I came out to find Moxie waiting outside. My heart raced at the thought that she was waiting for me. Me!
Not willing to miss the moment, I cleared my still-aching throat as I stepped closer. “Umm…Ms. Moxie, would you care to join me for a cup of coffee?”
That’s when I saw that her gaze was on the bench where Nem should have been. My sister was gone. All that remained were her boots and Ky’Elli sniffing at them. Moxie turned her attention to me, her brows furrowed with unspoken questions. I stared back, lost for a moment in those unearthly blue-green eyes.
Moxie pointed at the boots and beast. “What is this?”
I sighed heavily and shook my head as I squatted to meet Ky’Elli’s gaze. The small beast was looking at the two of us.
“Where is your mistress?” I asked.
“I know not, my lord. I fell asleep, and just woke to find her missing,” Ky’Elli replied.
I stood and slowly turned to look at Moxie. She watched me with an arched eyebrow, her eyes opened wide with a trace of disbelief. I offered her a nervous smile. Moxie glanced at the beast, then back to me.
“So, it speaks?” she asked, then continued without giving me the opportunity to respond. “Now that’s interesting. Who is its Mistress? I gather the boots belong to her. Did you just ask me out for coffee? Now? At a time like this, with my mother missing?!”
“What, the small beast? It’s Nem’s, umm, pet?” Ky’Elli hissed at me for that one. I waved my hand to hush the beast and continued, “Yes, she speaks. The boots are Nem’s, too. She was counting her toes when I left her out here on the bench. Her mind isn’t…isn’t…quite what it was. Hypnos somehow got in and messed with it. She is acting like a little girl, a giggly little girl.” Every word I had to speak caused my raw throat to ache and burn. “Wait…you can hear her?” I asked, pointing towards Ky’Elli.
Moxie’s eyes lit with amusement, a dazzling smile forming on her face. To look at that smile almost stopped my heart. I smiled back, trying to hide my nerves at simply standing in front of her. Some of the memories she had shared with me while we were connected, moments ago, fresh in my mind.
She gave me a sigh, then a chuckle, followed by that grin of hers. “Yes, I can hear her.”
“Well…I guess that isn’t so surprising, considering it is you,” I said as I picked up Nem’s boots and Ky’Elli came to my heels. “Now I have to go find Nem, so our coffee may have to wait, Ms. Moxie.”
She held up her index finger and squinted her eyes slightly. “Wait, before you go, let me recap. My mother flew out of a window on a rug, Zeus was dead, but not dead because he was actually just stuck behind a door in some weird other world, Nemesis is a giggling girl because your brother screwed with her head,” she pointed to Ky’Elli and continued, “That is a small talking beast, and Death just asked me out for coffee.” She looked more entertained than annoyed as she mused, “This day just gets more absurd with each passing moment.”
Moxie glanced back at the beast, then chuckled. “Oh, what’s that? I see. I stand corrected.” She nodded to the small beast. “A small, talking Ky’Elli.”
“Absurd, indeed,” I choked out, my throat still burning slightly.
An idea occurred to me, but I was hesitant to say more. Finally, I just spit it out, “Perhaps we can help each other. I will assist in finding your mother, Mrs. Hera, and you can help me find my sister.”
She thought for a moment then nodded slightly. “Continue.”
I gestured to the black bench. “My sister was right here only a few moments ago, she couldn’t have gone far. If we just look nearby, she’s bound to show up. Along the way, we can fill each other in.”
Moxie nodded slowly then made a broad, sweeping gesture with her hand. “Lead the way, God of Death.”
I leaned heavily on my scythe and smiled feebly. “I’m exhausted, Ms. Moxie. I don’t think I have it in me to lead the way at the moment.”
“Oh, of course, Than. Of course,” Moxie said. “You do look like Death warmed over. It was clear that you had a rough day even before you arrived to help Zeus. Take my arm, then.” She nodded to the small beast and added, “Perhaps Ky’Elli can lead the way.”
At the mention of her name, Ky’Elli’s ears perked. Smiling warmly, Moxie slipped her arm around mine and a surge went through me, the same sensation as when she had caressed my neck earlier. It was like little shocks of lightning played over my skin and I felt strengthened by her touch as if I could do anything. But even breathing hurt at that moment and I nearly collapsed into her. She supported me, guiding us, and I gladly let her. Ky’Elli sniffed the ground as she scented and tracked her Mistress.
“I know how important the Queen, Mrs. Hera, is to you,” I offered, as we followed Ky’Elli. “You two have always been close, from what I observed during the times I was at Olympus.”
Moxie nodded, “Mamá raised me. I was her first child, you know…in a manner of speaking.”
For those few brief moments, as we walked and talked, everything seemed right with the world. Even though our conversations revolved around the catastrophe of Titan escapes, her weird blue dreams, and the horror of my brother’s antics in San Francisco, this felt like a much-needed respite.
“That’s one hell of a story,” Moxie said as my tale came to its conclusion.
“Yours is quite odd, Ms. Moxie. And they were blue?” I said.
“It’s just Moxie, not Ms. Yes, blue like the Ether Pit,” Moxie said.
I nodded my response. I’d talked as much as the razor blades in my throat allowed.
One of the mortals that work in the building suddenly appeared from around the corner, looking frazzled. He spotted us and headed our way.
“Nathan?” Moxie said.
I raised my eyebrow in question. Moxie looked at me and said, “He works for me in PR.” Then she spoke to the mortal, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Lady Moxie, it’s Lady Nemesis. She is in the breakroom, eating a cake and acting very odd,” he said.
We both looked at each other, our eyes widening. We blew past the mortal to the break room, stopping in the doorway. The small beast breezed by us and went right in. There, on the counter in between the sink and the fridge, sat Nem.
Her legs and bare feet were swinging as if she hadn’t a care in the world. She beamed at us, her large violet eyes, filled with guileless wonder and her smile one of childlike impish delight. The remnants of a cake sat on her lap, and she was an awful mess. Her hands were covered in cake and frosting. The sticky chocolate circled her mouth, streaked her hair, ran down her shirt and onto the floor beneath her feet. Ky’Elli went right to her Mistress and called up to her, then began to eat the cake chunks on the ground.
“Thano! Moxie Loxie!” Nem yelled when she saw us. Then she looked down at Ky’Elli and her smile grew wider. “Small beast!” she yelled, throwing her hands into the air, cake splattering the ceiling. She looked up and broke into loud giggles, the sound wild and free. “Lookie! I found cake! Want some?”
Moxie curled in her lips and snickered. My mouth dropped open at the sight of my sister. Nemesis, the great tracker, the fierce goddess, was now covered in frosting and pilfered cake, squealing giddily as a blob of frosting dropped from the ceiling onto the small beast.
“Oopsie Daisy! Oh! I should call you Daisy!”
Ky’Elli hissed indignantly and pawed at the brown blob on her head.
Nem looked back to us, her eyes going wide and her lips parting in a gasp, seeing that our arms were locked together. A broad smile broke out on her chocolate-stained face. She quickly looked around to make sure that we were alone. “Are you two kissing?” she whispered loudly. “Are you getting married?!” She clapped her hands excitedly and bounced on the counter, grabbing for the cake as it started to slip from her lap.
“Are we what?” I sputtered. Moxie let out a snort of laughter.
“Kissing leads to babies, Thano,” Nem said matter-of-factly and then dissolved into wild giggles, kicking her legs back and forth enthusiastically.
Moxie slipped her arm from mine and glided towards Nem. Grace in motion, I thought.
Nem stopped her kicking and eating, seemingly fascinated by the brilliant glow of Moxie’s deified form. She let out a small gasp as Moxie wiped away a smear of chocolate at the corner of Nem’s mouth. “Good cake, huh?” Moxie said and smiled softly at her. Nem returned the smile before helping herself to another chunk.
“You look so purdy, Moxie Loxie…like…just like a pixie from Tartarus!” Nem whispered loudly.
Moxie beamed, and it brightened the room. Nem gazed at her transfixed, her mouth slightly open with bits of cake dropping out.
I made my way to the coffee pot and poured two cups. I fixed mine with ten scoops of sugar and plenty of cream. Sweet as sin, white as snow. I left Moxie’s black…black just felt right, but I had no idea why. The thought made my head tingle.
“A pixie from Tartarus…those words feel familiar,” I mused, half listening.
Nem’s giggles and Moxie’s laugh filled me with warmth as I turned, two cups of coffee in hand. “Ms. Moxie, I believe I asked you out for coffee. Won’t you join me?” I invited.
We moved to a close-by table and sat down. I placed the black coffee in front of her. Her gorgeous eyes lit up with surprise and her now-familiar, crooked grin gave way to a soft smile. She took the styrofoam cup, lifted it to her nose, and breathed in the earthy, rich aroma. Those eyes smiled at me over the rim of the cheap cup as she took a sip. I hadn’t touched mine. I was drowning in her eyes and transfixed by her every little movement.
“Thano and Moxie sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G…” Nem began to sing.
I felt my face flush as the blood rose to my cheeks and my skin grew hot. Moxie saw the blush and turned her eyes down to the table. Her glow flared a deep gold, and she was smiling as I looked over at Nem who was eating more cake and continuing to hum that infernal tune, even with her mouth full.
“Nem, please stop. Ms. Moxie and I are taking a break and having coffee,” I reprimanded.
“K-I-S…Chaos’s balls! Where in Tartarus are we?” Nem blurted, her eyes cleared as they met mine and her entire demeanor snapped back into place.
She looked around, baffled, and slid off the counter. Her bare feet landed on the cake pieces that covered the floor. An expression of disgust appeared on her face as she looked at the cake that was plastered to the bottom of her foot. She growled out her bewilderment. Moxie and I watched her as she examined herself covered in cake. She let out another growl, becoming more and more frustrated with each passing moment. Ky’Elli stood up on her back legs, putting her front paws on Nem’s thighs.
“The God Complex?! Cake?! Piggies?! Oh, Gods, he was in my head and you…oh, Thano…you…no, no, please, no!” Nem cried out and her eyes went black, filled with hurt, horror, and confusion. She growled one final time and ported out of the room with Ky’Elli. Only cake wreckage, chocolate footprints, and black tendrils of smoke remained where Nem once stood. Hours later I would find her in the darkness of her closet, cuddling Ky’Elli.
I turned to look back at Moxie and offered her an embarrassed smile. My heart went out to Nem and part of me wanted to dash off after her, but I promised Moxie I would help find Mrs. Hera, and my word is my bond. Moxie quirked a brow. “Welp. That happened. Looks like she is over her childhood regression,” she said then drained the rest of the coffee and tossed the empty styrofoam cup into the nearby trash can.
I absently dug in my pouch for a mint. That strange tingling sensation continued to prickle my head, feeling like fingers of static electricity running through my hair. When I pulled out the sweet, I saw in my gloved hand, a black, heart-shaped peppermint. It was a lone leftover from Valentine’s day. I had an urge to give it to Moxie but hesitated. Rather, I kept staring at it, feeling as if I’d forgotten something important.
Moxie watched me with interest and when she saw the black mint in my hand, she inhaled a quick breath. Her aura expanded, then swiftly contracted, and her smile tightened to a straight line as she rose regally from her chair. “Thank you for a most interesting cup of coffee, Thanatos.”
She moved towards the door. She was hypnotic to watch as her hips swayed like a pendulum and her diaphanous hair flowed behind her. I kept switching my gaze between her and the mint. The heart-shaped candy felt meaningful, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why.
All I kept hearing was a voice from the past, so long ago it was a distant memory. You and I are the chaste ones, loving our goddesses from afar. The only difference is my love was accepted. My love is a mature process that has blossomed over time.
She stopped at the doorway and looked over her shoulder at me. “Coffee break is over. It’s time to find my mother, so come on.”
“Of…of course, Ms. Moxie. Of course,” I stammered.
“And for the last time, it’s just Moxie,” she said and with hips and hair, she went out of the door. I drained my cup, popped the mint in my mouth, and followed. Nem’s childish chant echoed in my head, “Thano and Moxie sitting in a tree...”