“Oh, I spend a lot of time dreaming. I see the gods there all the time—always shifting forms. Dreams are fluid, you know. You can be in different places at once, always changing identities. It’s a lot like being a god, actually. Like recently, I dreamed I was watching a Michael Jackson concert, and then I was onstage with Michael Jackson, and we were singing this duet, and I could not remember the words for ‘The Girl Is Mine.’ Oh, man, it was so embarrassing, I—”
“Clovis,” Annabeth interrupted. “Back to Rome?”
“Right, Rome,” Clovis said. “So we call the gods by their Greek names because that’s their original form. But saying their Roman aspects are exactly the same—that’s not true. In Rome, they became more warlike. They didn’t mingle with mortals as much. They were harsher, more powerful—the gods of an empire.”
“Like the dark side of the gods?” Annabeth asked.
“Not exactly,” Clovis said. “They stood for discipline, honor, strength—”
“Good things, then,” Jason said. For some reason, he felt the need to speak up for the Roman gods, though wasn’t sure why it mattered to him. “I mean, discipline is important, right? That’s what made Rome last so long.”
Clovis gave him a curious look. “That’s true. But the Roman gods weren’t very friendly. For instance, my dad, Hypnos … he didn’t do much except sleep in Greek times. In Roman times, they called him Somnus. He liked killing people who didn’t stay alert at their jobs. If they nodded offat the wrong time, boom—they never woke up. He killed the helmsman of Aeneas when they were sailing from Troy.”
“Nice guy,” Annabeth said. “But I still don’t understand what it has to do with Jason.”
“Neither do I,” Clovis said. “But if Hera took your memory, only she can give it back. And if I had to meet the queen of the gods, I’d hope she was more in a Hera mood than a Juno mood. Can I go back to sleep now?”
Annabeth stared at the branch above the fire, dripping Lethe water into the cups. She looked so worried, Jason wondered if she was considering a drink to forget her troubles. Then she stood and tossed Clovis his pillow. “Thanks, Clovis. We’ll see you at dinner.”
“Can I get room service?” Clovis yawned and stumbled to his bunk. “I feel like … zzzz …” He collapsed with his butt in the air and his face buried in pillow.
“Won’t he suffocate?” Jason asked.
“He’ll be fine,” Annabeth said. “But I’m beginning to think that you are in serious trouble.”
PIPER DREAMED ABOUT HER LAST DAY with her dad.
They were on the beach near Big Sur, taking a break from surfing. The morning had been so perfect, Piper knew something had to go wrong soon—a rabid horde of paparazzi, or maybe a great white shark attack. No way her luck could hold.
But so far, they’d had excellent waves, an overcast sky, and a mile of oceanfront completely to themselves. Dad had found this out-of-the-way spot, rented a beachfront villa and the properties on either side, and somehow managed to keep it secret. If he stayed there too long, Piper knew the photographers would find him. They always did.
“Nice job out there, Pipes.” He gave her the smile he was famous for: perfect teeth, dimpled chin, a twinkle in his dark eyes that always made grown women scream and ask him to sign their bodies in permanent marker. (Seriously, Piper thought, get a life.) His close-cropped black hair gleamed with salt water. “You’re getting better at hanging ten.”
Piper flushed with pride, though she suspected Dad was just being nice. She still spent most of her time wiping out. It took special talent to run over yourself with a surfboard. Her dad was the natural surfer—which made no sense since he’d been raised a poor kid in Oklahoma, hundreds of miles from the ocean—but he was amazing on the curls. Piper would’ve given up surfing a long time ago except it let her spend time with him. There weren’t many ways she could do that.
“Sandwich?” Dad dug into the picnic basket his chef, Arno, had made. “Let’s see: turkey pesto, crabcake wasabi—ah, a Piper special. Peanut butter and jelly.”
She took the sandwich, though her stomach was too upset to eat. She always asked for PB&J. Piper was vegetarian, for one thing. She had been ever since they’d driven past that slaughterhouse in Chino and the smell had made her insides want to come outside. But it was more than that. PB&J was simple food, like a regular kid would have for lunch. Sometimes she pretended her dad had actually made it for her, not a personal chef from France who liked to wrap the sandwich in gold leaf paper with a light-up sparkler instead of a toothpick.
Couldn’t anything be simple? That’s why she turned down the fancy clothes Dad always offered, the designer shoes, the trips to the salon. She cut her own hair with a pair of plastic Garfield safety scissors, deliberately making it uneven. She preferred to wear beat-up running shoes, jeans, a T-shirt, and her old Polartec jacket from the time they went snowboarding.
And she hated the snobby private schools Dad thought were good for her. She kept getting herself kicked out. He kept finding more schools.
Yesterday, she’d pulled her biggest heist yet—driving that “borrowed” BMW out of the dealership. She had to pull a bigger stunt each time, because it took more and more to get Dad’s attention.
Now she regretted it. Dad didn’t know yet.
She’d meant to tell him that morning. Then he’d surprised her with this trip, and she couldn’t ruin it. It was the first time they’d had a day together in what—three months?
“What’s wrong?” He passed her a soda.
“Dad, there’s something—”
“Hold on, Pipes. That’s a serious face. Ready for Any Three Questions?”
They’d been playing that game for years—her dad’s way of staying connected in the shortest possible amount of time. They could ask each other any three questions. Nothing off-limits, and you had to answer honestly. The rest of the time, Dad promised to stay out of her business—which was easy, since he was never around.
Piper knew most kids would find a Q&A like this with their parents totally mortifying. But she looked forward to it. It was like surfing—not easy, but a way to feel like she actually had a father.
“First question,” she said. “Mom.”
No surprise. That was always one of her topics.
Her dad shrugged with resignation. “What do you want to know, Piper? I’ve already told you—she disappeared. I don’t know why, or where she went. After you were born, she simply left. I never heard from her again.”
“Do you think she’s still alive?”
It wasn’t a real question. Dad was allowed to say he didn’t know. But she wanted to hear how he’d answer.
He stared at the waves.
“Your Grandpa Tom,” he said at last, “he used to tell me that if you walked far enough toward the sunset, you’d come to Ghost Country, where you could talk to the dead. He said a long time ago, you could bring the dead back; but then mankind messed up. Well, it’s a long story.”
“Like the Land of the Dead for the Greeks,” Piper remembered. “It was in the west, too. And Orpheus—he tried to bring his wife back.”
Dad nodded. A year before, he’d had his biggest role as an Ancient Greek king. Piper had helped him research the myths—all those old stories about people getting turned to stone and boiled in lakes of lava. They’d had a fun time reading together, and it made Piper’s life seem not so bad. For a while she’d felt closer to her dad, but like everything, it didn’t last.
“Lot of similarities between Greek and Cherokee,” Dad agreed. “Wonder what your grandpa would think if he saw us now, sitting at the end of the western land. He’d probably think we’re ghosts.”
“So you’re saying you believe those stories? You think Mom is dead?”
His eyes watered, and Piper saw the sadness behind them. She figured that’s why women were so attracted to him. On the surface, he seemed confident and rugged, but his eyes held so much sadness. Women wanted to find out why. They wanted to comfort him, and they never could. Dad told Piper it was a Cherokee thing—they all had that darkness inside them from generations of pain and suffering. But Piper thought it was more than that.
“I don’t believe the stories,” he said. “They’re fun to tell, but if I really believed in Ghost Country, or animal spirits, or Greek gods … I don’t think I could sleep at night. I’d always be looking for somebody to blame.”
Somebody to blame for Grandpa Tom dying of lung cancer, Piper thought, before Dad got famous and had the money to help. For Mom—the only woman he’d ever loved —abandoning him without even a good-bye note, leaving him with a newborn girl he wasn’t ready to care for. For his being so successful, and yet still not happy.
“I don’t know if she’s alive,” he said. “But I do think she might as well be in Ghost Country, Piper. There’s no getting her back. If I believed otherwise … I don’t think I could stand that, either.”
Behind them, a car door opened. Piper turned, and her heart sank. Jane was marching toward them in her business suit, wobbling over the sand in her high heels, her PDA in hand. The look on her face was partly annoyed, partly triumphant, and Piper knew she’d been in touch with the police.
Please fall down, Piper prayed. If there’s any animal spirit or Greek god that can help, make Jane take a header. I’m not asking for permanent damage, just knock her out for the rest of the day, please?
But Jane kept advancing.
“Dad,” Piper said quickly. “Something happened yesterday…”
But he’d seen Jane, too. He was already reconstructing his business face. Jane wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t serious. A studio head called—a project fell through—or Piper had messed up again.
“We’ll get back to that, Pipes,” he promised. “I’d better see what Jane wants. You know how she is.”
Yes—Piper knew. Dad trudged across the sand to meet her. Piper couldn’t hear them talking, but she didn’t need to. She was good at reading faces. Jane gave him the facts about the stolen car, occasionally pointing at Piper like she was a disgusting pet that had whizzed on the carpet.
Dad’s energy and enthusiasm drained away. He gestured for Jane to wait. Then he walked back to Piper. She couldn’t stand that look in his eyes—like she’d betrayed his trust.
“You told me you would try, Piper,” he said.
“Dad, I hate that school. I can’t do it. I wanted to tell you about the BMW, but—”
“They’ve expelled you,” he said. “A car, Piper? You’re sixteen next year. I would buy you any car you want. How could you—”
“You mean Jane would buy me a car?” Piper demanded. She couldn’t help it. The anger just welled up and spilled out of her. “Dad, just listen for once. Don’t make me wait for you to ask your stupid three questions. I want to go to regular school. I want you to take me to parents’ night, not Jane. Or homeschool me! I learned so much when we read about Greece together. We could do that all the time! We could—”