"And the people there decided they liked the olive tree better than the salt water spring, so the city was named Athens, after Athena."
"That's stupid, Daddy. Olives don't even taste good."
"That's my girl."
Other girls my age were told fairy tales: Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White. Not me. Every night since I could remember, Dad told me a different Greek myth. There were a million and one, and he knew them all. He never failed, no matter how busy he was. Sometimes, he would even bring the stack of tests to be graded, and he'd tell the stories as he marked off wrong answers with a red pen.
These were the days before I went to school. In the mornings, he would send me off to Grandma's. Her name was Sally, and she'd raised him as a single mother—opposite of me. So she became something like a mother to me, since mine was gone from a freak car accident when I was two. She was better than any babysitter. She worked at home, writing novels, and every day she would have some kind of fun activity planned out, baking cookies, going to the park, visiting the dock. Her husband, who I always called Paul, since he wasn't actually my grandfather, laughed at us both with flour all over our hands when we baked and tickled Grandma until she shooed him away in fits of giggles.
I wondered if that was what it was like to have two parents instead of one.
It didn't matter to me much when I was young. Since Dad downright refused to send me to daycare or hire a babysitter, I didn't spend a lot of time with other kids my age. Once, I overheard him telling Grandma, "I can't. Who knows what could happen there? I don't know how badly she attracts them."
His words meant nothing to me at the time.
At night, Dad would take me home, and I was the center of attention, the center of his world, no matter what was going on. And that was all right with me. We played all sorts of games, usually role-playing the mythology I loved so much. I liked to play the heroes, since there weren't enough heroines. "The girls aren't as much fun," I insisted stubbornly, as he laughed and ruffled my light brown hair. "Whatever you want."
In the summer, when school was over and he was on break, he would take me to the ocean, even when I was only a toddler. I learned how to swim faster than any four-year-old. At the sea, strange things happened. I told Dad there were women staring at me from in the waves, but he just kissed my sandy cheek and said, "You have the best imagination, Cassie."
My parents named me Cassandra, after some Greek prophetess in the Trojan War. I went by Cassie. Dad's name was Perseus, and he went by Percy. I guess it was some kind of tradition in the Jackson family, naming children after the Ancient Greeks and modernizing it.
The year after I learned how to swim, I discovered my talent at knitting. One day at Grandma's, I watched her knitting a multicolored scarf for Paul, the needles clicking in a gentle clattering rhythm, and all of a sudden, I knew I could do it. I didn't know how, I just knew. "Can I try?" I said.
She looked at me with an amusement, and it must have been absurd, a five-year-old asking to handle knitting needles when she could barely handle putting on clothes by herself. But Grandma handed me her work, and my fingers already knew what they were doing. I knitted three rows, and Grandma's eyes grew bigger than tea saucers. When I gave her the scarf and needles back, she stared, wordless, from me to the scarf.
"What? Is it supposed to be hard?" I asked in my foolishness. She blinked a few times and then put on an unsure smile, shaking her head. "Not for you, my dear. Not for you."
Knitting became an avid hobby of mine. Dad joked that I would bankrupt his poor teacher's salary on yarn each week. He received a lot of sweaters for Christmas that year.
Starting me off at school was a whole new ordeal. He took me anxiously to at least a dozen, meeting individually with the principals and examining each classroom as if it hid a secret stash of drugs in the cabinets. "Dad, why do we have to do this?"
"Because I want to keep you safe."
That was always the answer. I got the feeling that if he could go to school with me, he would do it.
It was in first grade that I first started getting the feeling that Dad had done something in the past he hadn't told me about. Occasionally, an older student who had an odd air about him, walking on a limp or narrowed red eyes, would pass me and whisper in some unintelligible language, raising goose bumps on my arms. Before I could turn fast enough to get a good look at the face, the person would have mingled into a crowd or flat-out disappeared into thin air. It was like these people specifically sought me out. I didn't tell Dad because I was afraid he would move me to another school if he found out.
As I grew older, I learnt what it meant to be raised by a single father. It wasn't one big revelation moment that got me there. Little things, like school plays, parent-teacher conferences, soccer games, where I saw kids with their moms, and mine wasn't there. Bringing in family portraits when mine was always two-person instead of three or more. Telling my friends, and hearing their questions. "Who cooks then? Who cleans? Who buys your clothes?"
I didn't know moms were supposed to do that stuff.
I met kids who had only a mother, their fathers having run out on them, or having left after a divorce. I even became friends with a girl whose father was in jail. But I didn't know anyone who was raised by a father alone the way I was.
It all made me feel weird, the way people thought my family must be different, that I must be a tom boy or emotionally disturbed since I didn't have a mother.
The whispers, the sidelong glances from other mothers, the sympathetic pats, it made me even more aware that I didn't have a family. Not the kind of family I saw on TV anyway. My family was broken, wrong.
On weekends, my friends' mothers took them shopping, braided their hair in intricate fashions, and other such girly things. On weekends, Dad and I went fishing.
We flew kites. We went camping. And I never missed the things we didn't do, but sometimes when I lay in bed after Dad had kissed me goodnight and shut the door, I pushed my face into the pillow and tried to imagine Mom combing through my hair, painting my fingernails with cool swipes of the polish, all those things mothers do.
I recalled a curtain of golden hair around me when she picked me up as a baby, gray eyes that smiled even when her lips were solemn, the way she made Dad laugh. But maybe that was only the pictures he had on his dresser, creating false images in my head. I liked to pretend though, that I had a genuine memory of her deep inside, somewhere.
My fourth grade year, the teacher decided to make a project out of Mother's Day. We painted flowerpots so our mothers could fill them with seeds and watch beautiful blossoms bloom from within. I said nothing to my teacher, instead, painted my pot with the most vivid colors I could find, pretending like I could go home and present it to a mother who waited with warm open arms.
Mrs. Daly commended my work and said, "You're mother is going to love it." I flashed the most brilliant, convincing smile I could muster.
When I went home, I broke my flowerpot before I went inside. Dad found me that night curled up in a ball in my room, clutching the stuffed owl Mom bought for me way long ago before she died. I jammed it against my face, hoping it would emanate some kind of warmth. It was cold and covered in fur, not feathers like a real owl. It smelled like department store toys did, sterile and clean, and not in any way like I imagined Mom would smell.
Dad tapped me on the shoulder gently. "Are you okay?" I peeked from my pillow sanctuary to see his green eyes watching me. And in his hand, he held a broken piece of the clay flowerpot. "Did you make this?"
I nodded imperceptibly.
"Why did you break it on our doorstep?" he said gently.
He rubbed my back comfortingly, and at that moment, the tears began to come, fast and thick against my bed. Dad picked me up like he did was I was younger, and I collapsed on his lap and cried against his shoulder.
After I exhausted myself, I said timidly, "It was for Mother's Day."
"I see." Then, he carried me over to his room and pulled some of the pictures down from his dresser. I sniffled and hiccupped as he recounted stories of how he proposed to Mom on the observation deck at Hoover Dam (she was an architecture geek, as he called her), and the happy pictures of a grinning couple in front of the Parthenon and the Old Temple of Athena where they had honeymooned. Pictures of Mom's frazzled hair in the hospital after she gave birth and Dad's goofy smile, with a bundle of cloth in her arms that I guess was supposed to be me.
He told me about the time they'd got into a huge argument over the seating of at the wedding, since his father and her mother apparently hated each other and could barely stand to be in the same room. He told me about all the times he had to drive her across the state in the middle of the night because she had some odd craving while she was pregnant with me. Or the time they made bets on whether I would be a boy or a girl. "She won," he said with a chuckle. "She always insisted she could tell it was a girl in her belly."
The way telling stories about her made his eyes sparkle only made me hurt more. "I miss her, Dad." It probably sounded stupid, seeing as I could barely remember her at all, but I did.
And that was how we spent Mother's Day that year.
The incidents with strangers coming up to me became more and more frequent. I still never told Dad. I didn't want to freak him out, since he already seemed to think I had the potential of flopping over dead at any minute when he wasn't around. There was a man with one-eye, right in the middle of his forehead, like a Cyclops from Greek mythology. There was a lady with hawk's talons instead of fingernails. Most of them skirted around me, only glaring daggers as if I had offended them terribly in some way. I convinced myself they were illusions.
Except one of them, an old man with warts and pockmarks on his face and a lion's tale peeking out from behind his coat, knew my name and family. "Percy Jackson's daughter," he growled, before scurrying away.
I froze in my tracks, chills running up my spine. Who were these people?
I told my teachers people stalked me in the halls. None of them believed me. One of them, concerned, had a "buddy" follow me around for a while, but naturally, none of those creeps spied on me when I had a friend. Another worried teacher offered to tell Dad I needed psychiatric help. I quickly turned her down.
Maybe I shouldn't have ignored the signs that clearly said something was wrong. As I stood alone waiting for the city bus to take me home on a clear, bright afternoon in March, I noticed a man with a wide-brimmed hat, obscuring his face in shadow. He leaned up casually against a building, and he had an eye on me.
I pretended I didn't see him, but I glanced over nervously once in a while to see if he'd left. He hadn't. Just kept watching me with a lazy smirk playing on his lips. People rushed by on the streets of New York City, paying me no heed, an eleven-year-old with a blue backpack. He can't hurt me, I told myself firmly. It's broad daylight. Everyone would see.
But the bus was stubbornly late that day. The man sauntered up to me, and I thought about running away and screaming for help, but it was a dumb idea. He hadn't even done anything yet. Everyone would think I was crazy. "You need a ride, little lady?" he said with a southern drawl.
Dad taught me not to talk to strangers, so I didn't say anything, but the man pushed my shoulder roughly. "Hey, I'm talkin' to you."
I started to back away. His face reddened, and the whites of his eyes yellowed sickeningly. "No, sir. I'm fine."
He came closer to me. I cast around for help, but nobody took notice of us. "Leave me alone," I squeaked.
He barked a laugh. "Runty thing. I almost feel bad finishing you off, but we don't need any of your kind running around. Especially not another Jackson. We monsters are tired of those. Not as tough as your old dad was back then, are you?"
His offhand comment made me angry, but I had other things to worry about. To my horror, he removed his hat, and long dark hair streamed down his back—the ugliest mullet I'd ever seen. And butt extended out behind him, and he grew another set of legs, horse legs with hooves. His bottom half grew furry, and he got taller, towering over me.
Come on, I thought, someone had to see this.
The people walked right by us, didn't even offer a passing glance.
In front of me, stood a full-fledged centaur. A centaur! This seemed to be a good time to scream. So I did.
That got people's attention, but they only glared at me like I was causing a commotion for no reason. I couldn't understand it. The centaur grinned, showing its yellow, rotting teeth. "Nobody will come help you. I'm Nessus, and I eat young girls like you for breakfast. Want a ride now?" He pointed to his hairy backside and howled in laughter.
I started to run, but he grabbed the back of my shirt and lifted me into the air. He dropped me onto his back, and I had to grab onto his torso to prevent myself from falling headlong to the ground and snapping my neck. The ground from here was too high for me to jump without breaking a bone and rendering myself helpless.
I heard a yell behind me. "Nessus, you smelly beast! Turn around and face me, coward!" The voice warmed me to my toes.
Nessus spun around, almost knocking me off him in the process. I hung on desperately. "Hold on!" Dad warned me. He pulled a pen—a pen?—out of his back pocket, uncapped it, and I stared in amazement as it lengthened into a shiny, golden sword.
If I weren't already sure before, now I knew for a fact we weren't a normal family. Nessus roared and charged. Dad stood his ground.
Nessus may have been large and impressive, but he was clumsy and stupid too. Dad took him out with a swing of his sword, easy as anything; his agility surprised me. Once the sword made contact, my seat disintegrated under me. I was sure I would land hard on my butt and shatter my tailbone, but Dad caught me easily in his arms before that happened.
He capped his sword and shoved it back into his pocket. Through all of this, passerby saw nothing. The ordeal could've been a million times worse, and the thought of it frightened me so much I started to cry in spite of myself. "It's okay," he reassured me, letting me soak his shirt. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"C-centaurs don't exist, Dad. They don't exist," I kept saying over and over again through my sobs.
He carried me home in his arms and said he needed to explain some things. I agreed. He needed to explain a lot.
"So I'm not human?" I said blankly. "I'm genetically screwed up?"
"No. You're perfect. You're Cassie." He struggled for words, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's like...it's like some people are Irish, and others are Italian. You're Olympian. You have a part of the gods."
I stared at my lap. "I don't feel different." Then: "Is that why I've never met your dad? Or Mom's mom? It's because they live in the sky?"
"Well, my dad lives in the ocean."
We sat in silence for a while. "Dad, this has happened to me before. Not as bad. But there are…monsters…out there. They follow me at school. They know your name."
He exhaled, and all of a sudden, he looked older and sapped of energy. And the truth came out. He told me about how he had been a part of this gigantic prophecy with Western Civilization hanging in the balance, how he had been the kid who saved the gods. How he and Mom prevented the world from toppling into the rule of the tyrannical titans. How they made their way into legend. His eyes had this faraway look, like he could see it happening still.
Back in the days before I was born.
He told me I was partly divine. Any little kid should've been really excited at the prospect of having gods for grandparents, right? It was like some kind of Disney fairy tale. And I wasn't even a normal demigod. I was the daughter of the two greatest demigods who had ever lived. I should have been proud. I should have been happy.
Instead, I could only think of one thing. "If we're related to the gods, then why did they let Mom die in a stupid car accident?" Anger flared up inside me. If we were related to the gods, then things should've been different. We should've been special, protected. Gods could change fate, couldn't they? All those glances, those remarks when I was younger, they could have been averted. I could've had a real family, a whole family. Mom was gone, but now I knew the gods could've saved her, and they didn't. They let her die. The tears that pooled in my eyes this time were hot and furious.
"Is that the only thing we get? Monsters want to kill us all the time? And the gods don't even care?" I stood up, balling my fists. What if I didn't want to be this way? Dad said something about sending me away for the summers now to some camp that would keep me safe.
I didn't want to go to a summer camp! I wanted to stay with him, and go visit Montauk like we always did. Now that I was "different," I had to leave as if I had some infectious disease that needed to be quarantined. I had one parent. Soon, I'd have none. I'd be forced amongst a bunch of other-worldly kids, trying to figure out what we could do to survive to our next birthday.
"I don't want to be a demigod, Dad," I said through gritted teeth.
"I'm sorry, kiddo. You can't change something like that."
It didn't matter that I couldn't change it. A crater opened in my chest, the strangeness of finding out all of this world-saving stuff had happened before I was born. The wedding picture sat on the mantelpiece with Mom and Dad smiling at the camera, her sunlight glinting off her golden hair. They were the prince and the princess. This was supposed to be the skies clearing after the storm. It was the end of the fairytale. The happily ever after. But I wasn't happy.
Dad kept watching me intently, and something inside me snapped.
"Well, I don't want it! I want a real family, with Mom, and a normal life like my friends. I don't want Poseidon as a grandpa, and Athena as a grandma. I want Grandma Sally and Paul. I don't want to worry about some homeless man coming up to me and trying to eat me up every day. I don't want to be known as Percy Jackson's daughter." I ran into my room and slammed the door shut.
Dad dropped me off at Grandma's for the weekend, because I was too mad to talk to him. The silence was oppressive on the way over, and I didn't say goodbye when he pulled away. I felt like this whole big history of my life and before had been dropped into my lap without any kind of warning. Sure, Dad had told me stories when I was young, but I believed them to be…well, stories. Not real life. He said he hadn't told me anything more because being aware of my heritage would have increased my "divine" scent and attracted more monsters.
He wanted to protect me, but he couldn't do it forever. He couldn't protect me from my own blood, my own genes. I was stuck with it for life, however long that life might be.
Grandma understood what was going on, but she didn't bring it up. She chirped happily, said she was glad I would be with her for two whole days. She kissed me on both cheeks, promised me we would do all sorts of fun things. She almost made me forget I wasn't normal.
She baked blueberry pie and had blue lemonade ready for me, my favorite foods. "Grandma, how did Dad deal with it when you told him?" I blurted out in the middle of a big bite of pie.
She set down everything she was doing and pulled up a chair next to me. She pushed the bangs away from my eyes carefully. "I kept it from him for a long time, so he wouldn't be taken away. It was a mistake. When he did find out, it was almost too late. Five minutes later, he was fighting a Minotaur and trying to save my life."
Dad, forever the hero. "He never told me about that."
"He never wanted you to experience the same thing. Darling, he's always been trying to shield you from the real world, to make sure you never have to worry about the things he did. He had it pretty bad, being the son of the Sea God at times. And I wonder that he never resented his fate. He wished his father was around more. But he didn't blame his troubles on the fact that he was related to the gods."
Her words made me blush. Shame washed over me. It was true. Dad was the son of Poseidon. He must have been monster-central for his whole life. And he never complained. Not even once. He had the fate of the world resting on his shoulders, and he just took it, like it was meant to be, like he'd been waiting his whole life for that destiny. Maybe he had.
"What about Mom, then?"
"Oh, she hated him at first. Poseidon's kid, waltzing into camp, getting all the attention. And she had to be friends with him and teach him how things worked. It drove her crazy. Athena and Poseidon hate each other, and she didn't think she could be friends with the son of her mother's enemy."
I grinned, imagining the two of them at my age, bickering.
She caught my face in her hands, her eyes watering up. "Have I ever told you that you are the spitting image of her?"
I was surprised. All my life, everyone said I looked just like my father's daughter. We had the same green glass eyes, and I had his nose. Mom was blonde, and she had eyes like a thunderstorm.
"You have her forehead, her chin, and her lips. Every time you smile, you remind us of her. And you've got her hair too. It's brown, but it's fine and smooth. Lucky, because your father's hair can never lie down flat," she said wryly. I kept trying to imagine her, the way she looked when she was alive, maybe an upturned nose and a haughty air. I knew she was smart. I knew she was pretty. I used to stare at old photographs with her smiling at the camera, and pretend she was smiling at me. The effort exhausted me, and I collapsed into her arms, and she held me, rocking me back and forth for a long time.
We cleaned up the leftover pie and washed the dishes. I thought about all the times I missed Mom. Dad must have missed her ten times more. "He loved her a lot, didn't he?" I said. "Is that why he doesn't date anyone?"
"Loves," she corrected as she dried a plate. "You know where she is. She's not gone. She's waiting for him in Elysium. She'll be waiting until he comes down to join her. They've gone through their whole lives together; they've fought everything from monsters to gods to titans. Nobody understands him like she does. She was the only one who could balance out his impulsiveness, keep him away from dangerous situations. Imagine him marrying someone else and keeping those kinds of secrets. That kind of thing changes you. It defines who you are. And your father was a bit thick-headed all those years, clueless to the very end. But if anything, he's loyal. And she was one of a kind. There's no one in this world, not on Mount Olympus, or in the underworld who can replace her."
I thought about them, waiting for each other in different worlds. I felt trapped in between, the last connection.
"Doesn't he get lonely?"
"Yes, sometimes. But he has you. And he loves you." Those nights he told me stories, the times we dipped our toes into the ocean. We had the same temper. When we got in fights, he would put on his stern voice, and I'd scream at him and slam the door shut. We'd ignore each other for a couple of hours, and then once he'd ordered Chinese food, we both knew the apology had been said and acted like nothing happened. I wondered if Mom were there, if things would've gone differently.
But I guess it didn't matter. What mattered was that he was there. He was always there. Even when I cried, even when I was unreasonable, even when I was scared.
"I love him too, Grandma."
She hugged me, curling up her fingers so the suds didn't get onto my clothes or into my hair. "He knows, sweetie. He knows."
When Dad came back on Sunday night, we went home and ordered Chinese. "Did Mom like Chinese food?" I suddenly said through a mouthful of General Tsao's chicken.
I wished she could've eaten with us, then. "Can she see us from the underworld?"
He looked at me. "Maybe. Maybe she's watching us right now."
A secret fear curled around my heart, one I harbored for as long as I could comprehend the lack of a mother. "Do you think she would like me?"
I caught a flicker of sadness in his normally bright eyes. "She loves you more than you'll ever know. She would've wanted to be here to see you grow up. To drop you off at Camp Half-Blood." So there it was. I guess I'd be going. I was okay with it now. As long as…
"Will you tell me about how you saved the world?"
He laughed, the most wonderful sound I could think of, and spun me around in circles like he did when I was a kid. "Piece of cake. Don't make it sound so melodramatic." We made Mexican hot chocolate, and I sat in bed with the blankets bunched around me. He started the familiar once-upon-a-time, but I liked it better than the stories from childhood. Because the hero was someone I knew very well and loved.
We stood on the crest of Half-Blood Hill, the land spreading below us beautifully. The strawberry fields sprawled in the distance. Campers participated in various activities. I would be joining their ranks this summer. I squeezed Dad's hand suddenly, scared he would let go, leaving me in this new world by myself. Me, a demigod. I wondered if my grandparents could see me. If they approved.
"Are you ready?"
"I don't know," I admitted. "What if they hate me?"
"They won't hate you. You have two cabins on your side, Athena and Poseidon. I'd watch out for Ares, though. They hate everybody."
I swallowed hard and together, we stepped over the border. "Just for the summer, right?"
"Right. By the time it's over, you won't even want to come back home."
I looked up at him, his confidence, the way he knew things would turn out all right. "All those times the monsters attacked, and the titans tried to kill you," I said quietly, "were you ever scared you would lose?"
"Every time," he answered. "But you have to believe in yourself. The gods are the way they are. They're selfish, they're weak, and they're almost as human as we are. But humans like us, we make all the difference for them."
His words made me feel a tiny bit calmer. He kissed my forehead. "Don't be afraid."
The camp waited for me below, a result of Dad and Mom's sacrifice. I took a deep, relaxing breath, smelled the intermingling of strawberries and pungent sea air, strangely reminding me of home. I crossed the border and jogged down the hill. On the other side, a man rolled up on a wheelchair—Chiron, I think Dad said. "New arrival?" he asked.
He had a twinkle in his eye that put me at ease, and I remembered that he'd known my family for a long time. "I'm sorry, the name fails me, dear. Tell me again?"
What I said earlier, I didn't mean it. I glanced up the hill, and he was already gone. Only a summer. I cleared my throat. He told me not to be afraid. I wasn't afraid of my heritage. I wasn't afraid of being a part of them.
"Percy and Annabeth Jackson's daughter. Cassie." And Chiron's grin let me know he knew me, and I was a part of the family, at last.
You tucked me in, turned out the light
Kept me safe and sound at night
Little girls depend on things like that.
Brushed my teeth and combed my hair
Had to drive me everywhere
You were always there when I looked back.
You had to do it all alone
Make a living, make a home
Must've been as hard as it could be.
And when I couldn't sleep at night
Scared things wouldn't turn out right
You would hold my hand and sing to me.
"Caterpillar in the tree
How you wonder who you'll be
Can't go far, but you can always dream.
Wish you may and wish you might
Don't you worry, hold on tight
I promise you that there will come a day
Butterfly fly away."
A/N: The lyrics are not mine. They are Miley Cyrus' "Butterfly Fly Away," and normally I don't like her music, but this was a really cute song. I hope you enjoyed. I don't think it was my best work, but give me your feedback anyway. Tell me if you thought it was horrible and OOC. I always appreciate CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. This is in honor of the fifth book coming out May 5th. I can't wait for it!
Disclaimer: I don't own Percy Jackson.