Since nobody'd known we were on a quest there were no shrouds to burn that night at the sing along but we got the laurel wreaths and the feast. I didn't enjoy it as much as you'd expect. Fact is I was worried about the prophecy – it wasn't over yet. Sure we'd gotten Callie and were safe back in camp but there was still that cost to be paid, and even at ten I knew enough about how life works for half-bloods to realize it'd be something I didn't want to lose – but what?
Then, right in the middle of a chorus of 'When Odysseus Comes Marching Home' it hit me. I was going to lose a friend. Poly and I had become a team on our quest. Heck, I'd learned to really like the guy; but now Callie was home and we were back to being rivals for her attention and enemies. My heart sank and I stopped singing. Sure, I remembered how the prophecy ended: And fair contention's daughter freed from bonds, make all right with her smile. I knew that meant Callie – but I didn't see how she could fix this. She couldn't have two boyfriends! Looking over her head at Poly sitting on her other side I caught him looking back. Yeah, he'd figured it out too. We were screwed.
Eventually the sing along ended and people started heading for their cabins as the bonfire sank to glowing coals. Callie grabbed my hand. "I want to talk to you," she already had Poly's, "both of you. She pulled us away from the amphitheater towards the beach, in other words in the opposite direction from the one everybody else was going and she was pulling hard because I didn't want to go and neither did Poly. I mean did she really have to decide now couldn't we just let things slide for a while?
When we got to fireworks beach there was somebody already there; a lady sitting on the sand with the romantic moonlight shining on her like her own personal spotlight, and she looked a lot like Callie. In fact she looked almost exactly like Callie does now. Guess who.
If Poly and I'd had any doubts Callie removed them, letting go of our hands to run to the lady's arms, "Mom!"
Aphrodite hugged her back smiling broadly, "My brave, brave girl. I'm so proud of you!" Okay, point one for the Immortal Bimbo, she really cared about Callie. I shouldn't have been so surprised. I mean I knew how my dad feels about me and I'd just seen Poly's dad was the same about him. In fact over the years I've come to realize that all the gods love their half-blood kids, trouble is they don't always show it in ways we can understand.
Aphrodite looked up and Poly and I both took involuntary steps backward. She rolled her eyes. "Oh don't be so silly. I helped you save my daughter didn't I?" Well that explained that very convenient wind and the flaming football.
"You've also been trying to kill me all my life," I pointed out gripping my sword.
She shrugged. "So, I was a little jealous. I don't like sharing my lover."
"What's your excuse for messing with my mom?" Poly growled.
"Hephaestus is my husband," Aphrodite snapped back.
"So, what you're saying is you're allowed to cheat but they aren't?" I said. Callie winced and looked nervously up at her mother.
But Aphrodite didn't get mad she just shrugged again. "Love isn't reasonable, young hero. You should know that even at your age."
"Yeah but you can't love both our dads!" Poly argued.
"Can't I?" suddenly Aphrodite looked all tragic. I swear there were tears in her eyes then one trickled down her cheek. She looked so much like Callie that I hated to see her cry.
"Don't do that!" I said uncomfortably.
Poly wasn't as affected. "How can you cheat on somebody you love?" he demanded.
More tears poured down the goddess's face and I swear they were real not just manipulative. "How can I choose?" she answered, "And if I did, what would become of the other?" she spread her arms in a strangely helpless gesture. "They need me, Ares and Hephaestus both. My poor boys, they have so little love!" She dropped her arms and looked at us forlornly. "Can you understand that, children?"
The funny thing was I could – sort of. Nobody on Olympus likes dad, not even his own parents. And Zeus, or maybe Hera, threw Hephaestus off Olympus because he was ugly. I'd heard both stories and didn't really matter which it had been since the other hadn't stopped them. Maybe Aphrodite wasn't just a bimbo.
Poly seemed to be thinking the same way. "I guess. But my dad isn't very happy as things are – and I bet Ares isn't either!"
"They have moments of happiness," she promised, "great happiness. As many as I can manage." And thank all the gods she stopped crying. "I haven't seen them so friendly to each other for centuries, and I thank you for that too."
Warring gods, enemy sons shall reconcile.
"You're welcome," Poly and I said in almost perfect chorus.
Aphrodite took out a handkerchief and wiped her face, then opened a compact to peer in the tiny mirror. "Look at me, I'm a mess! And it's all your fault, you naughty boys, making me cry!"
Darn if I didn't feel guilty! A glance at Poly showed him looking pretty sheepish too.
The goddess gave her reflection another little pout then snapped the compact closed bending to kiss the top of Callie's head. "Good luck, sweetheart. Now look away all of you."
I hastily obeyed gluing my eyes to the sand as she exploded into her blazing 'true' form and then vanished.
"Why is your mom wishing you luck?" Poly asked Callie suspiciously.
"Maybe we don't want to know," I muttered. For a smart boy he sure can be slow sometimes.
"I'm glad Mom was here," Callie answered. "It's good you saw for yourselves how hard the whole triangle thing is on her."
I blinked. Frankly I'd been thinking more about how hard it was on Dad, and even on Hephaestus, but yeah, I guess it wasn't fun for Aphrodite either. I mean she'd cried real tears over it and everything.
"I don't want to end up like that," Callie went on. "I don't want the three of us to be like our parents with the two of you hating each other and me torn between."
"I don't want that either," I said promptly, well ahead of smart boy.
He gave me a glare then said, "So what's your solution?"
"I can't choose any more than Mom can. I can't be either of your girlfriend."
My heart fell into my stomach and burned. Suddenly I was really sorry I'd eaten all those s'mores. How was this making things right?
"So you're blowing us both off?" Poly asked disbelieving.
"No!" Callie answered, surprising us. "I don't want to be left out either. I can't have two boyfriends. But I can have two friends. And so can you."
It took a few minutes for that to sink in and for once smart boy wits were no quicker than mine.
"You mean the three of us…" he began uncertainly.
"Friends." She finished for him. "Yes, that's what I mean. The three of us together, nobody left out and nobody torn in two."
"I get it," I said and my heart moved back where it belonged and my stomach stopped heaving. "Poly, she's right. We made a great team."
He nodded, beginning cautiously to grin. "We did, didn't we?"
Callie beamed, "The best!"
Poly turned to me, "Mark, that's it. That's the cost! We both have to give up on having Callie for a girlfriend –"
"But neither of us has to lose her either." I finished, "and you and me can go on being friends. Yeah - yeah, I'm good with that."
"And me." Callie's smile literally lit up the night and it really did make all right – just like the prophecy said. She put out her hand palm up and Poly and I covered it with ours. And the three of us have been a team ever since.
I won't say giving up on having Callie for my girl didn't hurt. But getting both her and Poly as friends was something. No – it's been everything.