messages every few seconds. Her reflection in the screen of the laptop glared back at her. Lots of people had told her that she could be terrifying when she wanted to, and Annabeth had never seen it before, but the stony expression she was wearing at the moment gave her the urge to shudder.
The messages were never-ending.
Annabeth had never ever snooped through Freddie's phone or laptop — she had always hated the thought of having a relationship with no trust, and look where that got her.
The dates popped up in blue as she scrolled, and Annabeth grimaced when the dates changed to the year before. She felt like she should be crying, or screaming, or on the edge of a breakdown — her husband had been cheating on her for over a year.
But all she could do was stare wordlessly at the screen, not wanting to read the messages. How many of Freddie's words to her had been lies? How many times had he kissed her, wishing he was kissing another woman?
A petite brunette, by the way, from the contact's profile picture, and a mirthless laugh fell from Annabeth's lips at that.
An excruciating eternity passed before Annabeth reached the first message. It was dated February 2019 and was a simple "Hi" from Heather.
Annabeth slumped back in her seat. Jesus Christ. Two whole years Freddie had been in love with another woman. It was their two year anniversary in a few days. Hence the fancy hotel stay.
On her phone, Annabeth pulled up Instagram, but she couldn't find any Heather Jackson who resembled the single picture she had seen. Heather had probably blocked her — clever, really.
Annabeth opened up chat search on Heather's Whatsapp messages and typed in 'work'. Immediately, a ton of matches showed up, but Annabeth scrolled until she found a clear explanation.
H: Was just promoted to manager!
F: Guess I'll have to buy from Target from now on
On her phone, Annabeth searched up 'Heather Jackson' on LinkedIn. And there it was. Heather Jackson, store manager of a Target department store on 34th street.
Silently, Annabeth dialled Thalia's number.
"So Freddie's cheating on me," she said the moment her friend picked up. "With a Mrs Heather Jackson. In fact, they're currently at the Ritz-Carlton celebrating their second anniversary." Annabeth propped her elbow up on the desk and ran a hand through her hair, tugging at her roots. "And that's their second year anniversary."
Thalia promptly declared, "He's an ass."
Annabeth released a cold laugh. "No need to say that."
"No, seriously," Thalia said sombrely. "He's always been a dick and you've always been too good for him. I couldn't say anything before but..." She trailed off. "I'm sorry," she said finally.
Thalia was quiet for a few more moments. "How did you know where they were?"
"Research," Annabeth said vaguely. Thalia didn't have to know her stalker potential.
"It's been, like, ten minutes since you last called me," Thalia scoffed. "You should join the FBI."
"Yeah." Annabeth rubbed at her eyes. "Then I could get a license to buy a gun and shoot Freddie."
"I know you're probably joking but my dad's a cop, so..."
Annabeth bristled. "As fun as that sounds, me going to jail is not going to solve this." Annabeth let out a frustrated groan. "I can't believe he...I can't believe this. Two years, Thalia. Two years. We've been married for three years and he's been cheating on me for over half of it."
"Forget you going to jail, I'm going to shoot him," Thalia grumbled. "I'm not joking."
"You can't go to jail," Annabeth countered half-heartedly. "I'd have to visit you. I'm pretty Freddie'll get the car in the divorce and Rikers is too far away."
"Worth it," Thalia said with utter seriousness.
Annabeth closed her eyes and took a shaky breath in. "I should probably call Freddie, cut short his vacation, tell him that I know. Text you in a bit."
As she pulled the phone away from her ear, Thalia shouted, "Wait!"
Annabeth frowned. "What?"
"That's it?" the other woman demanded. "You just found out your husband's been having an affair for the last two years!"
"What do you want me to do?" Annabeth retorted. "I can either pretend nothing happened or confront him about it — and I'm not going to act like there isn't anything wrong—"
"Well, of course not," Thalia snorted. "But you know where they are. And you know who this woman is — and that she's married."
Annabeth tilted her head to the side, thinking for a moment. "I don't think I'm getting your point here."
She could almost hear Thalia rolling her eyes. "Revenge, Annabeth," Thalia sounded out like she would for a two year old.
Annabeth blinked. "Revenge—what?"
"She's married," Thalia repeated.
Annabeth made a helpless sound. "What, you want me to ring up her husband and drag him along on some—some mission for vengeance?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying!" Thalia almost screeched.
"Absolutely not," Annabeth said, aghast.
"You're angry, aren't you?"
"Furious," Annabeth agreed, shaking her head agitatedly. "But I can't just-just—"
"Why not?" Thalia demanded. "Annabeth, you deserve so much better than him. But he also deserves to be put in his place. He can't just get off scot-free!"
Annabeth bit her lip.
She had always been told to take the high road. It was just something that had been drilled into her as a child. She had never been temperamental, always the steadiest person in any situation.
But Thalia's idea was extremely appealing at the moment. Annabeth had this unbearable urge to punch Freddie right in the nose, and what Thalia was saying sounded like a non-violent alternative she longed to take...
Making safe decisions hadn't got her anywhere except for being a future divorcée at 26 years old.
"Screw it," Annabeth said at last. "Screw Freddie. I'm doing this."
There was a cheer from the other end of the line.
"It's their anniversary tomorrow," Annabeth told her, squinting at the messages on Freddie's Whatsapp from last week. "He's booked them a table for dinner at a restaurant in the hotel — Contour."
"Okay," Thalia reasoned. "So you nab Heather's poor husband, explain everything to him—"
"And surprise the happy couple at the restaurant," Annabeth finished, unable to help the smirk tugging at her lips. She fought it back, a small logical part of her brain screaming warnings at her. "Is this a bit..."
"Overdue?" Thalia interjected. "Well-deserved?"
"Mean," Annabeth amended lamely.
"Two years, Annabeth."
"Right." Annabeth gnashed her teeth together. "God, I'm so angry I could punch a wall."
"Just imagine the look on his face when you show up at the restaurant," Thalia reminded.
Annabeth relished in the fantasy for a moment. "Step one," she brainstormed aloud. "Find Heather's husband."
As she typed into the chat search bar 'husband', Annabeth said warily, "Wait, what if Heather's in some dead-end, horrible marriage? We don't know anything about her. Maybe she has a good reason."
She entered the search, and only a few highlights showed up.
"Well," Thalia promoted. "Does she?"
Annabeth read the messages silently.
(13 June 2019)
F: Can you get away tonight?
F: I heard about this great Japanese place where we can grab dinner.
H: Well...I do have something with the in-laws.
H: But they're annoying. I'll get out of it.
F: Won't your husband get suspicious?
H: Percy's too stupid to even think about it.
(25 December 2019)
H: I wish I could see you today.
F: Same here.
H: At least I convinced my husband to spend it alone this year.
H: I don't have to waste any more of my time on his friends.
Annabeth grimaced. "No, she sounds...horrendous, actually. Poor Percy."
"Is that her husband?"
Annabeth nodded. "I think so."
On Instagram this time, Annabeth searched up the name. There were a few accounts, but the one that caught her eye was a man who looked around her age, grinning madly into the camera.
His account had two pictures, both of them with a woman at his side.
"Found him," Annabeth said gravely, instantly recognising Heather from her profile pictures. "Percy Jackson," she tried out the name. She frowned. "I feel bad for him. Seems like an okay guy."
"You'll make a dream team. The wronged exes."
Annabeth rolled her eyes. "As if he's gonna be on board with this. Some random stranger tells him his wife's cheating on him and asks if he wants to join in on a revenge plan? Who would say 'yes' to that?"
"I think you're underestimating how mad he's gonna be," Thalia said confidently. "Annabeth, she's been cheating on him for two years too. I don't think he's gonna turn you down. Any idea how to get in touch with him?"
"One sec," Annabeth said distractedly, already opening up LinkedIn. She found Percy Jackson within moments — a marine biologist at NYU. His phone number and email were on his profile for prospective business owners or employers — and bitter wives, apparently. "I have his number."
"Shit," Thalia laughed. "I'm impressed."
"I really should consider a job for the FBI," Annabeth mused. "Okay, I'm going to hang up now and call him."
Thalia forced her to promise to text her with updates as soon as possible, and Annabeth hung up with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. There were butterflies in her stomach — the kind that made her want to throw up.
Annabeth copied Percy Jackson's number over, her finger hovering hesitantly over the call button. There was no going back from this. Was she really about to break up a marriage?
A small part of her said, if someone had known Freddie was cheating on you, you'd want them to tell you.
Annabeth swallowed hard before she pressed the green button. The phone rang twice before the man picked up.
"Hello?" came a weary voice.
"Hi." Annabeth drummed her fingers on the desk nervously. "Is this Percy Jackson?"
Annabeth leaned back in her chair, studying the man seated directly opposite her.
Percy Jackson had dark hair jet black and messy, the front few pieces curling over his eyes as if a haircut was long overdue. His green eyes seemed to flicker between shades, and probably would've been warm and friendly if she hadn't just told him the story of how his wife had been having an affair with her husband for the last two years.
His hands gripped the edge of the table, flushing his knuckles in white, his eyes trained on the wood of the table before the blank expression on his face.
"Is it bad that I'm not surprised?" was what he finally said.
Annabeth's brow furrowed. "Did you know?"
"Oh, no," Percy released a humourless laugh. "Not a clue. But things haven't been great between us for...for a while."
"Same with Freddie and me," Annabeth said quietly. She had called Percy yesterday night and he had agreed to meet her for breakfast in the morning, which gave her a whole night to mull over the spiralling event that was her life.
Her relationship with Freddie had been over for months now. But what he was doing was a brilliant way to get her to lose all respect for him. Once she accepted that, it was like a whole world of Freddie's flaws had been opened up to her eyes.
He never deserved her.
Annabeth glanced at Percy. "But it doesn't excuse what they're doing." She frowned. "If you want out of a relationship, you tell the other person. It's basic decency. You don't just—" Annabeth broke off frustratedly, feeling anger starting to rise up in her again.
"Forgot you were being cheated on too," Percy said warily. "Sorry."
Annabeth pursed her lips. "You just found out your wife's having an affair. I think I can cut you some slack."
Percy was silent for a few more seconds. He shook his head. "I just...can't believe it, you know?" His gaze hardened. "So many things make sense now. Her last-minute disappearances. She told me she had a family thing this week."
"I was on a business trip," Annabeth snorted. "Figured I'd get back early as a surprise and instead found someone else's bra in my bedroom."
Percy made a face. He frowned. "She always hated it when I talked to any other girls — none of it was even remotely romantic. Most of them were colleagues or just friends, and she would just ignore me for hours. Made me feel guilty and apologise."
"Hypocrite," Annabeth said automatically. She blushed when Percy raised an eyebrow. "Sorry. I'm...emotional at the moment."
"No, it's good to have someone to hate on her with me," Percy said with a shrug. "Makes it easier to deal with."
"You can hate on Freddie too," Annabeth offered. "He's a history professor and somehow had a talent to make even the Tudors boring."
Percy scrunched his nose. "I don't think you need a talent to make history boring."
Annabeth rolled her eyes. "Well, I put up with it for so long. Pretended like everything he told me was simply revolutionary — even though he basically repeated what I'd said the night before — because God forbid I do anything to hurt his precious ego."
"What an asshole," Percy said distastefully. He looked up at her. "You know who else is an asshole?"
"Your wife," Annabeth replied.
"Yes," Percy nodded firmly. He scowled. "She kept trying to turn me against my family. My mum always said she never liked Heather and I stood up for her!" His hand was splayed palm-down on the table. "I can't believe she would do this," he said, anger and misery flickering in his features.
"We're too good for them," Annabeth told him sternly. She sighed. "Look, I spent last night trying to blame myself for this. Maybe I wasn't supportive enough, or loving enough." Annabeth shook her head. "And then I realised that he's a dick, so why should I feel like shit? I didn't do anything wrong. He did."
"You've had a whole night," Percy grumbled. "I've had five minutes."
They sat in silence for a few more seconds. Annabeth glanced tentatively at him. Percy was nice. He seemed like a decent guy — Heather didn't know what she was missing.
"Should I not have told you?" Annabeth blurted out.
His head snapped up quickly, and there was a heart-stopping pause where he simply stared at her.
"No," Percy said finally. "Definitely glad you told me. Just...it was easier...before." He clasped his hands together and set them on the table. "So, what's the plan?"
Annabeth blinked. "The what?"
"The plan," Percy repeated. When he was met with confusion, he waved a hand dismissively. "You walked in here looking like you were about to bust a drug ring or something. And you called me up in the middle of the night sounding extremely determined and angry. Obviously you have a plan to get back at Phil."
"Freddie," Annabeth corrected, making a face at the name. She eyed him carefully. "You figured that out quickly. I read some of their messages. Heather said..." Annabeth winced; Percy really didn't need to know the details.
"Let me guess, that I was dumb?" Percy shrugged. "She's been telling me that from the start."
"She doesn't give you enough credit," Annabeth said firmly. "Seriously."
The small smile Percy allowed himself made Annabeth's heart do a triple flip in her chest. Now is not the time, she reminded herself.
"You don't have to be in on the plan," Annabeth offered.
"I want to," Percy said sombrely. "If I have to confront her about this I'm ready to do it in the most dramatic way possible."
Annabeth laughed. She pushed her bag to the edge of the table. "Alright. I can't take full credit for the plan — my friend Thalia came up with most of it. Essentially, it's Freddie and Heather's second anniversary tonight, and they've booked a table in the restaurant at the fancy hotel they're staying at."
"Okay," Percy said slowly. "So how're we gonna find them? I mean, it's not like I actively track Heather's location—" He stopped short, squinting at her. "You already know where they are, don't you?"
Annabeth's cheeks coloured.
Percy gave her an incredulous look. "Do you actively track his location?"
"What? No!" Annabeth said indignantly. "Of course not!"
Percy scrutinised her unconvincingly. "Still creepy."
She folded her arms across her chest and glared at him. "I checked our bank account. His credit card was used at The Ritz-Carlton to book a room. I called them up, pretended to be his assistant and got your wife's name. After that, all it took was a bit of research and...hacking into his Whatsapp."
"Jesus Christ," Percy muttered.
Annabeth grimaced. "Yeah, saying it out loud really does make me sound like a crazy ex. I swear I'm not, like, insane or something—"
Percy held up a hand. "It's fine," he said, looking for amused than anything. "Honestly, I think you have the right to be the crazy ex."
"No, I've already decided that I want to be the hot, way-out-of-his-league ex," Annabeth informed him. "Someone's gotta do it."
"Sure, that too." Percy's gaze flickered up and down before he met her eyes, a grin pulling at his mouth.
Annabeth was torn between a smile and the urge to snort. "Anyway," she drew out the syllable, crossing one leg over the other. "They're at Contour. Freddie said he booked the table for 8pm. We can march in halfway through the meal—"
"Woah, woah, march in?" Percy interrupted.
Annabeth frowned. "Yes, what's wrong with that?"
"Your plan sucks," Percy insisted.
Her jaw dropped. "Excuse me," Annabeth said indignantly. "I'm the one who found out where they were and what time the reservation was! I am the plan!"
Percy rolled his eyes. "Yes," he said impatiently. "But you're not tapping into the 'revenge' part of the plan enough." His chair scraped against the floor as he leaned in closer. "We know the time and place for their reservation. The right thing to do is to book a table next to them and sit down while they're in the middle of their meal."
Annabeth stared at him, speechless. "That's...that's actually a good idea."
"Like I said," Percy spread his hands, looking pleased with himself. "Dramatic."
"It's a good idea," Annabeth emphasised. "But the restaurant's booked out, we'll never get in, much less right next to them."
Percy sighed, pulling out his phone. "How did you find out Heather's name?"
"I called and pretended to be Freddie's assistant."
"Bingo," Percy pointed at her like they were on a game show. "Proof that lying always works."
"Wow, was that Gandhi?"
"Hey, you don't get to preach peace to me while we're trying to get revenge on our spouses." Percy was already dialling the number, and there was a soft trilling as they waited for the restaurant to pick up.
"Hello?" came the greeting.
Percy grabbed the phone, holding it up to his ear. "Hi, is this Contour at The Ritz-Carlton?" A beat of silence. "Yeah, thanks. I'm Percy, and I was actually calling about a reservation we had for dinner tonight."
Annabeth's brow furrowed. She reached out and prodded him, mouthing, 'what are you doing?'
Percy swatted her hand away. "Of course, the booking's actually under Gibson — Freddie Gibson. He's a good friend of mine, and it's his and his girlfriend's anniversary dinner. My wife and I were actually the ones who introduced them to each other—"
Annabeth made a furious noise, giving him a 'what the hell?' look.
"—and we're in town for a day, so we were hoping we could join them for dinner tonight?" Percy paused. "Yes, could you change the reservation and make it for four instead, please? Yes, two tables of two would be great."
"What are you doing?" Annabeth hissed.
"We should be in around 8.30pm, so just let Freddie and his girlfriend start first." Percy was grinning now, shooting Annabeth a proud look. "Oh, and don't tell them we changed anything — I can't wait to see the look on their faces."
Annabeth shook her head in disbelief, pressing a hand to her temple. "You are mad," she muttered under her breath.
"Thank you so much," Percy said cheerily. "Bye." He hung up the phone and set it down, turning to her with a nonchalant expression.
"That was..." Annabeth was at a loss for words.
"Genius," Percy guessed. "The most incredible thing you've ever seen."
"Insane," she finished. "You are insane. How did you know that would work?"
"I didn't," Percy shrugged. "But I haven't exactly got anything to lose, the worst they can do is hang up on me."
Annabeth snorted. "That's one way to look at it."
Percy stared at his phone. "These hotels really need to improve their policies on privacy." He crossed his arms. "Well, we have four hours till dinner. What do you wanna do?"
Annabeth sighed. "Well, I'm trying this new not-being-sensible thing right now, so as much as I know I'm going to regret suggesting this, I want to buy a whole new wardrobe for my dinner tonight."
Percy looked at her strangely. "I don't know if wasting your life savings is the best idea at the moment."
The corners of her mouth turned up. "'Course not. But Freddie left his emergency credit card at home."
The expression on his face was priceless. "You know, you should really go into mafia business. You'd make a really good crime lord."
Annabeth cocked her head affectionately. "Thanks."
"Normally I wouldn't agree to this," Percy admitted. "Except Heather has spent $6300 of our joint bank account on a hotel room with another man..."
"There's Madison Avenue for a reason," Annabeth reminded him. "We'll find something for both of us." She smiled, slinging her bag over her shoulder. "And dinner's on me tonight — well, Freddie, actually. Order seafood."
Percy grinned as they got up. "Sure, and order as much alcohol as you want. Heather's paying for drinks tonight."
Annabeth stood in front of the hotel, clutching her purse and balancing on her stilettos.
She stared at the sign that read 'Contour' in bright cursive, glancing at the couples sitting inside. Somewhere inside, her husband was with another woman, oblivious to what was about to happen.
The revving of an engine made her head swivel, and she saw Percy step out of a cab, dressed in a suit that made him look like the next James Bond.
He raised his eyebrows when he saw her. "You look..." He paused. "Tall."
Annabeth looked down at her feet. The shoes were at least a couple inches high and sparkled under the moonlight. "Freddie never let me wear heels. He always said he didn't like how it made me taller than him."
The weight of Percy's gaze almost made her stumble.
"Well, you look amazing," Percy said decidedly.
Annabeth glanced up at him and grinned. "I know," she said conspiratorially.
"You don't look too bad yourself," she remarked, gaze raking down to his shoes. Annabeth knew she was being obvious, but she didn't really care anymore.
He simply shrugged. "Figured if I was ever going to make Heather regret this, now was the time." Percy walked towards her, shaking his head. "Freddie's going to eat his own hand when he sees you."
A smile stretched across Annabeth's face. "Shall we?" she feigned seriousness, gesturing towards the restaurant entrance.
Percy spread his arms and she stepped forward, leading the way towards the waiter standing by the door.
"Hi," Annabeth said sweetly. "We have a reservation — under the name Gibson?"
The waiter skimmed the markings on the book in front of him, nodding. "Ah, yes, the second half of the group. They should be right in there to the left."
Percy thanked the waiter as they walked in. Annabeth made a beeline for the left side of the restaurant.
Her vision tunnelled.
Freddie had his back to her, but she recognised the coiffed sandy hair. A woman sat opposite him, with dark brown hair that hung in a straight curtain, the ends just brushing her waist.
He was feeding her a strawberry, both of them giggling quietly.
Annabeth wrinkled her nose. "That's just disgusting." Percy made a gagging sound that elicited a snicker from her.
"You ready?" she whispered, glancing at him.
Percy grimaced. "No."
"Me neither," Annabeth said unhappily.
A few seconds of quiet between them passed before Percy broke the silence, "Do you think we can get a discount if we book the same divorce lawyer?"
Annabeth snickered. "What, like, buy one get one free?"
She was the first to delve forward, fingers pressing into the seams of her bag as she walked purposefully towards the empty table beside Freddie.
Annabeth sat down and slid into the booth beside Heather in one smooth, nimble motion. "Good evening," she uttered with a wide smile.
Freddie's jaw dropped.
If Annabeth could stop time for one moment, it would be this one. Sure, it was so, so petty and vindictive, but she relished in the satisfaction at seeing the shift in Freddie's face from astonishment, to panic, to undisguised fear.
Percy pulled out the chair across from Annabeth and sat down next to Freddie, grinning at Heather. "Hi, Heather. I had no idea your family thing was at The Ritz."
He gestured to Annabeth, who was currently giving herself mental applause for picking the royal blue dress with the plunging neckline and cinched waist.
"This is Annabeth Chase, my good friend," Percy introduced cheerfully. "She's married to—" He turned in his chair, reclining calmly as he looked at the other man. "To you, actually, Freddie. Great to meet you, by the way."
Annabeth could see Heather pale, her complexion growing greener and greener by the second, her eyes darting anxiously between Percy and Annabeth.
Annabeth merely offered a wave and a thin smile.
"The stunned silence is getting old quickly," Annabeth said airily, crossing one leg over the other. "Believe me, I know. I had a similar reaction when I got home early from my business trip, only to see that you had spent a fortune on a hotel room — without me — and a bra in my bedroom that wasn't mine."
Percy was smirking now, and Annabeth had to silently admit to herself that it was unfairly attractive on him.
He crossed his arms. "Oh, how the turn tables."
Annabeth gave him a weird look. "What?"
Percy'a incredulous gaze flicked to her. "Have you never seen The Office?"
"That show is terrible," she scoffed.
"My God," Percy murmured. "You are crazy."
Annabeth shook her head as she turned back to the not-so-happy couple who was staring at them like they had grown two extra heads. Heather's head snapped between the two of them as she watched the exchange, mouth agape in wordless silence.
"So," Annabeth interjected. "We aren't here for an explanation. I don't think either of us need one. I've seen the messages — I think it's all pretty self-explanatory." She smiled at her husband. "Just wanted to let you know that I'll be filing for divorce — I think having a mistress counts as an irreconcilable difference — and that I'll be out of the house by the time you get back from your wonderful hotel stay."
"Oh, and me too," Percy quipped, eyes trained on his wife. "I'm done, Heather. Should've said so a long time ago, but I guess all it took was this for me to lose the last little shred of respect I had for you."
"You really believe this stranger over me?" Heather demanded.
Annabeth was taken aback by the sound of her voice, having expected for ensuing silence from the two of them. Heather's voice grated on her nerves, oozing with venom.
"I'm your wife, Percy," Heather snapped. "You don't just get to fall out of love with me in a day. It's you and me for the next fifty years — don't do something stupid based on a rash decision—"
"A rash decision?" Percy exploded, his voice rising. "You've been sleeping with another man two years!"
Annabeth had never been one to make a scene, but as heads in the restaurant swivelled to stare at them, she felt a sense of ‘this is right’, because even for people stuck in a loveless marriage, cheating was still a low blow.
“What the hell did you want me to say?” Heather hissed. “‘Sorry, Percy, but I’m far better than you ever could be! That I hate the jokes you make and the way you never take my side over your family’s and that-that marrying you was the worst decision I ever made!’”
“Hey!” Annabeth snapped loudly, risking a glance at Percy, who was rooted to the spot, pain seizing up his expression. “You don’t get to say things like that to him! You don’t get to blame him for your mistakes because Percy deserves a hell of a lot more than you, you manipulative bitch!”
Heather’s wail sliced through the air. “You slut!” she spat. “Didn’t you ever wonder why Freddie came home late? Now you know — he’s always preferred me. Every kiss and every touch? Picturing me.”
Annabeth flinched like she’d been slapped — and she might as well have been. Heather’s words stung snd knocked the air out of her like a punch.
She looked at Freddie, who was staring at her, petrified, not having said a word since they arrived in the restaurant.
“It’s not—” Freddie said frustratedly. “Annabeth, I—we—you were never enough for me. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it, but — come on, haven’t you ever thought about everything we could have? We were always too safe, too—”
“Of course, I did,” Annabeth slammed her hands on the table. “I stayed because I, unlike you, am a good person! I never once thought about cheating on you because I made vows and I chose to stand by it! If you wanted out of this marriage you could’ve just told me!” she cried.
“Don’t make me the villain here,” Freddie threatened.
“How can I not?” Annabeth demanded. “Freddie, you cheated!”
“You’re supposed to want the best for me!” Freddie growled. “This is the best for me! Heather gets me through every meal we have to have together—”
“Well, I’m sorry for being such a burden,” Annabeth said sarcastically, waving her hands wildly. “Youre ridiculous. I-I can’t believe what you’re saying right now. Can you even hear yourself?”
“He upgraded,” Heather said emphatically, shooting her a disdainful look. “Be happy for him.”
“Don’t speak to her like that,” Percy snapped. His hand brushed Annabeth’s elbow, tugging her away. “Come on, we’re going. We’re not wasting anymore time on this tonight.”
“You’re defending her, but not me when she called me a ‘bitch’?” Heather demanded.
Percy glowered. “You lost that right a long time ago, Heather.” Annabeth shot Freddie a look that could kill, getting out of her seat and stalking away.
“Hey!” Freddie called, outraged. “You don’t just get to walk away from this, Annabeth—”
“Tell my lawyer about it,” Annabeth spat over her shoulder, eyes trained on Percy’s back as they left the restaurant.
One foot in front of the other, she repeated in her head as a mantra. A few seconds later and the cold winter air outside hit her like a truck.
Shivering, Annabeth muttered a string of curses under her breath. Adrenaline was making her dizzy, and her heart was pounding deafeningly in her ears.
Percy stood a few steps away from her, frazzled and looking like he’d just been through a train wreck. His eyes were wild, and he looked like he’d just aged five years in the ten minutes they’d spent in the restaurant.
Annabeth wrapped her arms around herself, fingers pressed into her skin as she gnashed her teeth together.
Percy, who was pacing up and down the pavement, turned around and stalked towards her. “I hate her,” he said decidedly. “It’s like looking at a stranger. But I don’t know if she was always like this and I just ignored it or if this is a side of her she always hid from me.”
“Love makes you blind, I guess,” Annabeth said bitterly.
“No,” Percy said humourlessly. “No more love. Not anymore.” He looked down at her trembling figure. “Shit, you’re cold.”
“It’s fine,” she grumbled as he shrugged off his coat snd draped it around her shoulder. “Stop, I’m wearing two coats now — I look like the Michelin man.”
“I happen to like the Michelin man,” Percy said off-handed my. His brow furrowed. “Wait, no, not that I actually like the Michelin man, just that you don’t look bad—”
A laugh escaped her. A real one, despite the situation. “That’s a weird fetish to have, Percy.” Her cheek twitched bemusedly.
Percy looked like he wanted to throw himself into oncoming traffic. “Forget it,” he said miserably.
Annabeth shook her head with a laugh. “I’m kidding.” She hesitated. “Look, I-I know, but...we just got out of some pretty serious long-term relationships. Like, literally just a few minutes ago.”
“I get that,” Percy agreed. “Except that I don’t want to waste anymore time on Heather. She’s not worth it, and she’s definitely not worth me waiting four months only to ask you out exactly as I would’ve tonight if I wasn’t...you know, married.”
Annabeth’s nose scrunched. “I’m thinking,” she informed him.
Percy waited patiently, studying her expression for any giveaway clues.
Annabeth hadn’t been in the dating game since she was 18. Hell, she’d only ever had one boyfriend — Freddie — and she’d married the guy. But Percy was...well, it had been less than 8 hours with him and she already desperately wanted to take him out to dinner. Even with her limited experience, Annabeth knew that wasn’t an everyday thing.
“Because this has so much potential to go badly,” Annabeth groaned. “We’re not even divorced — or even started on it—”
“We can go through it together!”
“What a fun date idea,” she said sarcastically.
“Can you imagine?” Percy’s eyes glinted under the light of the street lamp.
“Couples therapy is usually more of a...fiftieth date.” Annabeth pursed her lips. “But I also really, really want to kiss you right now.”
Percy raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
Annabeth frowned. “But we should probably go on for a date first, shouldn’t we?”
“There isn’t a rule book for this,” Percy laughed. “Just do whatever you want.”
Annabeth crossed her arms, pulling his jacket tight around her. “I want to go out to dinner with you,” she said at last. “And forget what a dick my husband is.”
Percy grinned. “We can do that. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”
“Also,” Annabeth glanced back at the restaurant and made a face. “I want to get far, far away from here before they get out.”
Percy shuddered. “Let’s.” He offered his arm, which Annabeth regarded for a second before taking it, rolling her eyes when he smiled because of it.
“Wish I’d met you 8 years ago,” Annabeth grumbled.
Percy scoffed. “You wouldn’t have gone out with me.”
“Yes, I would,” she protested. “All you’d have to do is ask nicely. And it would make for a much better story than this.”
“I don’t know,” Percy wondered aloud as they slowly made their way to the subway station. “It’s much more interesting this way.”
“You definitely seem like a person who would’ve used a stupid pick-up line.”
He shrugged in response. “Mostly it’s just, “go out with me?””
“Romantic,” she remarked.
Percy grinned. “Go out with me?”
Annabeth laughed. “Sure,” she paused. “Although I should warn you that I’m currently going through a pretty difficult divorce.”
Percy’s eyes widened with feigned surprise. “No way, me too! What are the odds?”
Annabeth shook her head, smiling.
She didn’t know what the future had in store for her, and maybe that was okay for now. But this...she had a good feeling about this.