“A pleasure,” said Theo, dipping his head in a bow. I flashed him a tired smile and stuck out my hand. He shook it gingerly, as if he were afraid I’d break. His palm was smoother than mine.
“Nice to meet you, too,” I said. “Ava talks about you a lot.”
“I do not,” protested Ava. She looked at Theo and frowned. “I don’t.”
“She does,” I said, and Theo grinned. There was no resemblance between him and Ella at all, as far as I could see.
“C’mon, let’s go,” said Ava in a huff, tugging on his arm.
Sensing I’d wounded her pride, when she glanced back at me on her way out, I gave her an apologetic shrug. “I’ll come to the next one, promise.”
“Whatever,” she said, pulling Theo away. He managed a quick bow in Henry’s direction before exiting, leaving me alone with Henry and Calliope, who still lingered by the door.
“I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then,” she said, her cheeks bright red.
“Tomorrow,” I said, forcing a smile. I wasn’t fooling anyone. Even I could hear the nervousness in my voice.
Once Calliope was gone and the door closed, Henry stood and crossed the room to the large bay window. As he stared out into the inky night, he beckoned for me to join him.
“Henry, I can’t,” I said with a sigh. “I’ve got to study.”
“I will ask Irene not to quiz you on the last hundred pages,” said Henry. “Now come and sit with me. Please.”
“I don’t think she’ll agree to that,” I mumbled, but I did as he asked. My feet dragged against the carpet and my head felt too heavy for my body, but somehow I got to the other side of the room without collapsing.
Once I was there, he wrapped his arm securely around me, and another pleasant shiver ran down my spine. It was the most physical contact I’d had with him since arriving, and it was easy enough to lean against him, letting him support my weight.
“Look up,” he said, his arm tightening around my shoulders as I rested against him. I turned my head toward the ceiling, but in the candlelight, it was too dim for me to see. He chuckled. “No, the sky. Look at the stars.”
My face flushed with embarrassment, and I focused on the black sky through the window, just able to make out the pin-pricks of light. “They’re pretty.”
“They are,” he said. “Did you know they move?”
“Stars? Sure.” Was this part of a lesson, too? “You see different stars during different times of the year.”
He eased us both down onto the bench, so close that I was practically sitting on top of him, but being near him was much nicer than I wanted to admit. I wasn’t willing to give it up yet.
“Not through the seasons,” he said. “Through the millennia. See that star there?”
He pointed upward, and I could barely see the direction he was pointing in, let alone tell which one he was talking about. “Yeah.”
If he knew I was lying, he indulged me anyway. “When I met Persephone, that star wasn’t part of that constellation.”
“Really?” My oversaturated mind barely processed this information, let alone what it implied. “I didn’t think they did that.”
“Everything changes with time,” said Henry, his breath warm against my ear. “One must simply be patient.”
Yes, I thought, everything changed with time. That was the problem, wasn’t it?
But whatever Henry was trying to do to take my mind off the test worked. That night, instead of worrying about nymphs and heroes, my mother and I wandered through Central Park, visiting the zoo and riding the carousel round and round until we were both dizzy from laughter. I slept better than I had in days, and when I woke up, I was smiling.
The next morning I was too nervous to eat, but Calliope made me swallow a piece of toast covered in strawberry jam anyhow. Even that threatened to come up as I walked to the classroom, and it was through sheer willpower alone that I managed to keep it down.
I could do this. Henry was depending on me, and he would never let them purposely make me fail without giving me a fair shot. I’d studied, and this wasn’t rocket science. It was mythology. How hard could it be?
“Ready?” said Irene once I was seated.
“No,” I said flatly. I’d never be ready for this. Instead of showing me the tiniest bit of sympathy, she laughed and set the test down in front of me. A knot of horror caught in my throat when I flipped to the final question. Twenty pages.
“Two hundred questions,” she said, as if reading my mind. “You can only miss twenty.”
“How long do I have?” I choked.
“As long as you need.”
Her kind smile wasn’t the least bit reassuring. Summoning every last ounce of determination I had, I picked up my pencil and began.
Three hours later, I sat anxiously in the corner as Irene went through my exam. I’d gone through every question in my mind over and over again, constantly second-guessing my answers. What if I’d mixed up Athena and Artemis? Hera and Hestia? What if I’d studied too much and accidentally mixed up places and stories and the intricate timelines?
What if I’d failed?
Irene set down her pen, her face passive as she crossed the room and silently handed me the test. My hands shook so badly that I was afraid I’d drop it, and nothing in her expression gave away my score. I forced myself to look down. For a long moment, my eyes wouldn’t focus on the number scrawled on top.