I made my way back to the party. Deities gathered in the ballroom and the energy felt palpable. Eros was drinking at a nearby table. Something seemed amiss with him, but he’d never let on if you asked him about it. Ares made a sudden dash toward the elevator. I hoped there wasn’t a security breach. Nemesis and Melinoe strolled through the gallery pausing near the reflecting pool. Artemis beamed radiance at the success of her fundraiser. And off to the side, a familiar figure caught my attention.
The golden boy, Apollo himself, was in attendance. My stomach fluttered in a cascade of involuntary butterflies. Oh, gods, what timing. It suddenly felt synchronous: Melly and I seeing him in concert in Paris, my secret visit to Delphi, the beginning of a new decade. It felt almost as if I’d conjured him in my imagination. I blinked. No mirage; it was Apollo, bright and beautiful as always. What a vision he was in a pair of tight gold pants, a flowing gauze overskirt, and an ornate sun headdress. His muscular arms sported gold bands and he had a matching chestplate over a sheer tank top. My breath caught in my chest.
The music swelled, pulling my attention from him. The others’ costumes were both elegant and extravagant. Things of beauty. People were coiffed and masked. There were full-blown costumes where you couldn’t even tell who was beneath. Pythia told me that was Zeus’s plan; to hide in plain sight. A costume where no one would be able to tell that it was him, and he would be able to have a quiet night without being bothered by the business (or worse).
People lined up on opposite sides of the dance floor, forming two lines where we would come to the center to mix and dance. I spied my father, dressed in his fine costume, and had to agree that he was certainly well hidden.
In my mind, the pieces were falling into place. Once I reached my father, I would twirl him away from the rest of the crowd and would have a few moments of his time. I knew the music. I knew the dance. I knew my chances were slim.
The dance began. Partners wove in and out, meeting in the middle and dancing back out. Some couples remained and danced in the center.
I looked through the line and could not see Hera. I expected her to be involved in the dance. Strange. As I twirled, I caught glimpses of Apollo in the background. Even though I was hiding behind my cat mask, I felt as if he was looking directly at me.
The dance continued. I needed to regain focus. I was two people away from Zeus.
The tempo increased. The steps became more complicated. I danced and was another person closer.
The next switch came, and I reached for my father’s hand. I felt his fingers grip mine. We spun and wheeled away from the center, down the line to the end. Just as we were supposed to go back, I pulled his arm and switched directions. He faltered, but caught up and stayed surprisingly in step. I saw Apollo watching us as we moved away from the rest of the dancers.
The crowd of onlookers cheered as the song neared the finale. I stepped closer to my father and felt his sturdy warmth. It felt good to finally be close to him.
“This is nice…” I started.
A sudden commotion interrupted my moment. I turned to look. Hera was near the door and someone came up behind her. It was Zeus…on his cell phone, yelling at someone. I stopped dead in my tracks, turned, and looked at my partner. If the wolf wasn’t my father, then who the hell was it?
My mystery partner noticed the change in my demeanor and stepped back. I reached over and pulled at the wolf head of the costume. He caught my hands, lowering them to my sides. My face felt flushed and warm.
He lifted the mask off the top of his head.
“Adrian? What the…”
I gasped. My hands flew to my cheeks and I felt a sharp pang of embarrassment and humiliation. Words escaped me. I turned and ran from the dance floor.
I saw my father ranting into his phone. Hera leaned against the door jamb and rolled her eyes.
Apollo watched me flee the ballroom.
In the din, I heard Adrian calling my name. I ignored him as I ran past everyone, down the steps, into the virtual dark night. I passed Artemis near the front door. She was milling with supporters of her foundation. She looked surprised and concerned, but she couldn’t leave her guests.
I pulled off my mask as I ran. Air cooled my hot face, but I felt my heart racing in my chest. I thought it might explode. After all that Adrian had already put me through with the gallery, I could not figure out how he had become involved in this particular humiliation: adding insult to injury. It seemed unfathomable, really. And Pythia…why did she lie to me?
Adrian caught up to me and spun me around.
“Urania, what happened?” he asked.
How could he not understand?
“I’m humiliated. That’s what happened.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. He shook his head.
“Obviously,” I snapped.
“But why? Tell me what’s going on.”
“I can’t.” I couldn’t even explain it to myself. Why react like this?
“I thought this was supposed to help you,” he said.
“Wait. What? Help me? Why would you think that?” I asked, incredulous.
“That’s why I was here. I was told to come and dance with you…that we would have a chance to be alone, so I could talk to you.”
“Who in the gods told you that?” I asked.
He paused and looked away. “I can’t say,” was his only answer.
Adrian reached out to me. I rejected his offering.
Every pent-up emotion from the evening rushed through me, but fury was the most prominent.
“I don’t think you want to hide things from me again. Seriously. Have you forgotten the warehouse? Putting you in touch with Dinlas to help your sister? Not having you arrested? And this is how you repay me?”
Adrian blanched at my tirade.
“You’ve got it all wrong. I wasn’t trying to hurt or trick you. I wanted to see you again. I wanted to talk to you. You’d been ignoring my calls and texts. I didn’t know what I should do.”
My mind raced. What is going on? Who was behind this?
I turned my back to him and tried to catch my breath. I also wanted to keep tears from falling. This time they would be tears of anger instead of other emotions.
I was tired of crying when I became angry. It felt wrong. It felt weak.
“What did you think I was doing?” Adrian put his hand on my shoulder. “Why are you embarrassed?”
“I honestly don’t know at this point,” I muttered.
“Can we go back inside? I’d like to finish our dance. Or maybe even sit and talk.”
“Come on, let’s make the most of it. Obviously, I wasn’t who you were expecting, but do you really want to let this beautiful night go to waste?”
I gave it a few seconds of thought. It had been a wonderful evening. It felt strange to be turning everything upside down just because the plan to dance with my father fell through. Wasn’t I better than that? Tantrums were not my thing.
Not having a dad was my thing. I was used to it; it shouldn’t be such a big deal now. So why did it feel like such a big deal?
I turned to face Adrian and gave him a small smile. I held out my hand and let him lead me back in.
He might be a handsome mortal, but I also knew how incredibly naive he was.
I would get the information out of him. That was certain. One way or another, I would find out who threw a monkey wrench into my plan. They would receive my wrath instead. I couldn’t really blame the mortal for being an unwitting pawn, could I?
I walked back into the ballroom on Adrian’s arm. Artemis cocked an eyebrow. I met Apollo’s eyes and my stomach somersaulted. The next decade was about to get interesting.