Unlocking my apartment door, I stopped in my tracks. “Does no one in this house respect boundaries and privacy?”
Uncle Hermes grinned at me, looking like the cat that ate the canary in his Chip ’n Dale’s Postman Uniform. “Aw, come on, Baby War. You know better than to ask questions you already know the answer to.”
The thing that was especially infuriating about Hermes was that Eros could easily take on the Messenger God’s form but continue to behave exactly as Eros would, and no one—not even me—could tell the difference. And vice versa. Either way, I didn’t need either of them bothering me right now. If Eros found out what was going on, he would give me a lecture. If Hermes knew what was going on, he would go full town-crier through the GC and let everyone know about my personal life.
“And I suppose you have a good reason for breaking and entering like a creep?” I didn’t blame Hestia one bit for her strong dislike of Hermes. This is the stuff that would make anyone uncomfortable, especially after his past actions.
“But of course.” With a flourish, he whipped out an envelope addressed to me. Unlike the one that Hestia sent under my mother’s name, this envelope didn’t have a sense of drama about it. The practicality of the envelope screamed Hestia. “Two days in a row, Baby War? Since when did you get so popular?”
I scowled. “Prying into my private life again, are we?” When I tried to take the envelope, Hermes snapped it back out of my reach. The expectant look on his face told me what he wanted. “Thank you, Uncle Hermes.”
“She can be taught!” Hermes cheered, allowing me to take the envelope. “Now, I better get going. Your brother got a lot of packages from some place called Adam & Eve. Some of them, pretty big.” Hermes wiggled his brows suggestively. The gesture was unnecessary on his part. I may have been more innocent to the other gods, but even I knew what Adam & Eve was, and I didn’t need to know what contraption he’d gotten to spice up his already flaming hot marriage.
“Well, do me a favor and gossip about whatever is within those packages with someone else. Okay, Uncle Hermes?”
My uncle pouted and shouted out, “Killjoy!” Then he took his chaotic self out of my apartment.
I sighed and looked down at the new envelope. Yes, it was definitely from Hestia. I broke open the letter, not being precious with the stationary, and unfolded the piece of paper that was inside.
Artemis and Adrestia,
I’ve had a break-in, with several keys for safe houses stolen. I would like help solving this. Can you both join me at my Boston, Massachusetts, USA Penthouse?
Safe houses? Boston? Was that Hestia’s headquarters? Small world, if it was.
I was torn between the letter in my hands and the letter in my pocket. How much longer could I prolong the inevitable? It was better to let everyone down now before making promises I could not keep. No one needed me. Not my team. Not my family.
But it would be rude to just leave Hestia high and dry. She deserved a face-to-face explanation, just like my team did.
Oh, this was going to hurt.
Deep breaths. You’re doing the right thing. She’ll be disappointed, but not as much as she would be if you promised to help her and failed. Deep breaths.
I had to keep repeating myself during the elevator ride up to Hestia’s Boston apartment. How long had she been working in the city? Hestia was never one to shout her good deeds and work from the rooftops. Still, how could I not know that we were practically rubbing shoulders for even a short time?
We were so close. We’d been through so much together. She was…she was the friendship within the family that I’m not sure anyone could have predicted. No one could deny I was an intense little goddess, and Hestia just wasn’t. She kept me cool.
I hated the idea of letting her down in any capacity. But if I had to, I had to do it now to mitigate the hurt.
Finally, the elevator door opened. Of course, the first thing anyone would see in Hestia’s home would be the almost unnecessarily long dining room table. Others, namely the rich, only owned long tables like this as a symbol of opulence. It was a way to brag about their money while also revealing that they didn’t have nearly enough friends, family, acquaintances, or even people to impress to fill the table.
But Hestia? Hestia could easily fill the long table and wouldn’t hesitate to do so.
On this day, however, there was only one other face at the table. One I’d not seen in far too long, despite my admiration of her. Artemis stood at attention and nodded towards me, being very business-like.
Artemis must’ve been in a good mood from Hestia’s presence. She walked up and started the hug between us. “Hello, Tia, my dear. I have missed you.”
I thought back to only a few months ago before I returned to the GC. For so many centuries, I was content with keeping my distance from my family. It gave me time and space to find my identity without the pressure of perfection. But now, every time a family member walked back into my life, I realized more and more how much I missed our—very messed-up—community.
“Thank you both for coming.” Hestia’s warm welcome and the sudden waft of something savory and juicy split my hug with Auntie Artemis. Shimmering on a platter with a garnish of asparagus and apricots was the most beautifully roasted lamb I’d seen in ages.
All of my common sense and manners left my head as Hestia placed the food on the table. Normally, I would say that I couldn’t help her with whatever problem she had and excuse myself immediately before partaking in this beautiful meal. But the smell of the spiced meat made all common sense leave me, and my manners were forgotten.
I quickly pulled out a chair and sat down. “Two days in a row? You’re spoiling me, Hestia.” I might as well enjoy this last meal. She’ll never feed me again when she hates me for leaving her.
“Well, I have to butter you both up for my revenge on this kolos billionaire.” Hestia plated up food for both Auntie Artemis and me, inviting us to eat while continuing whatever conversation I had walked in on.
With my mouth full of food, I said, “You’re gonna have to narrow that one down, Hestia.”
“What do they have to do with your missing keys?” Artemis asked.
“Let me show you.” Hestia left for a second to retrieve a cardboard box. Within that box were other boxes, carved and ornate. “This Davids guy has apparently broken into my penthouse, stolen my keys, defiled my safe-houses, and then tried to mess with one of the local community centers. He tried to steal my buy after I rightfully outbid him.”
So Hestia was connected to the community center that got bought up. I only had a moment to pat myself on the back for that prediction before my memory kicked in. “Davids. Warren Davids?”
“Yes, that Davids,” Hestia confirmed.
Fuck. That fucking mogul who was having an affair with Representative Abbott in exchange for her blind eye on his gentrification plans.
Artemis and Hestia had a conversation that I didn’t hear at all. I was too in my head, my appetite for Hestia’s perfect meal all but dried up. “I thought I got rid of that guy,” I said out loud without realizing it.
“Well, he’s back and messing with families,” Hestia explained as she munched on the asparagus.
I dropped my face into my hands, desperate to hide my shame. “Fuck, I couldn’t even get rid of that guy.”
“So we have a mortal who came out of nowhere, is interfering with two gods, and had the ability to break into your penthouse,” Artemis said, her keen mind putting together the facts to logic her way to an answer and a solution. “Do either of you have reason to think he’s mortal? Or have you suspected magic, spells, or anything else around him?”
“They broke the seals on my keys and then resealed them so I wouldn’t know,” Hestia further explained. “There isn’t a mortal dead or alive that could do that.”
“He never pinged on my divine radar,” I admitted. “But then again, that’s other people’s specialty.” It was the only thing that made sense anymore. “I should have done more investigating. I should have done…better. More.” When did I get so sloppy?
“Cockroaches tend to pop up again and again, even if you behead them. Don’t worry about that,” Hestia tried to comfort even through her own anger.
“Tia.” I turned my attention to Artemis, who had a worried look on her face. “What did he do to you?”
“Nothing. He didn’t do anything to me. I just…fucking failed to do the bare minimum.”
Apparently, I was speaking too cryptically for Artemis. She turned to Hestia and asked, “What is she talking about?”
With a sigh, I explained. “A while back, my team and I were trying to speak to Representative Abbott about the inequality in the lower-income neighborhoods of Boston. But she was avoiding us because she was having an affair with Warren Davids and allowing him to develop those low-income neighborhoods for his own profit. I cornered her in a restaurant bathroom and used a little bit of manipulation to get her to confess to the affair on national television and admit that she’d been under his thumb. I thought that would be the end of him.”
“He’s a billionaire, Tia. They never go away.” And Hestia was right.
Later in the evening, I had excused myself to the bathroom and was taking far too long for a normal trip. I had to splash my face with water several times to try to clear my head.
I truly was a failure in every sense of the word. I had let my team down. I’d let my family down. I was a fucking wreck. And if I was ever going to stop hurting everyone, I was going to have to leave. For good, this time.
But to leave was to disappoint someone. And not just someone. Hestia. Outside of my mom, dad, and brothers, she was probably my favorite. It would hurt me to hurt her and leave her without the help that she needs.
But I couldn’t help her. Not as much as she thought I could. I would just let her down and make everything worse.
The only thing that interrupted the spiral in my head was the vibrating of my phone. A quick look at the unfamiliar number that wasn’t in my contacts and I sent the call to voicemail. Before I could get back in my head, though, the number had left a voicemail for me.
“Hello, beautiful. It’s Uncle Pollo. Call me back, please. I have a question and a favor.”