“Yeah, well, call me, okay?”
“Sure,” she said half-heartedly. “I’ll keep my eyes open for…”
There it was again. Luke. She couldn’t even say his name without opening up a huge box of hurt and worry and anger.
“Annabeth,” I said. “What was the rest of the prophecy?”
She fixed her eyes on the woods in the distance, but she didn’t say anything.
“You shall delve in the darkness of the endless maze,” I remembered. “The dead, the traitor, and the lost one raise. We raised a lot of the dead. We saved Ethan Nakamura, who turned out to be a traitor. We raised the spirit of Pan, the lost one.”
Annabeth shook her head like she wanted me to stop.
“You shall rise or fall by the ghost king’s hand,” I pressed on. “That wasn’t Minos, like I’d thought. It was Nico. By choosing to be on our side, he saved us. And the child of Athena’s final stand—that was Daedalus.”
“Destroy with a hero’s final breath. That makes sense now. Daedalus died to destroy the Labyrinth. But what was the last—”
“And lose a love to worse than death.” Annabeth had tears in her eyes. “That was the last line, Percy. Are you happy now?”
The sun seemed colder than it had a moment ago. “Oh,” I said. “So Luke—”
“Percy, I didn’t know who the prophecy was talking about. I—I didn’t know if…” She faltered helplessly. “Luke and I—for years, he was the only one who really cared about me. I thought…”
Before she could continue, a sparkle of light appeared next to us, like someone had opened a gold curtain in the air.
“You have nothing to apologize for, my dear.” Standing on the hill was a tall woman in a white dress, her dark hair braided over her shoulder.
“Hera,” Annabeth said.
The goddess smiled. “You found the answers, as I knew you would. Your quest was a success.”
“A success?” Annabeth said. “Luke is gone. Daedalus is dead. Pan is dead. How is that—”
“Our family is safe,” Hera insisted. “Those others are better gone, my dear. I am proud of you.”
I balled my fists. I couldn’t believe she was saying this. “You’re the one who paid Geryon to let us through the ranch, weren’t you?”
Hera shrugged. Her dress shimmered in rainbow colors. “I wanted to speed you on your way.”
“But you didn’t care about Nico. You were happy to see him turned over to the Titans.”
“Oh, please.” Hera waved her hand dismissively. “The son of Hades said it himself. No one wants him around. He does not belong.”
“Hephaestus was right,” I growled. “You only care about your perfect family, not real people.”
Her eyes turned dangerously bright. “Watch yourself, son of Poseidon. I guided you more than you know in the maze. I was at your side when you faced Geryon. I let your arrow fly straight. I sent you to Calypso’s island. I opened the way to the Titan’s mountain. Annabeth, my dear, surely you see how I’ve helped. I would welcome a sacrifice for my efforts.”
Annabeth stood still as a statue. She could’ve said thank you. She could’ve promised to throw some barbecue on the brazier for Hera and forget the whole thing. But she clenched her jaw stubbornly. She looked just the way she had when she’d faced the Sphinx—like she wasn’t going to accept an easy answer, even if it got her in serious trouble. I realized that was one of the things I liked best about Annabeth.
“Percy is right.” she turned her back on the goddess. “You’re the one who doesn’t belong, Queen Hera. So next time, thanks…but no thanks.”
Hera’s sneer was worse than an empousa’s. Her form began to glow. “You will regret this insult, Annabeth. You will regret this very much.”
I averted my eyes as the goddess turned into her true divine form and disappeared in a blaze of light.
The hilltop was peaceful again. Over at the pine tree, Peleus the dragon dozed under the Golden Fleece as if nothing had happened.
“I’m sorry,” Annabeth told me. “I—I should get back. I’ll keep in touch.”
“Listen, Annabeth—” I thought about Mount St. Helens, Calypso’s Island, Luke and Rachel Elizabeth Dare, and how suddenly everything had gotten so complicated. I wanted to tell Annabeth that I didn’t really want to be so distant from her.
Then Argus honked his horn down at the road, and I lost my chance.
“You’d better get going,” Annabeth said. “Take care, Seaweed Brain.”
She jogged down the hill. I watched her until she reached the cabins. She didn’t look back once.
Two days later it was my birthday. I never advertised the date, because it always fell right after camp, so none of my camp friends could usually come, and I didn’t have that many mortal friends. Besides, getting older didn’t seem like anything to celebrate since I’d gotten the big prophecy about me destroying or saving the world when I turned sixteen. Now I was turning fifteen. I was running out of time.
My mom threw me a small party at our apartment. Paul Blofis came over, but that was okay because Chiron had manipulated the Mist to convince everyone at Goode High School that I had nothing to do with the band room explosion. Now Paul and the other witnesses were convinced that Kelli had been a crazy, firebomb-throwing cheerleader, while I had simply been an innocent bystander who’d panicked and ran from the scene. I would still be allowed to start as a freshman at Goode next month. If I wanted to keep my record of getting kicked out of school every year, I’d have to try harder.
Tyson came to my party, too, and my mother baked two extra blue cakes just for him. While Tyson helped my mom blow up party balloons, Paul Blofis asked me to help him in the kitchen.
As we were pouring punch, he said, “I hear your mom signed you up for driver’s ed this fall.”
“Yeah. It’s cool. I can’t wait.”
Seriously, I’d been excited about getting my license forever, but I guess my heart wasn’t in it anymore, and Paul could tell. In a weird way he reminded me of Chiron sometimes, how he could look at your and actually see your thoughts. I guess it was that teacher aura.
“You’ve had a rough summer,” he said. “I’m guessing you lost someone important. And…girl trouble?”
I stared at him. “How do you know that? Did my mom—”
He held up his hands. “Your mom hasn’t said a thing. And I won’t pry. I just know there’s something unusual about you, Percy. You’ve got a lot going on that I can’t figure. But I was also fifteen once, and I’m just guessing from your expression…Well, you’ve had a rough time.”
I nodded. I’d promised my mom I would tell Paul the truth about me, but now didn’t seem the time. Not yet. “I lost a couple of friends at this camp I go to,” I said. “I mean, not close friends, but still—”
“Yeah. And, uh, I guess the girl stuff…”
“Here.” Paul handed me some punch. “To your fifteenth birthday. And to a better year to come.”
We tapped our paper cups together and drank.
“Percy, I kind of feel bad giving you one more thing to think about,” Paul said. “But I wanted to ask you something.”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Your mom,” Paul said. “I’m thinking about proposing to her.”
I almost dropped my cup. “You mean…marrying her? You and her?”
“Well, that was the genera idea. Would that be okay with you?”
“You’re asking my permission?”
Paul scratched his beard. “I don’t know if it’s permission, so much, but she’s your mother. And I know you’re going through a lot. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t talk to you about it first, man to man.”
“Man to man,” I repeated. It sounded strange, saying that. I thought about Paul and my mom, how she smiled and laughed more whenever he was around, and how Paul had gone out of his way to get me into high school. I found myself saying, “I think that’s a great idea, Paul. Go for it.”
He smiled really wide then. “Cheers, Percy. Let’s join the party.”
I was just getting ready to blow out the candles when the doorbell rang.
My mom frowned. “Who could that be?”
It was weird, because our new building had a doorman, but he hadn’t called up or anything. My mom opened the door and gasped.
It was my dad. He was wearing Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt and Birkenstocks, like he usually does. His black beard was neatly trimmed and his sea-green eyes twinkled. He wore a battered cap decorated with fishing lures. It said NEPTUNE’S LUCKY FISHING HAT.
“Pos—” My mother stopped herself. She was blushing right to the roots of her hair. “Um, hello.”
“Hello, Sally,” Poseidon said. “You look as beautiful as ever. May I come in?”
My mother made a squeaking sound that might’ve been either a “Yes” or “Help.” Poseidon took it as a yes and came in.
Paul was looking back and forth between us, trying to read our expressions. Finally he stepped forward. “Hi, I’m Paul Blofis.”
Poseidon raised his eyebrows as they shook hands. “Blowfish, did you say?”
“Ah, no. Blofis, actually.”
“Oh, I see,” Poseidon said. “A shame. I quite like blowfish. I am Poseidon.”
“Poseidon? That’s an interesting name.”
“Yes, I like it. I’ve gone by other names, but I do prefer Poseidon.”
“Like the god of the sea.”
“Very much like that, yes.”
“Well!” my mom interrupted. “Um, we’re so glad you could drop by. Paul, this is Percy’s father.”
“Ah.” Paul nodded, though he didn’t look real pleased. “I see.”
Poseidon smiled at me. “There you are, my boy. And Tyson, hello, son!”
“Daddy!” Tyson bounded across the room and gave Poseidon a big hug, which almost knocked off his fishing hat.
Paul’s jaw dropped. He stared at my mom. “Tyson is…”
“Not mine,” she promised. “It’s a long story.”
“I couldn’t miss Percy’s fifteenth birthday,” Poseidon said. “Why, if this were Sparta, Percy would be a man today!”
“That’s true,” Paul said. “I used to teach ancient history.”
Poseidon’s eyes twinkled. “That’s me. Ancient history. Sally, Paul, Tyson…would you mind if I borrowed Percy for a moment?”
He put his arm around me and steered me into the kitchen.
Once we were alone, his smile faded.
“Are you all right, my boy?”