Chapter no 28 – It Starts Raining Toys

The Chalice of the Gods

Gary froze.

I hugged him so hard he hiccupped.

“What is going on?” His voice quavered as he loosened his grip on my shoulders. He was so surprised, I probably could have pushed him down onto one knee, but somehow, I knew that was the wrong move. I just kept hugging him.

I never knew my mortal grandparents. (I suppose Kronos was technically my grandpa, but I tried not to think about that.)

Now I imagined what it would’ve been like to know my mom’s parents. They’d died when she was really young. In fact, when they’d died, they had been younger than my mom was now. That kind of blew my mind. Did they laugh with the same kind of joy my mom did? Had she inherited her love of cooking or writing from them? Did they hum as they walked in the rain without an umbrella, or was that just a Sally thing? If they hadn’t died so young, they could’ve been there for my mom during her hardest years. They could have gotten to know me. Maybe Geras wasn’t such a bad guy, despite his questionable loincloth fashion choices.

As I hugged him, I imagined that I was hugging my grandparents and also embracing the idea of growing older and looking back on a great life, thinking, Well, we made it. Yeah, we’ll die someday—maybe soon— but we had a pretty good run, didn’t we?

I pictured myself holding hands with Annabeth when we were both wrinkly and frail, and I still looked into her eyes and loved her as much as ever. I imagined ruffling Grover’s gray hair when he fell asleep on a garden bench, telling him, “Wake up, there, G-man. Food’s ready!” I imagined us

sitting around a table together, sharing a good meal and laughing about all the crazy things we’d done in our lives. Including that time I wrestled the god of old age in Washington Square Park.

I ignored Gary’s musty smell, his baggy skin, his liver spots and weird hairs, and I just embraced him like an old friend. A very old, past-his-expiration-date friend.

It was better than the alternative.

Living fast, dying young, and leaving a good-looking corpse is a cool-sounding philosophy—until it’s your corpse people are talking about. Gary pushed me against the tetherball pole one last time, but I guess his heart wasn’t in it.

He relaxed, patted me on the back, then put his head on my shoulder. He started to tremble. I heard a single sniffle. Was the god crying? Was he . . . smearing godly snot on my shoulder?

I didn’t know. Still, I didn’t push him away.

I peeked at Annabeth and Grover. The satyr looked stunned, but Wise Girl was smiling faintly. Of course she got what I was doing. She was quick to recognize a good strategy. And that twinkle of appreciation in her eyes was the best look I could ever hope for. It meant she was proud of me.

Finally, Gary disentangled himself from my hug. He stepped back and evaluated me anew. His eyes swam with reddish-brown tears. His jawline quivered. I couldn’t tell if he wanted to hit me or hug me again.

“Why?” he asked.

“I figured I’ll be wrestling with you my whole life,” I said. “And I’m okay with that. I just wanted you to know.” I took a shaky breath. “But if you really feel like the end of my life should be right now, we can keep throwing each other around the playground.”

Gary grunted. His expression was a mix of surprise, irritation, and maybe a little respect.

“Technically, I was throwing you around,” he said. “I was winning.” I didn’t respond. It seemed like the smart choice.

“Old Age is never embraced,” he muttered. “Do you know the last time I had a hug?” He stared into the sky as if trying to remember. His sad expression reminded me of old people I’d seen in nursing homes, gazing into the distance, trying to figure out where their lives had gone, where their loved ones were, how they’d become so alone.

“So what now?” I asked.

He frowned. “Old Age is patient. I hate that about myself, but I almost never rush to end someone’s life. And you’re right . . . ending your life now, at age sixteen . . .”

“Seventeen,” I corrected.

Grover cleared his throat. Shut up!

“Seventeen,” Gary echoed. The number seemed to taste bitter in his mouth. “No. It isn’t right. This isn’t your time.”

He tilted his head, turning his liver spots to the morning sunlight. “You really wouldn’t drink from the chalice, would you?”

“Nah,” I said. “I kinda want to live a whole life, you know? Even the tough stuff. Plus, I’ve seen what happens to people who are turned into gods.” I thought about poor Ganymede, frozen as a beautiful teen, but stuck with all his anxiety, self-doubt, and fears forever. No thank you.

“Interesting.” Gary studied my friends, then turned back to me. “I look forward to wrestling you for many years to come, Percy Jackson. Do not think I will go easy on you, just because you have impressed me now.”

“I’ll keep exercising,” I promised. “Do a bunch of crossword puzzles.”

Gary curled his lip. “We were having a nice moment. Don’t ruin it.” He snapped his fingers, and the chalice of the gods appeared, floating and gleaming in the air between us. All it needed was an angelic chorus to complete the effect.

“Take it,” Gary said. “I suppose it should stay on Mount Olympus, among those fools who have already turned their backs on Old Age. You give me hope, Percy Jackson, that not everyone is like them.” He sniffed before grumbling, “Crossword puzzles . . .”

Then he poofed into a gray cloud of talcum powder.

I managed to catch the chalice just before it hit the pavement. It felt as heavy as a bowling ball, which did not do wonders for my aching arms.

“Ow,” I said.

“You did it!” Grover did a little goat dance of relief. “Hugging him? That was really risky!”

“It was perfect,” Annabeth said. She marched up and kissed me. “You know what? I think you’ll make a handsome old man. I hope one day we’ll get the chance to find out. But I’m glad that isn’t today.”

I smiled. The smell of Gary lingered on my clothes. I was weary and sore and felt like I’d aged a few decades. But those mental pictures also lingered . . . the images of growing older with the people I loved, with my

best friends. And that made me feel like I could handle the aches and pains. Maybe the trade-off was worth it.

“So, you think we can send Ganymede an Iris-message?” I hefted the chalice. “I don’t want to keep this in my locker until Sunday.”

Annabeth looked like she was about to say something, but just then, a Hula-Hoop fell out of the sky.

It was pink with blue stripes and sparkles baked into the plastic. It hit the pavement with a jolly rattling whack, bounced twenty feet into the air, then came down again and rolled across the playground, wobbling to a stop like a flipped coin.

Even in a weird morning, this seemed weird. “Um . . .” I said.

Annabeth walked over to the hoop. She nudged it. When it did not explode or turn into a monster, she picked it up. She looked at the clouds, but no other objects fell from the sky.

“This is a symbol of Ganymede,” she said. “The Hula-Hoop?” Grover asked.

“Well . . . the hoop. It’s been a kids’ toy for thousands of years. It’s a symbol of his eternal youth.”

I shuddered. “Yeah, that doesn’t make Zeus’s abduction of him one bit less creepy. And you think what, Ganymede tossed the hoop off Mount Olympus?”

Since these days Olympus hovered over the Empire State Building, it wasn’t such a crazy idea. A good godly throw could probably reach Washington Square Park, no problem. But why?

Annabeth examined the hoop more closely. “Hold on.”

She found a section of paper wrapped around one part of the hoop. I had assumed it was a label or something, but Annabeth peeled it off and started to read.

“It’s a distress call,” she announced. “Ganymede says he’s stuck on Olympus, and he needs the cup immediately. He says . . .”

Her face fell. “Oh, gods. Zeus isn’t waiting for Sunday to have a feast.”

I gulped, remembering what Ganymede had said about Zeus being unpredictable. “So . . . what, he’s having one tonight?”

“Worse than that,” Annabeth said. “Zeus is having his mom over for a family get-together right now. They’re having brunch.”

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