“Macaron?” I hold out the best my new home has to offer in the hope it’s going to ease the start of this conversation. The Goddess of Love glances up from her frothy drink, then her eyebrows descend.
“What are you doing here?” For a second, I’m certain every patron in the café goes quiet at Aphrodite’s words. She stays firmly seated on the beige sofa, her attention only briefly flicking to the sweet treats I’m offering.
“Can’t an old friend stop by for a catch-up?”
“Calling yourself a friend is stretching the truth, even by your standards. You left me surrounded by armed mercenaries with nothing but two bags of flour, a catapult, and a wet rabbit’s foot. I have not seen you, that chest of gold doubloons, or my favourite pair of stilettoes since.” Her eyes narrow. “What scam are you running?”
“I liked you more as a blonde, by the way.” I try a little flattery, comforted that the noise levels around me seem to have risen again. I see by her expression that my efforts are not helping my cause, so I try a different tack. “What would you say if I told you I’ve changed?”
“A lot of gods have changed over the years.” I’m sure she’s including herself in that, plus a few others that she cares about. “Yet, I would be very surprised if you were not running some trick.”
“Didn’t you hear,” I raise a triumphant eyebrow, “that I’m running for mayor?”
She blows a raspberry at me.
“Is that the best you can come up with? Please. Give me some credit. What are you up to?”
“Would you believe me if I said it’s complicated?” That catches her, and I indicate the seat on the other side of the table from her. “May I?” She stares at me, then a little bit of delight creeps onto her face.
“Have you fallen in love with a mortal?”
“Why would you think that?” I’m short. She’s hit a deep wound with that one.
“Come on, darling.” She steals a glance at the bright colours visible through the clear plastic of the box I place on the table as I take my seat. “You like the mortals more than I do.”
“I do not.” It’s an instinctive, well-rehearsed lie, and I regret it as soon as I utter it. I’m not here to go over old ground, especially not with Dite. Those are conversations to be had with the rest of my family. I’m here to deal with a very real and personal problem. “Can we talk about something else, please?”
She stares me down, unblinking. I squirm as I sense the full force of her powers of perception. I probably should protest, but it does save me from skirting around the issue with mistruths and questions.
“You did love someone.” Her head tilts to the side as she realises the sad truth. “But…oh, Dole. I am sorry. I know the mortals say that it is better to have loved and lost, but not always.”
I fidget, uncomfortable with what’s come before, and embarrassed by what happened with my Campaign Manager a few hours ago. Dite peers at me again, and I meet her gaze for what feels like a very long time. Then my eyes flick downwards, staying a second too long at the location where my crotch is underneath the table.
“No,” she breathes. “You cannot be here for some specialist advice.”
My focus shifts to the gaudy splashes of paint on the walls then flicks around the faces of the people sipping at their expensive drinks. I do anything other than look at the Goddess of Love. This is harder than I had expected. But I’m here now, I’ve started, so I might as well see it through.
“Did I tell you I’m trying to become mayor of a city?” I ease in, trying to work up to what happened, or didn’t, between Kinnesberg and me.
“Why would you do that?” She scoffs at me before she catches the look on my face.
“What did I say earlier about changing?”
Dite reappraises me. “Let me get this straight.” She leans in. “You were in love, but that did not work out—”
“That’s putting it mildly.” The sarcasm in my voice is harsh, but it gets my point across. She gives me a look that tells me not to interrupt her again.
“Now you are trying to do something to make up for what happened to that mortal. Am I right?” I nod, slightly in awe. She’s better at this than I am these days. “And someone else has now caught your attention.” My cheeks burn. I feel a little stupid hearing it said out loud. It feels like I’m cheating on my dead lover. “But that is not working out in all aspects of the relationship. Which is why you have come to see me.” She pushes a stray dark lock away from her face. I can see that she’s a little put out. I haven’t been in touch in a long time. It’s only now, when I need something, that I turn up on her doorstep.
“I’m a pretty crappy friend, aren’t I?” I sigh, feeling even worse than when I walked in. I ease back in my seat, the unseen weight on my shoulders feeling very heavy.
“I should get up and walk out. Yet that would make me a bad friend.” I see some of her own vulnerability behind her eyes. “And you did bring me my favourites.” She lifts up the box of treats and pulls delicately at the ribbon around it. Her finger eases down the rows of sweets before she settles on the chocolate one. The dark-coloured patisserie contrasts with the deep red of her nails and lips. The treat disappears, and a little moan escapes her lips. “These are good.”
“You help me, and I won’t buy you anymore.” A small grin appears on my face, and she reciprocates.
“Okay,” she’s now all business, “so you lost someone you cared for deeply. Now you have met someone else, and if I am right, your little god is suffering a little.”
“Do you have to call it that?” I try to be cute, but it doesn’t come out quite right.
“Can I ask,” Dite suddenly looks very serious, “do you really want to be with this mortal?” Some things don’t change. She always did try to look out for me. I hang my head, feeling uncertain.
“Is it wrong after what happened with the other mortal I cared about?”
The Goddess of Love takes another macaron and slips it between her lips. “It is hard losing someone you care about. Trust me. It is also part of life, especially with the mortals. Do you know,” she looks around as she speaks, “one of their care homes had to ban its residents from relationships because chlamydia was spreading like wildfire?”
“What’s your point?”
“When mortals find themselves alone, they do not give up on love. They move on. Eventually. You have to, as well.” Her hand reaches out, and she places it on my arm, gently stroking it reassuringly. “What happened to you with that woman is in the past. Nothing will change that. There’s no fixing it. What you can do is look to your future. No one wants to be alone, Dolus. If you want this new partner, then you need to just be with her.”
“Don’t you think I tried?” I gesture down at my impotent lap.
“Oh, I can fix that.”
“Just close your eyes.”
I stare at her evenly.
“It will be fine.”
“Do you want my help or not?”
I sigh, this isn’t how it is with my other therapist–then screw up my eyes. The darkness is surprisingly welcome. I haven’t been getting as much sleep as I would have liked recently. For a moment, the peace, the black, relaxes me. Then I feel her voice near my ear.
“Will you allow me to help you?” I realise Dite needs my permission, which is hard in my case. I nod my head up and down with a pronounced movement. “Then let love for this new woman into your heart.”
Her grip tightens around my arm, and suddenly my whole body feels warm. It feels familiar. It reminds me of Lily. Of those perfect moments with her. But it’s also different. Like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It’s like an energy flows through me. It travels around me, encompasses me before coming to rest in the centre of my body. My heart feels infused. My chest tingles, and then so does everything between my legs. My eyes rip open and I immediately stare at Dite.
“What was that?”
She grins, clearly pleased with her work.
“Just a little something I have learned over the years. Sometimes we all need a little bit of self-love. I can share that with those who need a bit of a hand.”
“Really?” I tilt my head. That could be useful. Dite laughs as she stands. She taps my head.
“You spend too much time living up here, Dolus. Always thinking. Plotting. Over analysing. Sometimes you just have to forget everything else. Focus on the person you are with, and worry about everything else after. Relax, and I think everything will be okay.”
She scoops up the box of macaroons. “Want to walk me out?”
I shift awkwardly.
“Would you mind if I didn’t?”
Dite steps closer, her voice soft as she breathes, “Not at all, darling.” As she crosses the café, she tosses her hair over her shoulder. “And Dolus, that makes us even for the shoes.”
I let my head sink onto the table and hope that there’s table service on offer. Sometimes things go from one extreme to the other. I must remember to be careful about what I wish for.