The guys had one row of bunks separated by a curtain, but their section of the cabin was just as neat and orderly as the girls’. Something was definitely unnatural about that. Every camper had a wooden camp chest at the foot of their bunk with their name painted on it, and Piper guessed that the clothes in each chest were neatly folded and color coordinated. The only bit of individualism was how the campers decorated their private bunk spaces. Each had slightly different pictures tacked up of whatever celebrities they thought were hot. A few had personal photos, too, but most were actors or singers or whatever.
Piper hoped she might not see The Poster. It had been almost a year since the movie, and she thought by now surely everyone had torn down those old tattered advertisements and tacked up something newer. But no such luck. She spotted one on the wall by the storage closet, in the middle of a collage of famous heartthrobs.
The title was lurid red: king of sparta. Under that, the poster showed the leading man—a three-quarters shot of bare-chested bronze flesh, with ripped pectorals and six-pack abs. He was clad in only a Greek war kilt and a purple cape, sword in hand. He looked like he’d just been rubbed in oil, his short black hair gleaming and rivulets of sweat pouring off his rugged face, those dark sad eyes facing the camera as if to say, I will kill your men and steal your women! Ha-ha!
It was the most ridiculous poster of all time. Piper and her dad had had a good laugh over it the first time they saw it. Then the movie made a bajillion dollars. The poster graphic popped up everywhere. Piper couldn’t get away from it at school, walking down the street, even online. It became The Poster, the most embarrassing thing in her life. And yeah, it was a picture of her dad.
She turned away so no one would think she was staring at it. Maybe when everyone went to breakfast she could tear it down and they wouldn’t notice.
She tried to look busy, but she didn’t have any extra clothes to fold. She straightened her bed, then realized the top blanket was the one Jason had wrapped around her shoulders last night. She picked it up and pressed it to her face. It smelled of wood smoke, but unfortunately not of Jason. He was the only person who’d been genuinely nice to her after the claiming, like he cared about how she felt, not just about her stupid new clothes. God, she’d wanted to kiss him, but he’d seemed so uncomfortable, almost scared of her. She couldn’t really blame him. She’d been glowing pink.
“’Scuse me,” said a voice by her feet. The garbage patrol guy, Mitchell, was crawling around on all fours, picking up chocolate wrappers and crumpled notes from under the bunk beds. Apparently the Aphrodite kids weren’t one hundred percent neat freaks after all.
She moved out of his way. “What’d you do to make Drew mad?”
He glanced over at the bathroom door to make sure it was still closed. “Last night, after you were claimed, I said you might not be so bad.”
It wasn’t much of a compliment, but Piper was stunned. An Aphrodite kid had actually stood up for her?
“Thanks,” she said.
Mitchell shrugged. “Yeah, well. See where it got me. But for what it’s worth, welcome to Cabin Ten.”
A girl with blond pigtails and braces raced up with a pile of clothes in her arms. She looked around furtively like she was delivering nuclear materials.
“I brought you these,” she whispered.
“Piper, meet Lacy,” Mitchell said, still crawling around on the floor.
“Hi,” Lacy said breathlessly. “You can change clothes. The blessing won’t stop you. This is just, you know, a backpack, some rations, ambrosia and nectar for emergencies, some jeans, a few extra shirts, and a warm jacket. The boots might be a little snug. But—well—we took up a collection. Good luck on your quest!”
Lacy dumped the things on the bed and started to hurry away, but Piper caught her arm. “Hold on. At least let me thank you! Why are you rushing off?”
Lacy looked like she might shake apart from nervousness. “Oh, well—”
“Drew might find out,” Mitchell explained.
“I might have to wear the shoes of shame!” Lacy gulped.
“The what?” Piper asked.
Lacy and Mitchell both pointed to a black shelf mounted in the corner of the room, like an altar. Displayed on it were a hideous pair of orthopedic nurse’s shoes, bright white with thick soles.
“I had to wear them for a week once,” Lacy whimpered. “They don’t go with anything!”
“And there’re worse punishments,” Mitchell warned. “Drew can charmspeak, see? Not many Aphrodite kids have that power; but if she tries hard enough, she can get you to do some pretty embarrassing things. Piper, you’re the first person I’ve seen in a long time who is able to resist her.”
“Charmspeak …” Piper remembered last night, the way the crowd at the campfire had swayed back and forth between Drew’s opinion and hers. “You mean, like, you could talk someone into doing things. Or … giving you things. Like a car?”
“Oh, don’t give Drew any ideas!” Lacy gasped.
“But yeah,” Mitchell said. “She could do that.”
“So that’s why she’s head counselor,” Piper said. “She convinced you all?”
Mitchell picked a nasty wad of gum from under Piper’s bed. “Nah, she inherited the post when Silena Beauregard died in the war. Drew was second oldest. Oldest camper automatically gets the post, unless somebody with more years or more completed quests wants to challenge, in which case there’s a duel, but that hardly ever happens. Anyway, we’ve been stuck with Drew in charge since August. She decided to make some, ah, changes in the way the cabin is run.”
“Yes, I did!” Suddenly Drew was there, leaning against the bunk. Lacy squeaked like a guinea pig and tried to run, but Drew put an arm out to stop her. She looked down at Mitchell. “I think you missed some trash, sweetie. You’d better make another pass.”
Piper glanced toward the bathroom and saw that Drew had dumped everything from the bathroom waste bin—some pretty nasty things—all over the floor.
Mitchell sat up on his haunches. He glared at Drew like he was about to attack (which Piper would’ve paid money to see), but finally he snapped, “Fine.”
Drew smiled. “See, Piper, hon, we’re a good cabin here. A good family! Silena Beauregard, though … you could take a warning from her. She was secretly passing information to Kronos in the Titan War, helping the enemy.”
Drew smiled all sweet and innocent, with her glittery pink makeup and her blow-dried hair lush and smelling like nutmeg. She looked like any popular teenage girl from any high school. But her eyes were as cold as steel. Piper got the feeling Drew was looking straight into her soul, pulling out her secrets.
Helping the enemy.
“Oh, none of the other cabins talk about it,” Drew confided. “They act like Silena Beauregard was a hero.”
“She sacrificed her life to make things right,” Mitchell grumbled. “She was a hero.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Drew said. “Another day on garbage patrol, Mitchell. But anyways, Silena lost track of what this cabin is about. We match up cute couples at camp! Then we break them apart and start over! It’s the best fun ever. We don’t have any business getting involved in other stuff like wars and quests. I certainly haven’t been on any quests. They’re a waste of time!”
Lacy raised her hand nervously. “But last night you said you wanted to go on a—”
Drew glared at her, and Lacy’s voice died.
“Most of all,” Drew continued, “we certainly don’t need our image tarnished by spies, do we, Piper?”
Piper tried to answer, but she couldn’t. There was no way Drew could know about her dreams or her dad’s kidnapping, was there?
“It’s too bad you won’t be around,” Drew sighed. “But if you survive your little quest, don’t worry, I’ll find somebodyto match up with you. Maybe one of those gross Hephaestus guys. Or Clovis? He’s pretty repulsive.” Drew looked her over with a mix of pity and disgust. “Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible for Aphrodite to have an ugly child, but … who was your father? Was he some sort of mutant, or—”
“Tristan McLean,” Piper snapped.
As soon as she said it, she hated herself. She never, ever played the “famous dad” card. But Drew had driven her over the edge. “My dad’s Tristan McLean.”
The stunned silence was gratifying for a few seconds, but Piper felt ashamed of herself. Everybody turned and looked at The Poster, her dad flexing his muscles for the whole world to see.
“Oh my god!” half the girls screamed at once.
“Sweet!” a guy said. “The dude with the sword who killed that other dude in that movie?”
“He is so hot for an old guy,” a girl said, and then she blushed. “I mean I’m sorry. I know he’s your dad. That’s so weird!”
“It’s weird, all right,” Piper agreed.
“Do you think you could get me his autograph?” another girl asked.
Piper forced a smile. She couldn’t say, If my dad survives....
“Yeah, no problem,” she managed.
The girl squealed in excitement, and more kids surged forward, asking a dozen questions at once.
“Have you ever been on the set?”
“Do you live in a mansion?”
“Do you have lunch with movie stars?”
“Have you had your rite of passage?”
That one caught Piper off guard. “Rite of what?” she asked.
The girls and guys giggled and shoved each other around like this was an embarrassing topic.
“The rite of passage for an Aphrodite child,” one explained. “You get someone to fall in love with you. Then you break their heart. Dump them. Once you do that, you’ve proven yourself worthy of Aphrodite.”
Piper stared at the crowd to see if they were joking. “Break someone’s heart on purpose? That’s terrible!”
The others looked confused.
“Why?” a guy asked.
“Oh my god!” a girl said. “I bet Aphrodite broke your dad’s heart! I bet he never loved anyone again, did he? That’s so romantic! When you have your rite of passage, you can be just like Mom!”
“Forget it!” Piper yelled, a little louder than she’d intended. The other kids backed away. “I’m not breaking somebody’s heart just for a stupid rite of passage!”
Which of course gave Drew a chance to take back control. “Well, there you go!” she cut in. “Silena said the same thing. She broke the tradition, fell in love with that Beckendorf boy, and stayed in love. If you ask me, that’s why things ended tragically for her.”
“That’s not true!” Lacy squeaked, but Drew glared at her, and she immediately melted back into the crowd.
“Hardly matters,” Drew continued, “because, Piper, hon, you couldn’t break anyone’s heart anyway. And this nonsense about your dad being Tristan McLean—that’s so begging for attention.”