A sudden breeze blew over the island, pushing stray clouds into the darkness and stirring a murder of crows. They rose into the air with a round of caws as a complaint about the interruption. They seemed to enjoy watching us dance the limbo around the bonfire. Cassiopeia still sparkled with extra brightness, but the spell I’d cast earlier began to dissipate. She’d nearly returned to her place in the sky.
The evening air glanced across my skin, cooling me down. I decided to sit out of the next round of dancing to catch my breath and watch the retreating birds. I found a driftwood log and dusted it off, sinking onto its worn surface. Another gust of breeze grabbed my attention. Bayberry, aging leaves, smoke, and saltwater could be detected in the chilled autumn air. I closed my eyes and inhaled the crisp scents into my lungs. When I opened my eyes again, one of the crows landed a few feet from me, bobbing in time to the music. He squawked a couple of times, seeming to encourage me back to the dance, but I ignored him and appreciated a few moments of solitude instead.
Massaging my face, I felt that my cheeks were still strained from all of the laughing I did over our efforts with the limbo. Artemis was a natural. Thanatos was not. I fell somewhere in between. Demeter wove her way through the crowd. Beautiful Nyx remained the ever-gracious hostess. Nike and Eros were being secretive and had disappeared, but I thought the rest of the gaggle were either dancing or cheering others on. The drinking contest left everyone feeling festive and giggly, although Dinlas seemed a bit subdued and Than seemed to be caught up in the never-ending draw of Artemis.
I again found myself envying the general easiness the others seemed to have with their return to Olympus. Even my siblings seemed to be finding their way with less trouble than I was having. Well, aside from Erato’s little problem that consumed half of the god population for several weeks. I need to get together with him and see how he was doing after everything that happened.
Feeling vulnerable, I asked Melopene to join me at the island homecoming, but she declined. Mel knew I was still reeling from Adrian’s forgeries at the gallery, as well as the insanity of the demon at the nursing home, but she felt that her ill-practiced teleporting skills were not enough to get us safely to the island. Not to mention she’d recently been seeing someone and didn’t want to spend time apart from him. She held off on telling me all about him, not wanting to jinx the new relationship. I didn’t even know his name.
Before my trip, Melly had acquiesced and gave me a few hours of her attention. She and I went shopping together. Since I’d been neglecting my wardrobe, I spent quite a bit of time selecting new outfits. One of my favorites was a dress I’d worn earlier in the evening, a rose gold sheath dress with a slight flowing cape. The bottom of the dress erupted in warm colors like a sunset. The main part of the dress was fairly sheer, but full of sparkles in all the right places. It had flair in droves and reminded me of a glass of pink champagne. It was far flashier than my typical style, but the moment I slipped into it, I felt like a true goddess. I adored it. Winning ‘best dressed’ was a huge surprise. It felt good, but in reality, I owe it all to the dress.
Another favorite purchase was a dress that Melopene helped me choose. It was a jet-black dress that seemed classic and fashionable at the same time. That dress would make an appearance after I left the island. Upon my return home, I would be attending another function…Mrs. Batchalder’s funeral.
I shuddered thinking about it. Guilt stung my psyche. After the nursing home incident, I tried to connect with Caroline and send healing her way, but she had already slipped into a coma and was too far gone for my powers. I can heal, but if death has already been decided, I cannot reverse that decision. Instead of Melly’s transport, I flew to the island homecoming on Olympus Air. Zeus graciously gave us a fifteen percent discount on travel and the promise of free wi-fi on the flight. We were mid-flight when I received a message from Gerald, Mrs. Batchalder’s assistant, notifying me of her passing. It hurt my heart. Anxiety squeezed my insides because I somehow felt responsible. I hated to be the one to have to tell Dugo, but the cat took the news like a champ. He seemed more upset about being crammed into the carrier below the seat than he was over his owner’s death. My mind kept returning to the tarot reading where I’d assured her not to worry about death. How could I have been so off?
I arrived in Scotland in a slightly depressed mood, but the boat ride to the island, the activities with family and friends, and the welcoming environment Nyx provided went far in erasing the funk.
Part of me wished that I could pull Thanatos aside and ask him about Caroline, but I thought that it would be a bit selfish of me to bring up his work and ruin the party atmosphere.
Than had recently returned to Olympus and seemed to be getting into the swing of things. Over the years he’d changed a lot, but his thoughtfulness brought smiles to many faces at the OA. Whether he was making coffee, handing out bags of candy, or putting up a breakfast bar, Than’s kindness was often on display. Death as sweet and gentle. What a juxtaposition. I’m no relationship expert, but I had the feeling that Artemis should toss Iain aside and give Than a chance. The way he looks at her is heartwarming.
A flurry of movement caught my eye to the left of the bonfire. Casey, the nymph commentator from Olympus 10 who’d been on the ground during the pet race, lingered at the edge of the woods. Her bright blue dress stood out against the treeline. It seemed strange to see her there. I thought they’d left earlier in the evening. She raised her arm in the moonlight, motioning to someone. Maybe Casey and the cameraman trying to catch film of the bonfire party? Nyx would not approve of that. What is Casey doing?
Curiosity got the best of me. I picked my way around the edge of the water, out of sight of Casey and the rest of the crowd. Getting closer to the commentator, I saw her mouth moving, talking to someone I could not see beyond the bushes. My feet slipped across strands of seaweed strewn across the rocks. Catching my balance, I decided that I needed to be more cautious in the dark. By the time I struggled across the slick rocks to the sandy portion of the beach, I looked up and no longer saw Casey. Many large trees lined the walkway and she could be behind one of them, but I could not see the bright blue of her dress. I reached the spot where she’d been standing, and saw no one. My eyes adjusted to the dark of the woods, but I still could not see any figures or any colors other than the dark of night. I turned to go back and stumbled upon another rock. Looking down, I saw an electric blue heel. Casey’s shoe. I glanced around again. Nothing. I could understand removing her shoes, but not leaving them behind. And only one?
The sole shoe gave me an ominous feeling. On the other hand, I chalked up my suspicions to overreaction based on recent experiences. Not everything becomes a tragedy. Words from Melopene echoed through my head.
I looked to my family, surrounding the bonfire, and watched them all dance. The flames licked the night, shooting occasional sparks into the darkness. The sea air kissed us. The music became hypnotic.
I had enough of being alone. I shook off the doldrums and suspicions. Kicking off my own shoes, I ran to rejoin the party. And we danced.