When I reached the top of the gentle hill that hid any view of the manor from the outside world, I turned and waved, startled to see Henry was the only one still there. He raised his hand in return, and I forced myself to continue forward.
The gate came into view and with it a sight that made me stop in my tracks. Suddenly I understood exactly why Henry had been so adamant about reminding me I could do what I wanted with my summers.
James leaned against the same car he’d used to drive me to Eden Manor, and he wore the same humungous headphones he’d had in September. The only thing that was different was the lack of a smile on his face.
I slipped out from between the gates and hesitated, not sure what to say. Wordlessly he stepped around to open my door for me, and I thanked him, but he said nothing. It wasn’t until we were driving down the gravel road that I finally found the courage to talk, and even then my voice came out as a squeak.
“I’m sorry,” I said, my hands clasped together so tightly that my knuckles were white. “For everything.”
“Don’t be.” He turned the corner and the hedge disappeared from view. “You did what you had to do, and so did Henry. So did the council. I knew it was a long shot anyway after I met you.”
I pressed my lips together, not knowing what to say. I was sure he’d meant it as a compliment, but it didn’t help the guilt that gnawed at me incessantly. “You’ll exist for a long time, right? I mean, the world isn’t going to end tomorrow.”
“I don’t know,” said James, and for a moment I heard a hint of the boy who liked to build things with fries. “With Calliope on the rampage, anything’s possible.”
Leaning back against my seat, I let myself relax. At least he was still in there somewhere. “Where are we going?”
“Someplace I think you should go before you leave for the summer,” he said. When it was clear he wasn’t going to give me any more details, I resigned myself to looking out the window and trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t hurt so much.
Henry had been telling the truth. What had once been Main Street in Eden was now a dirt road surrounded by trees on either side, and the spot where Eden High School had stood was nothing more than a meadow. Even though I’d only been there for a few weeks, I felt a pang as we drove by. There would be no going back, not to the life I’d known as a mortal, and it was a loss I hadn’t been prepared to deal with.
By the time we reached our destination, we’d found civilization once more. It wasn’t New York City, but it wasn’t all dirt and trees either. Several small buildings clustered together to form a town near the hospital where my mother had stayed. I looked around, trying to find something familiar, but there were only small factories and churches and grocery stores.
James drove past a pair of wrought-iron gates, and my eyes widened as I realized where we were. I could hear the gravel on the road crunch underneath the tires, and he wound the car down the path slowly, coming to a stop a quarter of a mile inside.
“Come on,” he said, opening the door. “I want to show you something.”
I stepped out and stared at the cemetery that surrounded us, the headstones and statues rising out of the brown grass. Some of them were newer, the names clear and readable, while others we passed were so old and worn that I could hardly make out any kind of engraving at all. James kept his distance, shoving his hands in his pockets as if he were afraid to touch me, and I trailed behind him, busying myself with avoiding the mud and the melting snow.
He stopped in front of a fresh grave, one that was so new that there was no tombstone. Just a temporary marker with a name written in black marker. James stepped aside so I could see it, but there was no need. I knew exactly where we were.
“Diana Winters,” I said softly, running my shaking fingers over the letters that formed her name. “But I thought she was—”
“Alive?” said James, and I nodded. “As a deity, yes. But she took a mortal form to raise you, and that mortal form died ten days ago.”
I was silent, wondering what he expected me to say to that.
“She’s still your mother,” he said, “but you need to understand that things won’t be the same between you now, and things won’t be the same between you and Henry or you and the rest of the council either.”
I bristled at that. “Just like things aren’t the same between you and me?” I said, but instead of showing any signs of anger or frustration, James shrugged.
“Somewhat different, given you’re closer to both of them, but yeah. Something like that.”
I crouched down next to the marker, running my fingers over it as I stared at the mound of dirt that held my mother’s human body. I wasn’t sure what to feel—sadness was unavoidable, but there was a jumble of other emotions I didn’t fully understand. Relief, maybe, that her battle had ended. Fear for this new reality I faced and the truths I’d learned while she’d been wasting away in a hospital bed.
But most of all I felt a hollow ache inside of me, and it took me several seconds to realize I missed the life we’d had before we’d come to Eden. Not the years of sickness and pain, but the trips to Central Park. The Christmas trees. The days when I knew my best friend was only a short walk down the hall. Those were over now, and a new existence stretched out before me, blank except for the faces of Henry, my mother, and the rest of the council.
“I know it’s the end,” I said, placing a hand on the raised dirt. “I’ve known that for a long time.”