A million twinkly lights glittered. Standing in the middle of my gallery, friends and family surrounding me, I was stunned by the insane generosity of Nyx. It was nearly impossible to believe she’d gifted me the favor from Hera. Tears stung my eyes. No one had ever been so kind, and I definitely was not used to such a grand gesture. Speechless, I grabbed Nyx’s hand and squeezed tight, pulling her into an embrace. I didn’t know if it was appropriate or not, but at that moment I did not care. She smelled crisp and fresh as the moon and being close to her sent a wave of emotion through me.
The tears flowed freely then. I grabbed a tissue someone handed me, and dabbed my eyes, trying to pull myself together. An odd energy filled the air the entire evening, and although the events had gone off without a hitch, it felt like something was off. I had barely caught my breath when the auction for Thanatos began.
He looked nervous onstage. His dark brooding seemed tinged with shyness tonight. Than’s distant persona was familiar, but I felt like I was seeing him for the first time. I raised my paddle in a bid. Whispers began circulating between tables. A couple of others raised the price a bit, but I kept ahead of the pack. Before I knew it, Zeus started bidding against me. Ridiculous. What does he want with the God of Death? Bids flew fast and furious. Than winced as it continued. Others around me took my interest in Than as romantic and started stuffing money into my hands to help. Even with help, I almost came up short, but as Zeus leaned forward to listen to something Hera whispered, I felt around the chair cushion and found enough drachma to secure the win.
When the gavel came down ending the auction, shock jolted my mind. A favor from the God of Death. Usurping my father. Two birds with one stone…or loose drachma as the case may be.
The look on Than’s face itself was nearly priceless. He paled considerably and then looked more than a little uneasy.
A rush of feelings flooded me. Disbelief. Victory. Gratitude. Confusion. Oh, gods…what would I request? I’d been so focused on winning, I had not thought it through.
Thanatos. I really wasn’t sure what I had in mind for him, but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a tiny sliver of retaliation lurking beneath my desire to win. After the island warning and the embarrassment of having him throw me in the water, I felt like I wanted to exact a small piece of retribution. Nothing horrible…just a trump card so to speak. Time would tell how creative I could become in requesting a favor.
Two prizes in one night. Both unexpected. I now had a favor from my stepmother, Lady Hera, and from Death himself. Both surreal.
Zeus watched as everyone congratulated me. I’m sure he had his own suspicions as to what I was up to as far as Hera was concerned, but he really didn’t have a clue as to what drove me to bid on Than. Maybe he thinks I did it just to spite him. Would he believe I had the nerve to do that? That was a question he would not be able to answer. And I knew he did not like it when he didn’t have the answers to every question.
The twinkle lights blinked, alerting everyone that the dance was about to start. Everywhere you looked deities and mortals alike were decked out in radiant costumes, gilded dress, and fine wear. It was nearly mind-boggling to see; more glitter than stars in the universe. The virtual reality projection on the ceiling made it seem as if we were beneath a star-filled sky. It was lovely and turned out exactly as I’d hoped.
I scurried to my office to change into my ballgown. The gown was a pale silver; a beaded and sequined sheath with a gauzy train. It felt magical. My mask for the evening was shaped as a cat-head — black velvet sprinkled with tiny crystalline stars. Hidden behind the mask, I felt emboldened. The evening’s excitement thrummed in my chest.
Melpomene walked through the door, startling me.
“What are you doing? You scared me to death,” I hissed.
“I wanted to come and check with you to make sure you are okay.”
“Of course I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be? I won the auction for Thanatos and then will also be granted a favor from Hera. What could be better?”
“Uh, you know what I’m talking about,” she countered.
I shot her a look as I slid on a pair of long velvet gloves.
“It’s been a big night. Maybe you should reconsider your plan,” she said.
“Everything’s fine, Mel. Ugh. I should have never told you,” I pushed my fingers further into the gloves, smoothing the fabric up over my elbows.
She raised her eyebrows and sat on the edge of my desk. “It’s good for you to confide in someone. It builds character,” she smiled.
“Well, I have character in droves. What I don’t have…is a good relationship with my father.”
“That makes several of us,” she sighed and shook her head, giving me a look that could best be described as pitying. “But catch me up to speed. How are you going to find Zeus among all of the other gods in disguise?”
“I went to Delphi and visited Pythia earlier in the week,” I half-whispered, wishing I could hide from my own sister over that admission.
“You went to Apollo’s oracle?? And she didn’t know it was you?”
I grimaced. “I…uh…wore a little bit of a disguise.”
Melpomene burst out in laughter.
“Oh, gods, this is too much…” Melpomene buried her face in her hands as she laughed.
“Seriously, Mel, this is not funny.”
“But it is…funny…” she trailed off. “Now that you mention it, isn’t Apollo back in town?” She looked down and pretended to pick a piece of lint off of her gown.
“I did hear rumors that he was,” I replied, acting as if I did not care one way or the other.
Mel raised one eyebrow and looked at me. “I just thought…after seeing his concert. I heard that he’s been around the OA a few times.”
I ignored her. My heart was not ready to tell her that I had seen him in the building. A pregnant pause filled the room.
“So why Pythia?” Mel asked once she realized I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of talking about Apollo.
“Well, I figured that even if Pythia did recognize me, she wouldn’t let that get back to Zeus. There’s some distance there. Unlike Dad’s oracles. You can’t trust them to keep quiet,” I answered.
She nodded. “Recognize you…in your disguise?” Melpomene giggle-snorted. “I’d have paid serious drachma to see that.”
“Thanks for the support, sis,” I snapped.
She stopped laughing long enough to look at me. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have laughed.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” I said, crossing my arms in front of me.
“Honestly, I am sorry. I forget that you have the whole want-to-have-a-dad thing going on and that you are trying to move mountains to get a little of his attention. I don’t think about it because, for some reason, his absent parenting doesn’t bother me. But please tell me that you realize this whole setup is a bit over the top? That you know it’s a little crazy to go to such lengths to dance with your father?”
Melpomene looked at me and by the look on my face saw that I did, in fact, recognize my personal level of dysfunction. She crossed to give me a hug. Tears threatened to spring from my eyes again. She took a step back and gave me one of her woeful smiles.
“Stop, Melly, this isn’t tragic.”
“I know, sweetie. I know.” The tone of her voice did not match her words. She turned to leave and hesitated in front of the door.
Melpomene reached for the doorknob. “So what will Zeus be dressed as?”
“A wolf,” I said, wincing slightly.
“It figures,” she said as she left. At least this time Melpomene held her laughter until she was in the hall.
Once she departed, I took in the quiet, trying to balance myself and clear my head. My plan was in the works. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I felt giddy over my ability to put things into motion. It illuminates the fact that, at times, I can be almost as devious as others in the Pantheon family. I would never meet the levels of Eros’s trickery or Ares’ fury, but I could show a little of the family spirit when pressed. Maybe that is why this silly venture meant so much to me. Maybe.
Tonight, all I wanted was a simple dance with my father. Billions of girls have danced with their fathers throughout the ages, and for some inexplicable reason, I wanted that experience. You can’t get rejected if you don’t ask, so I wasn’t going to. I would find the wolf and step in and dance with him when the opportunity presented itself.