A bored young woman at the front desk handed me a set of keys. “You’re on the twenty-third floor. No flying inside the Olympic Administration Building. Take the elevator or the stairs. They’re both that way.”
She didn’t even bother to gesture. She jutted out her chin and went back to tapping on her phone. I chuckled. She clearly didn’t understand to whom she spoke. I’m not a flier.
My owl, Mr. Hoots, picked up my bag and zoomed towards the elevator. The woman didn’t seem to notice his flagrant disregard for her rules, so I didn’t chastise him. I picked up my shield and spear and strode towards him.
There were two buttons. Each had an etching of Zeus’ hand. I chose the one pointing up. As I did, I heard a familiar voice. “Finally, one of the clever ones is here,” it said.
I spun around. “Aunt Hestia!”
She tried to squirm out of my embrace. “You’re squeezing me too hard, dear. Not all of us live in armour.”
“Sorry.” The elevator doors parted. Mr. Hoots flew in with my bag. I gestured to let her go ahead of me.
“That better be out of respect,” Hestia said. “Because I’m not old and you’re not beautiful.”
I nodded and held my tongue. The elders always have been prickly. But it’s not just them. For as long as I can remember, Olympians have loved reminding me that I’m not as easy on the eyes as Aphrodite. But I’ve learned from the mortals that beauty comes in many forms. And the inner beauty I possess will not age or tarnish. My family’s taunts no longer wound me.
I pushed the button marked 23. “Which floor, Auntie?”
The woman at the front desk had told me I had the whole floor to myself. I looked at Hestia in confusion. She sighed and shook her head. Suddenly I got it. “Oh! My housewarming.”
“Yes,” she said, exasperated.
“It would be an honor for you to bless my hearth.”
She smiled tightly. “It’s only been two thousand years. How quickly you young gods forget.”
The doors opened and Mr. Hoots flew out, my bag swinging behind him. I let Hestia go first. “For respect,” I acceded.
I stepped from the elevator and instantly was transported back to Athens. Daddy had outdone himself with my lodging. The facade looked just like my Parthenon. I could almost feel the breeze in my hair. Beyond the walls, terraced hills danced with my beloved olive trees. My eyes filled with tears. I had forgotten what it was like to be home.
Hestia cleared her throat, waking me from my reverie. I pulled the keys from my pocket. The great doors swung open. I laughed in surprise.
Hestia shook her head as she shuffled in ahead of me. “Baby brother’s quite a showboat. You won’t need those. This place knows who you are. But you can pretend to use them, if you like.”
Mr. Hoots dropped my bag on a bench and flew off to explore. I noticed a card on the floor. Someone must have slipped it under the door. I picked it up. At first glance, it looked black. But as I gazed at it, something appeared to shimmer and move deep within the paper, giving it shades of purple and green I hadn’t noticed before. What looked like a little spark became letters that glowed bright against the shimmery darkness. “Dearest Athena,” it read. “Welcome home. I’ve got your back if any of these nutters get out of line. I’m usually out and about at night, but you are welcome at my nightclub Nox anytime.” Little gold kisses sparkled against the grain of the paper. The letters vanished. In their place shone one of my favorite names, “Nyx.” I kissed her note. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone. I was about to put the note away when a postscript appeared. “PS,” it read, “I’ve reserved the club for your birthday on the 22nd.”
My birthday! It would be here before I knew it. I needed to start planning.
Hestia coughed impatiently. I dutifully joined her. She pulled an amphora of olive oil from her pocket. She poured it into a lamp in the center of the main room. She snapped her fingers and its wick ignited. “This is your eternal flame,” she said. You won’t need it during the day, but at night, it will be helpful. From this lamp, you can light the others.”
I nodded and followed her deeper into the Parthenon. She noticed me ogling the walls.
“It’s not real, you know,” she said. “It’s projection mapping. It just looks like the Parthenon, but you can make the room look however you like.” She pointed a graceful finger in the direction of what looked like a small outbuilding. “The control panel’s in there.”
We arrived at the hearth. She crossed her hands over her heart and then extended them. The vast opening caught fire. The magical blaze would always keep me warm and protected, safe and comfortable. I embraced her gently. “Thank you, Aunt Hestia.” This time, she let me. “Would you like to stay for some tea?”
She looked about to say no, so I adjusted my offer. “Or ouzo?” A wide grin spread across her face.
“Maybe just a glass or two.”
I clapped my hands. “Mr. Hoots, ouzo for two, please.” I love pretending he’s my butler.
Hestia found some comfy chairs. I found the armor stand and stored my helm, shield and spear. Mr. Hoots flew in with a small tray attached to a ribbon he held in his beak. With great fanfare, he slowly lowered the tray so we could retrieve our glasses. Hestia sighed happily as she inhaled the licorice aroma. “Eleutheria,” she toasted.
“To arriving to where one loves,” I agreed. We clinked glasses and downed our chilled drinks. She lowered one of her ivory fingers and the glasses filled back up again.
“Aunt Hestia,” I protested. “Are you trying to get me drunk?”
“No, my child,” she smiled. “I’m getting myself drunk, but you’re welcome to come along for the ride.”
I had nowhere to be, and no one I was in a hurry to see, so I let Hestia hold court. No one knows how to make an evening as cozy and fun as she does. Before I knew it, we were rolling with laughter on the bearskin rug as she told me way more than I needed to hear about the carnal advantages of sleeping with centaurs. Although technically a “virgin” goddess like me and Artemis, she’s really just barren. That’s allowed her to enjoy the benefits of marriage without some of its material drawbacks.
Sometime between dusk and dawn I confided my heart’s anguish to her. “Do the mortals really need us?” I asked as she stroked my hair. “We’re all thugs, thieves and rapists. We’ve been horrible to women, and to each other. Do we deserve to be back?”
“Dear child,” she said. “The past has a vote, but it doesn’t have a veto. Times have changed. That means we have the potential to be different kinds of gods now. What you’ve done in the past is the past. That doesn’t have to dictate your future. Who do your mortals need you to be?”
I was glad she’d said that. I’d been so concerned with what I’d realized about our family that I forgot something very important. This experiment of Daddy’s is not about me. It’s about the mortals. I’m only here to help them.
Thank you, Aunt Hestia, for the sage advice. I really appreciate your giving me perspective. Although I hate the headache I got trying to keep pace with you!
PS: I love your ideas for my Panathenaia, Auntie!
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