“Thank you, Aphaid. I’ll be right up,” I said before hanging up.
“Nike, you sure you want to do this now?” Kratos asked.
I glanced briefly at Teddy, then back at my siblings. “Do I really have a choice? She needed to hear the news that I have a child from me. I should have made a bigger effort,” I replied, sitting on the edge of my bed.
“Ni, how? She wasn’t available,” Zelus said.
“Yeah, Nike, she can’t be mad at you,” Bia added.
“You guys just don’t understand.” I sighed and got up, heading to the shower.
“Ni, we do,” Zelus shouted after me.
“Wait, is Mom in some kind of trouble with the lady?” Teddy asked.
“No, Tiberius,” Kratos assured him. “Come on, let’s go into the living room so she can get ready.”
“Come on, kiddo,” Zelus said as he dragged Teddy out of the room.
After they left, I turned on the water, got undressed, and stepped beneath the hot water.
“Nike, you know she didn’t show any signs of being upset with you when she was here. And you know I would have felt it if she were,” Bia said, standing in the bathroom doorway.
I leaned into the shower’s warm, soothing streaming, trying to let the dream and the anguish I felt wash away.
“Hurry, and I’ll go with you.”
“No, Bia, this is something I must do. Something that I should have done in the beginning.”
I nodded and rinsed the lather from my skin and hair. She handed me a towel. Here. Be sure to tell her we all knew about him. And if her wrath falls on you, it falls on all of us.”
I stared at my sister as I dried off. She was taller than me by almost a foot. She had long reddish-brown braids and a strong athletic build. Her eyes were often stern, but today they gleamed with sympathy and love. I smiled at her as she said, “You are not alone, little one.”
She could sense my apprehension as I wrapped the towel around myself and headed to my walk-in closet. I wasn’t a fashion plate. I preferred jeans, a Nike sweatshirt, and shoes.
My sister giggled at me.
“Oh, Nike, no…this is an important meeting.”
“Sure, but it’s just Mother.”
“Yes, it’s ‘just’ Mother,” she said as she rustled through my clothes. She handed me a pair of white slacks and a white blouse. “Here, wear these.”
I got dressed, looked in the mirror, and grimaced.
Bia noticed my discomfort. “Good. Mother will see you’re nervous, and she won’t have cause to be angry.” She grabbed my green Jimmy Choos and a green blazer to complete the outfit.
When we entered the living room, the boys all turned to have a look at me. “Nike, you look amazing,” Kratos said as he stood up to look me over.
“Ni, you…” Zelus blinked a few times, “you look great in that power suit.”
“Wow, Mom, you look so beautiful!”
“Thank you, all of you. But you’ve seen me in a suit before.”
Zelus sat on the back of the couch. “Ni, do you want us to go with you?”
I saw their concern for me. “Guys, I’ll be fine,” I assured them as I scanned their faces. Even Francisco looked worried. “Not you, too?” I shook my head and walked toward the door.
Teddy stopped me and wrapped his arms around my waist. “I’m sorry, Mom.”
I hugged him. “Hey now, it’s alright. Dang it, you guys, come on. It’s not like she’s going to smite me.”
“You better hope not,” Zelus said under his breath.
Not missing a beat, Kratos smacked Zelus on the back of his head. “Not helping.”
“Ow!” Zelus yelped.
I couldn’t help but smile at the exchange.
They all came in for a big group hug. I managed to break free and walked out the door. As I headed toward the elevator, I felt a trickle of sweat slide down my spine. I rolled my shoulders as the elevator doors opened.
“Lady Nike, wait!” A hand reached between the doors, and Francisco appeared. “Please, take these. They might help.” He handed me a box of freshly baked brownies.
“Thank you. At this point, I’ll take all the extras I can get.”
He winked at me. “Not that the Goddess of Victory needs luck, but…good luck, my lady.”
“I’ll take the luck. Maybe I should call up that sneaky little naked brother of mine and ask for a little more,” I said, winking at him as the doors closed.
As the godly elevator streamed up toward my impending doom, I laughed at myself. Well, if this was to be my last minutes on earth, at least I knew I was loved by my family. As I passed the 30th floor, my heart beat faster. I thought about what Teddy had told me about his encounter with Mother…
Teddy entered the elevator and greeted the woman inside. “Hello.”
“Hello,” she replied.
Teddy pushed the button and slid his pass key over the security box, pressing sixteen on the screen. He smiled back at the woman.
“I see you’re heading to Nike’s,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am, I live there.”
“Yes, I just moved in last year.”
The women looked puzzled. “Last year?”
“I see. Francisco must be happy to have you here with him.”
“Francisco is great. He’s a great help to Mom, the uncles, and Aunt Bia.”
“Yes. Lady Nike is my mother.”
The woman’s eyes widened.
“Do you know her?” Teddy asked.
“Yes, little one, I know her. I am heading to see her myself.”
“Cool. Mom hasn’t been herself since that dumb party. They won’t tell me anything, but I can feel that she’s hurting somehow.”
“Hmmm,” the woman nodded. “I have heard this as well.”
When the elevator opened,Teddy led the way to the door. He held it open, allowing the woman to walk in ahead of him. “Hi, everyone. I’m back, and I brought this nice lady with me. She said she wanted to see Mom.”
Zelus and Kratos said, “Hello, Mother.”
She nodded at them then headed to my room.
Hera sat on the edge of my bed for a while, then wrote the note. They were all watching her, not sure what she would do.
Bia said Mother’s concern radiated from her, filling the room. “How long has she been asleep?”
“Almost sixteen hours,” Kratos replied.
She looked at Bia, who signed, “I have tried to reach her mind, but it is blocked.”
“Has she gone through the doors?”
“I’m guessing yes, as I cannot reach her to wake her.”
“Very well, give her this when she wakes,” she told them, setting the note on the nightstand next to my bed. Then she left.
My anxiety rose the closer I got, I knew how Mother would be. The bing of the elevator signaled it was time to face the music.
Aphaid saw me, and they buzzed Mom to let her know I had arrived. “Hello, Aphaid.”
“Lady Nike,” they said, bowing their head slightly. “She is waiting for you.” They motioned with their hand for me to enter Mother’s office.
Taking a deep breath, I exhaled as I opened the door. “Hello, Mother.”
“Nike, dear, how are you feeling?” she said, opening her arms to hug me. Of course, Mother would waste no time. She was often direct.
“I feel better,” I replied as I leaned into her for the hug. She gave me a strong squeeze, one I hadn’t felt from her in over a year.
I felt myself relax a bit but tensed when she said, “Don’t worry, dear, I’m not going to smite you.”
She released me, and I remembered the brownies. “These are for you. They thought it might lessen your anger at me.”
“I’m not angry, little one. Disappointed, yes, but not angry.”
I set the brownies on her desk. She sat on her sofa and motioned for me to sit in the chair next to her. “Come now, child. Sit and tell me how it is that my daughter has a child that no one knows about. And why I had to learn about him myself.”
“Mother, I tried to tell you and Father on many occasions, but you were otherwise engaged.”
When I looked over, her gaze was that of are you making excuses?
“Mother, I did seriously try.”
“And how long have you had this mystery child?”
“He will be two at the start of the new year.”
“Two? The young boy I saw was ten or twelve.”
“The doctors say he has an extension of Benjamin Button’s disorder, but he started as an infant. The day that Father came back, and you blew half the building off, I was on my way from the hospital to tell you the news that the child had wings.”
I knew what she was thinking and said, “No, Mom, Teddy is not Dad’s child. We checked.”
“All the children born to the gods have ichor for blood, as well as many of the demigods—” I stopped speaking. The mere mention of the word demigods was a cuss word to Mother, and the fire in her eyes showed that. “Forgive me, Mother. I know better.” I lowered my head, waiting for a rebuke of some kind. The room felt staticky, but then she relaxed. “I know that I promised you that if ever there were another born, I would tell you if it was Father’s. He is loyal to you, Mother.”
“I know this, little one. He’s not given me cause to doubt his fidelity for millennia.” Mother looked at me from beneath her lashes. I squirmed a bit in my seat.
Loyalty was key to the King and Queen of the gods, and my whole life has been dedicated to this pursuit.
“So, who is the child’s father?”
“We have been searching for that answer for the past year.”
“Where was he before he came here? Where is his mother?”
“The head of pediatrics at Olympus General and I made an arrangement that he would take care of the child, and I would cover all the expenses. I saw him every day.”
“Nike, how were you able to keep him hidden all this time?”
I stood up and went to the window. “Mother, I did bring him here once. The others weren’t sure I could handle caring for a baby. They forgot that I had done so on many occasions. They were surprised that he could pop in and out of a room and that he had wings. On one occasion, he vanished from the hospital. In a frantic panic, I searched everywhere for him. Eros suggested that the child may have gone back to his last strong memory.”
“The place he was born. The alley.”
“Which alley, little one. There are many.”
“It was just after the New Year’s Eve auction for one of the Olympus charities. Do you remember the one where you owed Eros a favor? Anyway, it was after that party. I was on my way home.” I told her how I found Teddy and how his mother had given birth and died. How I had rushed Teddy to the hospital, weeping over him and willing him to live. I told her about the two feathers I had pulled from my wings and placed in the tiny newborn’s hand. The doctors had worked their magic but were unable to save the mother. I was at the hospital every day. Shortly after that, the Titans had escaped from Tartarus, and our world had been knocked around like a rag doll.
I looked at Mother, and she nodded. “What did you do with the child during all of that?”
“I…we decided that we needed a cloaking spell. I wasn’t going to let anyone find him or take him from me.” My countenance changed. Mother noticed and tilted her head toward me. “I did my duty here, as did the others. We wanted to be with Father, sit with him, but you made all of us leave. By the time I knew you were missing, Father was awake again, and they were on their way to get you.”
“Hmmmm.” Mother nodded again.
“After the Titans were captured, I was extremely busy.. Between the business, Teddy, and the mortals’ pandemic, I barely had time to breathe. Jaque decided he needed to find a cure so that children would be protected. He literally left Teddy here and went to America, Brazil, wherever he was needed. Teddy has been here the whole time.” I paused, waiting for her to ask another question.
She crossed her legs. “And why have you not brought him to us before?”
“As I said earlier, I wanted to. After the Titans were all secure and you and Dad were back together, no one could,“ I rolled my eyes and shuddered, “busy. Then Father went on his adventure to Avalon. I left you so many messages. Have you checked your phone?”
“Oh, I shoved that infernal thing in a desk drawer and forgot about it.”
“Mother! Really?!” I threw my hands in the air. “Now, you can’t get mad at me.”
“I told you, Nike, I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed that I had to find out that I have another grandchild on my own. And you know better.”
I lowered my head and sighed. “Yes, Mother, I do.”
“What do you know about his mother?”
“I went to her apartment shortly after Tiberius was born. She was from a small village in China called Fenghuang. She briefly had a boyfriend before she found out she was pregnant.”
“How did you obtain this information?”
“I sort of broke into her apartment. Well, actually, I used her key. I found a few diaries and an altar to her family’s ancestors. I took a few things to have for the baby. I also kept the apartment for Teddy. If he ever wants to know about her, he will have that.”
“But you are his mother now?”
“Yes, but on paper only,” I said as I rubbed my chest where my heart was. I thought about how much that little boy was a part of me as I turned away from her. I could feel the sting of what I had just said.
“Nike, are you raising this child?”
I wiped away the tear that had escaped and said quietly, “Yes, I guess.”
“You and the other wards have been caring for him. From what you have told me, it sounds like you have shared some of your victory abilities with him.”
“I think so too, Mother. He’s smart, kind, and of course, has wings similar to mine.” I swelled with pride.
“And you say no one knows besides your siblings?”
“Yes, ma’am…well, the hospital staff, a maid, my staff, and oh yes, Eros and Clio, a few others who were in the lounge. But I imagine they have all forgotten by now.”
“I want to run some tests of my own to see what he can do.”
My eyes widened as I lifted my eyebrows in surprise. “Mother?”
“I’m not going to harm the child, Nike. You have my word. I simply want to evaluate him.”
“Yes, Mother, of course.”
As she wrapped her arms around me, she said, “There is one more thing.”
I pulled away from her.
She motioned for us to take a seat. “Nike, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about all the things that have been happening to you and the others.”
I let out a deep sigh and plopped down on the sofa. Knowing Hera as I did, I prepared myself for the lecture I knew was coming.