“It wasn’t your fault,” said Henry with quiet fierceness. “It was no one’s fault but my own. I am the one who could not make her happy—”
“And I’m the one who pushed you together to begin with,” said my mother. “Don’t argue with me, Henry. I mean it.”
He fell silent, though I thought I saw the barest hint of a smile.
“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted.” She ran her fingers through my hair, and I knew she didn’t mean any of the sharpness in her voice. “You always had a choice, sweetheart. If you didn’t want to do this, we would have all accepted it and proceeded without you. You have always been in control of your life—all we did was offer you the opportunity.”
My throat tightened as I imagined what might have happened if I hadn’t. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“It would have given you an unfair advantage,” said my mother. “It needed to be your decision, not one I influenced you to make or one that you automatically rejected because you knew what you were getting into. Besides,” she added gently, “even if I’d told you, would you really have believed me?”
Of course not. And when I left for the real world, who would possibly believe me if I told them how I spent my winters? Nobody sane, I was sure of it. “Does Eden even exist? Everyone there, even Ava and Dylan—was that part of giving me a choice?”
“Eden does not exist outside of the few weeks you occupied it,” said Henry. “If you decide to go back to where the town stood, you will see nothing but trees and fields. I am sorry for the deception.”
So was I. I pursed my lips, trying to come up with something to say that didn’t make me sound like I was twelve. “Just—don’t do it again, all right?” I looked between him and my mother. “No more lies, and no more holding out on me.”
To my surprise, my mother laughed, but it wasn’t the laugh I was used to. It was a strange combination of sounds—a gurgling brook, the chirping of crickets and somehow the first day of spring. It was incredible.
“Of course,” she said, her voice filled with affection that spilled through me and made it easier to walk the next few feet. “Now, before we get to your wedding, is there anything else you’d like to know?”
My wedding. A lump formed in my throat, and it was all I could do to speak around it. “Yeah,” I said hoarsely. “What kind of name is Diana for a goddess, anyway?”
She laughed again, and the knot in my throat loosened. “Ella was rather put out I took her Roman name, but she did not want it, and I’ve always been quite fond of it. We all choose new ones throughout the years.”
“Ones that match where and when we are,” said Henry. “We are most famous within Greek mythology, and that is why we are known throughout by our Greek names.”
“But we have no real names,” said my mother. “We were created before names.”
“And we will survive long after names are needed,” said Henry.
My mother glanced at him. “Some of us, anyhow.”
Her words brought an image of James crashing into my thoughts, and I tried to push it away, but he remained stubbornly in the forefront of my mind. “You’re really the Olympians then?”
“All thirteen,” said my mother. “Plus Henry, on a good day.”
He grunted, and my frown deepened as I struggled to put the pieces together. “Then—who’s who? I mean, I know who you two are, Hades and Demeter, but everyone else?”
“You mean to tell me you haven’t figured it out already?” said Henry. I gave him a dirty look.
“Not all of us are omniscient, y’know.”
“Neither are we,” he said, his eyes sparkling with amusement.
I chewed on my lower lip as I thought about it. “I could probably guess if I had to. Not all of you though.” I shook my head. “Olympians. That’s—” Incredible. Unspeakable. “A warning would’ve been nice.”
I must’ve sounded bitterer than I’d intended, because my mother hugged me tighter and buried her nose in my hair. “No matter what I’m called or who I am, I’m still your mother, and I love you very, very much.”
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. She was my mother, but my mother didn’t have laughter that felt like sunshine. My mother gave up her life for me, and what was left of her was cold and stiff. Not this warm, bubbly being who was so much stronger than I would ever be.
“Come,” said Henry, apparently sensing my change in mood. We stopped in front of a pair of richly decorated doors depicting the earth and the world below, and my breath caught in my throat. Persephone’s bedroom.
“Henry?” I said, but he shook his head and offered me nothing but a smile in return. I tugged self-consciously on the white lace of my dress, making sure my bandages hadn’t leaked.
The doors open, and instead of the shrine it had been only months before, it was empty except for a small white arch decorated with a rainbow of daisies. Standing off to the side were nine of the other council members, all but Calliope and James, and Walter stood underneath the arch, waiting for us.
“I hope it will do,” said Henry. “I was not sure if you wanted something more elaborate.”
“No,” I said breathlessly. “This is perfect.”
My mother took my hand, her eyes shining with tears. “That’s my girl,” she said, and even though I never wanted her to leave again, I knew it was time. This was my life now, and while she would always be part of it, she would no longer be the center. It was a shift I hadn’t been expecting, but somehow these past six months had prepared me for it.