“My old prison,” Calypso corrected, though her voice carried no anger.
Leo fidgeted. “It’s just…Josephine reminds me so much of my mom. She needs help around here. The Waystation may be a living building, but it’s almost as high-maintenance as Festus.”
Calypso nodded. “We’ve been traveling so much, Apollo, in constant danger for months. It’s not just the magic and the gardens that appeal to me. Emmie says we could live like normal young people in this city. Even go to the local high school.”
If not for the seriousness in her eyes, I might have laughed. “You—a former immortal even older than I—you want to go to high school?”
“Hey, man,” Leo said. “Neither of us has ever had a chance of a normal life.”
“We would like to see,” Calypso continued, “what we would be like together, and separately, in the mortal world. Taking things more slowly. Dating. Boyfriend. Girlfriend. Perhaps…hanging out with friends.”
She spoke these words as if they were infused with an exotic spice—a taste she wished to savor.
“The thing is, Lester Man,” Leo said, “we promised to help you. We’re worried about leaving you on your own.”
Their eyes were so full of concern—concern for me—that I had to swallow back a lump in my throat. Six weeks we had been traveling together. Most of that time, I had fervently wished I could be anywhere else, with anyone else. But with the exception of my sister, had I ever shared so many experiences with anyone? I realized, gods help me, that I was going to miss these two.
“I understand.” I had to force the words out. “Josephine and Emmie are good people. They can offer you a home. And I won’t be alone. I have Meg now. I don’t intend to lose her again.”
Leo nodded. “Yeah, Meg’s a fireball. Takes one to know one.”
“Besides,” Calypso said, “we won’t…what’s the expression…skip off the radar completely.”
“Drop,” I suggested. “Though skipping sounds more fun.”
“Yeah,” Leo said. “We’ve still got a lot of demigodly stuff to do. At some point, I gotta reconnect with my other peeps: Jason, Piper, Hazel, Frank. Lotta people out there still want to punch me.”
“And we have to survive tomorrow,” Calypso added.
“Right, babe. Good call.” Leo tapped the table in front of me. “Point is, ese, we’re not going to abandon you. If you need us, holler. We’ll be there.”
I blinked back tears. I was not sad. I was not overwhelmed by their friendship. No, it had just been a very long day and my nerves were frayed.
“I appreciate it,” I said. “You are both good friends.”
Calypso wiped her eyes. No doubt she was just tired as well. “Let’s not get carried away. You are still hugely annoying.”
“And you are still a pain in the gloutos, Calypso.”
“Okay, then.” She smirked. “Now we all really should get some rest. Busy morning ahead.”
“Ugh.” I clawed at my hair. “I don’t suppose you could summon a wind spirit for me? I have to drive to the Cave of Trophonius tomorrow, and I have neither a chariot nor a car.”
“A car?” Leo grinned evilly. “Oh, I can hook you up with one of those!”
Start with a C chord
Not all the keys, Meg. C does
Not stand for Chaos
AT 5:00 A.M. the next morning, in the roundabout outside the Waystation, Meg and I found Leo standing in front of a gleaming red Mercedes XLS. I did not ask him how he had procured the vehicle. He did not volunteer the information. He did say that we should return it within twenty-four hours (assuming we lived that long) and try not to get pulled over by the police.
The bad news: just outside the city limits, I got pulled over by the police.
Oh, the miserable luck! The officer stopped us for no good reason that I could see. At first I feared he might be a blemmyae, but he was not nearly polite enough.
He frowned at my license. “This is a junior driver’s license from New York, kid. What are you doing driving a car like this? Where are your parents, and where’re you taking this little girl?”
I was tempted to explain that I was a four-thousand-year-old deity with plenty of experience driving the sun, my parents were in the celestial realm, and the little girl was my demigod master.
“She is my—”
“Little sister,” Meg chimed in. “He’s taking me to piano lessons.”
“Uh, yes,” I agreed.
“And we’re late!” Meg waggled her fingers in a way that did not at all resemble playing the piano. “Because my brother is stooo-pid.”
The officer frowned. “Wait here.”
He walked to his patrol car, perhaps to run my license through his computer or to call for SWAT backup.
“Your brother?” I asked Meg. “Piano lessons?”
“The stupid part was true.”
The officer came back with a confused look on his face. “Sorry.” He handed me my license. “My mistake. Drive safely.”
And that was that.
I wondered what had changed the officer’s mind. Perhaps, when Zeus created my license, he had put some sort of spell on the ID that allowed me to pass simple scrutiny such as highway stops. No doubt Zeus had heard that driving while mortal could be dangerous.
We continued on, though the incident left me shaken. On Highway 37, I glanced at every car heading the opposite direction, wondering which were driven by blemmyae, demigods, or mercenaries commuting in to work at Commode Palace, anxious to destroy my friends in time for the naming ceremony.
In the east, the sky lightened from onyx to charcoal. Along the roadside, sodium vapor streetlamps tinted the landscape Agamethus orange—fences and pastures, stands of trees, dry gullies. Occasionally we spotted a gas station or a Starbucks oasis. Every few miles, we passed billboards declaring GOLD: BEST PRICES! with a smiling man who looked suspiciously like King Midas in a cheap suit.
I wondered how Lityerses was doing back at the Waystation. When we’d left, the whole place had been abuzz—everyone pitching in to fix armor, sharpen weapons, and ready traps. Lityerses had stood at Josephine’s side, offering advice about Commodus and his various troops, but he’d seemed only half-present, like a man with a terminal disease, explaining to other patients how best they could prolong the inevitable.
Strangely, I trusted him. I believed he would not betray Josephine and Emmie, little Georgina, and the rest of the ragtag impromptu family I cared about. Lit’s commitment seemed genuine. He now hated Commodus more than any of us.
Then again, six weeks ago, I never would have suspected Meg McCaffrey of working for Nero….
I glanced over at my small master. She slumped in her seat, her red high-tops on the dashboard above the glove compartment. This scrunched-up position didn’t look comfortable to me. It struck me as the sort of habit a child learns, then is reluctant to abandon when they grow too big.
She wriggled her fingers over her knees, still playing air piano.
“You might try putting a few rests in your composition,” I told her. “Just for variety.”
“I want lessons.”