I spent the day roaming the cobbled streets of Paris with Selene. She showed me a different side of the city of love, one that I had never stopped to admire in all the times I made the trip here. We tasted the delicacies from little bistros tucked in the corners of every street. Afterward, we visited the most coveted fashion labels at Avenue Montaigne and the Champs-Elysées. I sat by the bench of the dressing rooms when Selene tried on dress after dress. We were in the sixth boutique when Selene entered the dressing room, followed by an assistant carrying ten different outfits. I held her hand in mine and turned her toward me. “Seli, you can come in your birthday suit, and my mom will still love you, you know that, right?” 

“Sweetheart, I am not trying to seduce your mom, just impress her is all,” Selene said with a chuckle. I rolled my eyes as she laughed and closed the curtain behind her. A few minutes passed, and I called out to her. She pushed the drape aside and stood smiling. “This is the one! What do you think?” 

My eyes roamed over the dress that fit snugly on her curves. Her eyes twinkled, waiting for my response. I walked over and pulled her into a hug. “You make this dress perfect,” I whispered into her ear, nibbling at her earlobe lightly. She shuddered and drew in a ragged breath. I pulled back and watched her with a crooked smile. She shook her head and went back into the dressing room to change. 

I had sent word ahead to my miteras, Leto, that Selene and I would be dropping by to visit her this evening. I had not seen her since I met her before I left on the quest. While she knew I was with Selene, she did not know the depth of our relationship or that I was now engaged to her. This meeting was also to inform her of my latest relationship status. I wasn’t too worried about her reaction. I knew she’d be happy for me. They’ve always been friends, and she loved Selene. Yet, there was a gnawing sensation at the back of my mind, and I wanted to get this ritual over with as soon as I could. 

Back at our hotel room, we had just enough time to change and leave. I pulled a sweater tunic over my black leggings and accessorized it with my golden waistband. The silver dagger was in its usual place, sheathed on my right thigh, and the tiny pendant on my silver necklace held my quiver and beloved bow. I finished the look with my antler headgear that appeared as a plain headband to mortal eyes. Selene emerged from the bedroom just as I zipped up my leather boots.     

“You look stunning, my love,” I said, my eyes hungrily taking in every inch of her.

“As do you, even in your casual attire,” she responded, amused by my wardrobe choice. 

“If I did dress up, mom would know that I was up to something, so…” I left the sentence unfinished. She chuckled and nodded, agreeing with me. 

“Shall we?” I asked. She slipped her hand into mine, and we walked out together. 

The smell of coffee and croissants hit me as I opened the door to Miteras’s little Cafe. She was not alone. There was a man in his late forties, helping her close up. I remembered him from the last time I was here. Miteras looked up from behind the cashier’s desk. 

Ma fille chérie, you’re here,” she said, walking toward me, her hands outstretched. 

“Miteras, I missed you.” I almost ran into her arms. Selene stood by and watched as we hugged.

“And I, you,” she said before looking over my shoulder. “Selene! So good to see you. Feels like ages since we last met,” Miteras said in her thick French accent. She pulled Selene into our hug.

“I’m happy we get to meet again, Leto,” Selene said, joining our group hug.

The man behind us cleared his throat and waved as we turned to look at him. “Oh, where are my manners?” Miteras said, pulling out of our hug and walking back to him. “Ladies, meet Jacques,” she said, looking up at his face and smiling. 

I extended my hand out to shake his. “Nice to meet you, Jacques. I am—” 

“Artemis, Leto’s beautiful daughter,” he interrupted before I could finish. My eyes widened as he said our names. I looked at Miteras. She smiled and nodded. He was the same gentleman I had seen in the café the last time I visited. He let go of me and turned to Selene, shaking her hand. “And you must be the gorgeous Selene. It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” he added in an accent matching Miteras’s.

“We were just closing up. We could go out for dinner,” Miteras suggested.

I looked at Selene, and she nodded. “That sounds great,” I replied. 

Jacques turned to Miteras and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Why don’t you ladies go on for dinner? I’m sure there are things you’d like to discuss with your daughter and her friend. I’ll just be a distraction,” he said, smiling at Miteras. “I will go home and prepare some dessert for when you’ll come back.” 

“That sounds like a good plan,” Miteras replied. “Ladies, I have the perfect place we can go,” she said, turning to us. 

As we settled into the cozy seats of Café Stern, I noticed the stuffed wolf and lynx that decorated the glass windows. I smiled, knowing why Miteras might’ve chosen this place. We placed our orders before exchanging pleasantries and the latest from Olympus. Miteras talked about Jacques and how he makes her smile. I was happy for her, but I was also concerned that Jacques was a mortal. I didn’t know how much he knew about Miteras and the rest of us. I decided to talk to her about that later. Selene looked at me, sensing my apprehension. She took my hand in hers and squeezed it lightly. I smiled, holding on to her hand. 

“Miteras, I…uh…we have some news to share with you,” I said. 

We kept our clenched hands on the table. Miteras eyes traveled to our hands and stopped on the ring on my finger. A few seconds ticked by as she stared at the jewel, her expression stoic. She tore her gaze away from our hands and looked at me. Clasping her hands together, she placed them beneath her chin and rested her elbows on the table. “Is it what I think it is?” she asked, with a big smile that reached her eyes.

Selene and I both exhaled a sigh of relief before we replied together, “We’re engaged!” 

Miteras squealed as she jumped off her seat, hugging both Selene and me. “You’ve made me so happy! But before I congratulate you, ma fille chèrie, I’d like to speak with you privately. Selene, I hope you don’t mind,” Miteras said, letting go of us from the bear hug.

My brows creased in confusion. What did Miteras want to tell me privately right after I told her about my engagement? “Anything you’ve to say, you can say in front of my fiancée,” I replied. “There’s nothing she doesn’t know, Miteras.”  

Miteras drew in a sharp breath and shook her head. “Always the stubborn one!”

Selene let go of my hand and turned to face me. “Akti, you should speak to your mother. At least listen to what she has to say.”

“Thank you, Selene!” Miteras said, glaring at me and standing up. I didn’t want to leave Selene behind, but at the same time, I didn’t want to make a scene. I reluctantly got up and followed Miteras to the foyer.

As soon as we reached the lobby, Miteras flicked me on my forehead. “Always, always have to be so stubborn!”

“Ow, Ma! What was that for?” I asked, rubbing my forehead. She pulled me into a hug again and stroked my back.

Ma chèrie, I’m so proud of you and happy, too! Don’t misunderstand. I called you aside to give you this,” she said, pulling out a soft velvet box from her purse. She opened the box to reveal a heart-shaped blood-red diamond ring bordered by small white stones. “This was given to me by your father when we were…well, before I had you and your brother. The blood diamond is quite rare, I hear. I held on to it after you both were born. I wanted to give it to you someday. I was afraid that day would never come. But, at last, it is here now, and I couldn’t be happier,” she said, her eyes glistening with a hint of tears. I took the ring from her hand, studying it. “I saw your hand with the ring the moment you walked into my cafe. I figured you and Selene had made it official. I didn’t see a ring on her finger, so I wanted to give this to you. This could be the ring you give her if you’d like, of course,” Miteras continued, her voice breaking slightly as a stray tear escaped her eye and made it down her right cheek.

I took her face in my hand and wiped the tears away. “Of course, Ma! I’d be honored to give this to Selene.” I said, pulling her into a tight hug, rocking her back and forth.

We strode back to our seats as Selene was ordering another round of drinks. We spent the next few hours talking, drinking, and planning the upcoming nuptials. We returned to Miteras’s home, and as promised, Jacques had dessert waiting for us. Selene did not ask me what Miteras wanted or what the topic of our conversation was, despite knowing it had  something to do with her. 

Later that night, back at our hotel room, I asked her if she’d like to know. She shook her head in the negative. It didn’t matter. Miteras had given us her blessing, and all Selene cared about was that we had a blast that evening.

As we went to bed, I took her hand in mine and slipped the ring Miteras gave me onto her finger. “A token to mark the beginning of the rest of our lives, my love,” I whispered as she pulled me onto the bed.

Artemis (Rashmi Menon)
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