Stepping out into the spring air, I smiled as the rain washed over me. It was Persephone’s time to shine, yet few gave her the respect she deserved for the rebirth she caused every single spring. The gods tried to keep the world in balance, but not even we could overcome the intense damage they’d brought to the planet. Too many thought their gods would protect them from their stupidity. Too many had poor teachers in a great many things. They’d forgotten how to provide for themselves.
I sighed in frustration as I headed to the farmer’s market. I had a few gifts to make, to remind others that I’d returned. The winter could be hard for me to get out and about, even despite the greater need for fire and hearth. I might have been acquainted and maybe even friends with Lady Khione and her father, Boreas, but that didn’t protect us from the lack of seeing Apollo in the sky. The mortals called it seasonal depression. It could even send a goddess into hiding.
The mortals I was walking with paused for the light, the sign flashing don’t walk. Sure, I could teleport, but I needed to get out of my head and home. As I waited for the signal, I realized I was still two months early for the market. Damn. That left me with Whole Foods or Roche Bros. Supermarket. Oh, I’ll visit the Boston Public Market first. It’s not that far, and I could hit up the Supermarket on the way back.
Crossing the street, I frowned as I felt distress flowing from a woman. Glancing around, my eyes focused on the other corner and a woman clutching a child’s hand. Thankfully, they were in the direction I was heading. The woman’s pants were thin and threadbare at the knees, her shoes tattered and worn. Her child, on the other hand, was dressed in new clothes and shoes. They were not fancy, the shoes looking as if they came from Payless.
The woman had been frowning, counting the coins in her purse. As I approached, I noticed tears streaking her cheeks, her voice cracking as she said, “Lareina, we can’t afford to get you food today. If we’re lucky, we might be able to feed you from a shelter tonight. Mommy hasn’t found a job yet, and everything is too expensive lately.”
“Mom, we’ll find something. Maybe we could check the dumpsters behind McDonald’s tonight. Maybe this time they’ll not dump ground coffee in the bags,” Lareina said.
I stepped up to the pair, smiling at them. “Hello, I am Hestia,” I said.
The woman quickly wiped her face, her eyes narrowing. “What can I do for you?”
“I couldn’t help but overhear you and Lareina talking, and I thought I’d offer for you to come with me to the Public Market and pick up the things you need,” I said.
The woman shook her head. “I can’t even afford gum, much less anything there.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t say anything about you paying for anything. I’m buying for the three of us. We’ll start with breakfast and get to know each other better.”
“What do you actually want?” the woman demanded to know.
“I need an assistant to run errands for me. I can have a very hectic schedule managing things like my properties, among many other things,” I said, smiling at her.
“You don’t know me, nor do you know what I can and can’t do,” the woman said.
I shrugged. “You care about your daughter. You give up your personal needs for her. That’s all I need to know about the kind of person you are. I need a caring person to help ensure the children in my care worldwide are being treated properly. They are getting a proper education, have enough food, and the homes I run for them are in excellent shape.”
“I don’t know anything about managing a business,” the woman said.
“Good thing I’m paying for an MBA or any degree you want,” I said.
The woman stood, her eyes narrowed at me. “People just don’t come up to strangers on the street and offer them jobs. You don’t even look rich.”
I laughed. “Have you heard of Hearthfire Catering?”
“They were big in Florida a few years ago, I think. My office that I worked in had them once. I’ve heard that they’ve left the state of late,” the woman said.
“I’m the owner. Every person that wanted to leave the state that worked for me, I paid for their transfer to other locations,” I said.
The woman blinked a few times before nodding. “Okay,” she said as she dragged out the sound.
I held out my hand. “I’m Hestia. What’s your name?”
“Zerlina Vargas and this is my daughter, Lareina,” she said as she took my hand, a worried smile crossing her face. I could tell she was worried that I was about to scam her.
“My pleasure. Let’s get some breakfast. I know a great place called Cafe Bonjour,” I said as we walked together. “What brings you up here? I take it you used to live in Florida?”
Zerlina nodded. “We did. I wish I didn’t have to move, but they’ve made the state toxic for my daughter.”
I tilted my head, looking at Lareina. I gave the child a big smile. “Well, they’ve lost their minds. The amount of hate people show has always amazed me. They waste so much energy worried about everyone else they can’t see their own flaws. They are so miserable in their lives that they need a boogie man to blame. It’s the same recycled hate we’ve had for generations, just with a fresh coat of paint. It’s all bullshit. No one should feel unwelcome in their homes and their lives.”
“No, they shouldn’t. We didn’t have much money, but I had to get her out of there. My ex couldn’t fathom that Lareina wasn’t his son anymore. When he struck her and told her he’d rather see her dead than a freak and a future groomer, I knew I had to get her out of there. We left that week, but we’ve not had much luck in Boston,” Zerlina said as she placed her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and pulled her into a half hug.
“That is what family should do, protect each other,” I said as we waited for the light. The traffic was heavy this morning.
“Agreed. If you are the owner of Hearthfire Catering, wouldn’t you have a bunch of lawyers to take care of your properties?” Zerlina asked.
I gave her a look. “You’d think so. While I have a law firm contracted for some things, they are quite incapable of monitoring things properly. My halfway houses for abused children in Utah had been yanked from under me, and the children were trafficked. I’m still searching for most of them. I won’t give up until I’ve rescued them from the horrors they’ve been subjected to.”
“That’s awful. And they didn’t know?”
“They didn’t know until I asked them to run an audit. A junior lawyer signed off on the home sales and buried the paperwork. He quit a month later and disappeared.”
Zerlina gasped. “That’s horrible. Do you know where they were taken and who did it?”
I shrugged. “I’ve found a few of them and took care of some of the suspects, but I’m still searching.”
We crossed the street and came up to the Cafe. The maître d’ bowed her head slightly. “Welcome, Lady Hestia and guests. Your usual table?”
“That would be wonderful,” I said. We were led to a table and quickly sat down. “Please order whatever you’d like. Cost is no issue.”
“Are you sure?” Zerlina asked.
I nodded. “Of course. I have too much money as it is. I can’t spend it fast enough, even with all the other charities and homes I run.”
“Wow, you’re that rich?” Lareina asked, her eyes wide.
“Yes, but I keep it very well hidden. I don’t like the attention greed brings,” I said.
“You’d think that you’d be on Forbes with that much money,” Zerlina said.
“My family works very hard to avoid that kind of attention. My youngest brother easily has at least four times my wealth,” I said. The waiter came up and took our orders. I turned to smile at Lareina. “What do you want to be when you grow up besides a girl?”
Lareina pursed her lips, smiling. “I want to be a doctor.”
I tilted my head slightly. “Is that what you really want or what you think you want?”
The young woman lowered her head. “No, I want to be an artist.”
“I think my sunshine draws well, but we had to leave most of her supplies behind,” Zerlina said.
“Well, we’ll just have to correct that. So Zerlina, are you willing to come work for me? It will be hard work, but you will have all the time you need to care for Lareina,” I said.
“Well, I guess it depends on how much you’re willing to pay me,” Zerlina said.
I smiled and quickly wrote a number on a small slip of paper and slid it across to the woman. Her eyes bulged as she gasped when she read it. “This is too much. I don’t know how to do this job.”
“Is that not enough? Alrighty then. Let’s double it.” Just then, the food arrived. As they set the plates down, I spoke again, “Think about it and give me an answer when we’re done for the day.”