Chapter no 11 – We Win Zero Prize Tickets

The Chalice of the Gods

“You must go to the farmers’ market,” Hebe said, as if she were sending us off for a particularly heinous round of standardized testing.

We were sitting around the booth again, enjoying a second serving of pizza. I was actually eating it this time, because I was once again a teenager. Also, there were no boomers singing protest songs, which helped my digestion.

Grover swallowed a mouthful of greasy paper plate. “What’s so bad about a farmers’ market?”

The goddess wrinkled her nose. “Iris got it into her head that her organic store in California wasn’t sufficient. Now she has to share her wares with the whole world! You’ll find her hawking crystals and incense and Zeus knows what else this Saturday in front of Lincoln Center.”

I was relieved. Another local quest? And on a Saturday? That meant I might be able to spend the rest of the week dealing with school—which wasn’t fun, but at least it was better than schlepping across the country to some Farmers’ Market of the Damned in Idaho.

But Annabeth narrowed her eyes. She studied Hebe as if the goddess might attack us with glitter again. “You think Iris took the chalice, then?”

Hebe shrugged. “That’s for you to determine. All I can tell you is that it wasn’t me, and Iris is the only other person who has ever served as divine cupbearer. Perhaps, behind that rainbow peace-and-love facade, she hates Ganymede more than she lets on.”

“I’ve met Iris,” I said. “She didn’t seem spiteful.” “And I do?” Hebe asked.

I kept my mouth shut. Sometimes, I can learn.

“Thank you for your guidance, Great Hebe,” Annabeth said. “We ask your permission to leave here in peace.”

“Hmph.” The goddess crossed her arms. “Very well. But no prize tickets for you.”

Grover cleared his throat, as you do when you’ve been eating greasy paper plates. “And, um . . . you won’t tell anyone about the chalice situation?”

Hebe scoffed. “Of course not. I can’t wait to see Ganymede fall on his face at the next feast and get blasted to ashes by Zeus. But mark my words: if you offend Iris the way you offended me, you will not escape so easily. You’re going to wish you stayed small children.”

The last we saw Hebe, she was welcoming a group of millennials who wanted to relive the nineties through the magic of Spice Girls karaoke. I hoped they’d make it out alive.

All the way through the arcade, I felt the eyes of the staff, the customers, and the chickens following us. I feared I’d be turned into a toddler any second.

Somehow, we made it back to Times Square. I’d never been so happy to see the familiar crowds of tourists—now at eye level rather than butt level.

At the subway station, Annabeth, Grover, and I went our separate ways. None of us said much. We were all pretty shaken by our afternoon of youth, chickens, and terror. I wasn’t too worried, though. We’d been through post-adventure shell shock together lots of times, and I knew we’d bounce back. Annabeth headed downtown to SODNYC. Grover headed toward the LIRR to Camp Half-Blood. Me, I hiked all the way to the Upper East Side because I needed some air. Every so often, I’d look at my hands, remembering how small they’d been, and how helpless I’d felt not being able to use my own sword. Inside, I still felt eight years old and ready to cry.

That night, I procrastinated on my homework. Huge surprise, I know.

I sat on the fire escape, dangling my legs above the alley. Anxiety hummed through my veins. I’d always had a baseline jumpiness, but this was worse.

I’d been on so many quests where the stakes were higher—where if I failed, cities would burn, the world would explode, bell-bottoms would make a comeback. This was just retrieving some god’s cup. Still, it felt as risky as anything I’d ever done.

Maybe that was because I was so close to graduating and hopefully starting a new life in California. Only a few steps to go, but the ground was starting to crack beneath my feet. I didn’t trust that the world could hold my weight much longer.

“Hey,” my mom said.

I glanced back to see her climbing through the window. “You need a hand?” I started to get up.

I wasn’t sure why I was worried. She’d climbed out that window a hundred times, but tonight I felt concerned—maybe because my whole future felt fragile.

She waved at me to stay seated. “I’m fine,” she said. “It just looked like you could use some company.”

She sat down next to me, her back against the brick wall. The gray streaks in her hair gleamed like veins of silver.

Weirdly, I’d gotten my first shock of gray before my mom did, thanks to a certain Titan named Atlas, but hers suited her better. She didn’t look older so much as more regal. I remembered that, a long time ago, Poseidon had compared my mom to a princess . . . and he hadn’t meant the damsel-in-distress stereotype. He meant the warrior princesses of ancient Greece who took no prisoners and knew how to swing a bronze blade.

My mom had that kind of strength. She also had the kindness to notice I was hurting and to climb out a window to be with me.

For a while, we just settled into a comfortable silence, watching dozens of vignettes of city life in the illuminated windows of the neighborhood. A family was cooking dinner, laughing and flinging strings of spaghetti at one another. An old man slumped alone in a chair, his face washed in the blue light of a TV screen. Two kids jumped on a bed, hitting each other with pillows.

I love New York because you can see all those lives side by side, like an endless patchwork of different video game screens inviting you to hit Play and slip into a new reality. I wondered if anyone had ever thought about slipping into my life.

“What was I like when I was little?” I asked.

My mom tensed like this was a trick question. “Why do you ask?” “I turned eight years old today.”

Usually, I don’t tell my mom the details of my quests. I don’t want to worry her any more than I have to. She already knows how dangerous

demigod life is. Tonight, though, I recounted my afternoon with all the heebies and jeebies.

“That’s a lot,” she said. “I’ve always liked ‘Jealous Guy,’ but still. ”

I nodded, a lump in my throat.

“You got through it,” she noted. “You always do.”

“I guess. . . . But it was like all my progress, all those years of getting older and learning how to survive . . . Hebe took it away with a snap of her fingers. I was a helpless little kid again.”

“You are a lot of things, Percy. But helpless isn’t one of them.” She put her hand on my shoulder. “When you were little . . . whenever you got scared, you might back away for a second, but then you would march right up to whatever was scaring you. You’d stare it down until it went away, or until you understood it. Thinking about you as a toddler makes me feel ”

“Sick to your stomach?”

She laughed. “It makes me feel hopeful. You’re still moving forward.

You’ve grown into a fine young man, and I’m proud of you.” The lump in my throat was the size of a kiwi fruit.

“It’s also okay to doubt yourself,” my mom added. “That’s completely normal.”

“Even for demigods?”

“Especially for them.” She pulled me over to her and kissed my head, like she used to do when I was actually eight. “Also, you need to wash the dishes.”

I smirked. “All that buttering up just so I’ll do my chores?”

“Not just. Now give me a hand, would you? Sitting down is easy.

Getting up, not so much.”

I washed the dishes. Because I guess demigods do what they have to do. I left Paul and my mom in the living room, cuddling on the sofa,

listening to Paul’s jazz vinyl. They both thanked me and wished me good night.

But I stayed up. I finished my homework. Somehow, I found the strength for advanced algebra. I even wrote an essay, though the words swam in front of my eyes and half of them were probably misspelled.

That night, I slept the best I had in a long time.

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