The last thing Ava Goddard ever expects to see are toga clad people that no one else can. She quickly jumps to the conclusion that she is a) going crazy or b) she’s always been crazy and is only now realising it. That is until she actually meets one of these ‘hallucinations’ and learns that she’s a demigoddess. Not only that but she’s the daughter of Jupiter himself.
Ava soon learns that being a demigoddess isn’t all as fabulous as she first thought it would be. Her life is invaded by gods and goddesses who want to befriend her including a frightening but ironically protective God of Death, a vengeful Queen of the Gods, a snarky dryad in her tree. And on top of it all she has to deal with her mother, overdramatic best friend and a soccer playing potential boyfriend as well.
Worse still, there is a goddess who is lurking in the dark who has been biding her time for the past several millennia waiting for her chance to take over. And she’s just found Jupiter’s one weakness.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but from all the hoopla I’ve heard about birthdays, I half expect just once to be greeted by a chorus of angels singing me into this new era of my life. You know, something special. Something just for me. But the logical side of me knows that I’ll open my eyes and see nothing more than the same old blush pink that has clung to my walls since my ‘I’m a pretty pink princess’ kick when I was five.
Just like I do every year.
Of course, my logic wins out and I’m greeted by the cheery, if fading, pink. As soon as my eyes become accustomed to the retina-searing combination of wall and jovial brilliance of the morning sunlight, the reality sets in. Having a birthday during final exam season has proved that I’m not destined for anything special. This year I have two final exams on what should be a glorious day. So instead of a day gallivanting in the sun celebrating, I’m stuck slaving over a standardized test that will prove nothing more than my ability to regurgitate facts.
With a sigh and a stretch, I get out of bed and stare out at the world. I know what I’m going to see. A couple of oak trees, the street, maybe a glimpse of the sky if the wind is blowing the branches and their accessorizing foliage just right.
This morning I notice a scarf dangling from the second oak. I have to admit I’m a bit confused as I watch it twisting and turning, dancing in an unseen breeze. It’s not like I routinely go around decorating my trees with frills. It would be nice in the winter, I suppose—it would give the trees a little life—but I digress.
I stare at it a moment. It’s plain, but pretty. Someone out there has to be missing it. Pushing open my window, I stare at it a moment then reach out for the gauzy material only to find that it’s caught on a gnarled branch. I pull on it gently, afraid to tear the fine material. After all, it’ll be mine if no one comes to claim it. I lean out a little to try to untangle it. The wind plays with me for a few seconds before I finally manage to snag a gossamer edge with my fingers again. I give it a couple of experimental tugs, releasing it in shock when it yanks back.
Must be the wind playing with the branches.
I shimmy out farther, determined not to let a stupid scarf outwit me. Reaching out once more, I wind a length of it securely around my wrist so it doesn’t get away from me. I wrench again. This time it jerks back violently, and I could swear that I saw a hand do it.
I let go, heart throbbing in my ears. Did I almost just yank someone out of the tree?
“Sorry! Is someone up there?”
The scarf flows upward like a silken waterfall in reverse and disappears into the dense layering of leaves. Well, that answers my question. Then it occurs to my slowly waking brain that there might be someone camping outside my window in my tree. The scarf couldn’t belong to a peeping Tom… I don’t think. Unless a floaty silk scarf has become an accoutrement for en vogue stalkers these days.
So this fashion diva in my tree doesn’t seem like so much of a threat. However, there is still the issue of their being stuck in my tree.
“Um, are you okay up there? Can I get you a ladder or something? Someone to shoot you out of my tree, maybe?”
“Ava, dear! Time to get up!” My mother, Tess Goddard.
She’s always been loud, which was good since I always had advance warning before she made an appearance—an Advanced Mother Warning System. I bet other kids wish they were so lucky. The sing-song voice comes from the other side of the door a second before my mother sweeps in.
A lot of people have told me that we could almost be sisters—almost. I don’t know whether to take offense or not. I mean, to be told that you almost look like a sibling to a woman who’s in her mid-forties isn’t exactly something a teen girl wants to hear. But it always brings a glow to Mom’s face, so I guess it’s worth the perceived insult.
Although, when I look at her, I can understand how she could be seen as younger. Her ebony hair is still as glossy, thick and dark as ever. And her stormy gray eyes, so like mine, are vibrant and brimming with life. So looking at her is like looking in a mirror—if it aged you about twenty-five years.
Right now, the aged version of me has dragged me from the window and wrapped her arms around me for a bear hug. The woman may be small, but she’s got the grip of an anaconda.
“Happy birthday, Ava darling! Eighteen! It seems like yesterday I was in agony for forty-six hours trying to bring you into the world, and here you are now, a gorgeous young lady.”
I go through this every year. The hug and the weepy speech. Though this time she seems weepier than usual. I let her manhandle me for a little while longer. It only seems fair to suffer this for a few minutes annually when she went through nearly two days of agony. Only a few more to go before the debt is wiped clean, by my count.
Finally, she sniffles and relinquishes my person, restlessly smoothing my hair and patting my shoulders and cheeks like she can’t get over what she’s seeing. “My baby is eighteen. I cannot believe it.”
I try my best at a gentle smile. Any wider and she’d think I was mocking her, too small and I would be accused of faking. “If you’re going to keep this up, I’m not going to make it to my finals.”
“Oh!” She hugs me again, this time releasing me after a second. “I’m being silly, of course. But it’s not every day a daughter—but I’m babbling again.” She pecks my cheeks and rocks back to smile at me. “Get dressed. You have a big day ahead of you.”
Too late. She’s gone. Never mind. It’s probably best that I don’t tell her. At least not until I find out if there really is someone out there. Let’s hope that if there is a person up in my tree that they are a trapped supermodel and not a serial killer. I can’t help but giggle at the insane thought. The scarf probably got blown up there on its own and I just imagined everything else.
But just to make sure, I lean out of the window once again to try to see if I can spot a person in it. “Hey! Someone up there?”
No reply and I can’t see anyone. The tree’s leafy, but not that leafy. I’m pretty sure that I’d be able to spot anybody in it. I can’t see the scarf anymore either. Damn it! That was a nice scarf.
Shoving disappointment aside, I start on my morning routine. Seeing as it’s a nice, warm spring day, I throw on a simple T-shirt with my favorite pair of jeans. I pull my hair back in a ponytail, slip on my black strappy sandals, apply makeup with a light hand and I’m good to go. All this was done in the bathroom, of course. Just a precaution until I find out whether or not there is really someone in my tree.
My bag is heavy with the books and notes I packed the night before. Textbooks I have to return, notes to cram before the test, all the things every girl wants to think about on her birthday.
What does surprise me, though, is the spread my mom has on the kitchen table. We’re not especially morning eaters. I might have a piece of toast and some juice, maybe cereal if I’m feeling crazy, but nothing too heavy before noon. What is laid out before me is amazing, seeing as Mom hardly ever cooks. Quite frankly, I’m not even sure she knows how to work the stove.
Belgian waffles complete with cream and fresh fruit piled high is the centerpiece of the meal. A fruit salad, glasses of milk, juice and water are also present, arranged in an artful way—if you can arrange drinks in an artful way, that is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any meal in this house with this much thought and care put into it.
“This is amazing! Thank you!” I throw my arms around her and give her a big wet one on the cheek. It’s the least I can do for all this, even if the thought of eating all that makes me want to get in front of the TV and play Just Dance for the next two days. But being the dutiful daughter that I am, I plunk myself onto the chair and dig in.
I manage to get everything down and get up just as I see Mom ready with a second helping. I feel like an overblown blimp as it is. Another mouthful and I’d explode for sure. Or at least burst out of my clothes. Images of me doing my exams in the nude quirk my lips for a second. Um, yeah. Not going to happen.
I wipe my mouth with an intricately folded napkin and get up. “I’ve got to run! I have some last-minute cramming to do.” I peck her cheek again. “Thanks. I’ll see you later.”
I manage to somehow make it out through the door without keeling over. I’m surprised I can even walk after eating all that. Leaning against the banister, I take a moment to breathe, hoping that it’ll settle. It takes more than a few heaving breaths to convince my stomach to retain what it’s holding. I lower my head back in an attempt to try to stop reverse peristalsis. That’s when I notice the oak tree again.
All gastric-related discomfort is now forgotten as I take a look to see if my Peeping Tom fashionista is still up there.
A furtive glance around me lets me know that I’m all alone. “Hey! You still up there?”
“I want you gone by the time I get back, all right? I’ll call the cops if I see you again.” There. The threat of getting the law involved should be enough to scare them off. I mean, how would they survive in jail if they can’t leave their couture at home while stalking?
Proud of myself, I saunter off to academic hell.