It has taken years, but May Castellan has perfected a routine that keeps things from getting too scattered. If she varies from it too much, if the seeing comes, she tends to lose the thread, but she always gets it back eventually.
She wakes up in the morning (sometimes it’s not morning and often she’s not in her bed, but she doesn’t let this get in her way for long) and goes downstairs. She makes coffee and breakfast, leaves a little for the statue over the sink (she doesn’t remember why this is important but knows that it is) and takes a moment to clean up anything that her little Luke forgot to put away the night before. Then she prepares lunch for him. He’s been good the last few days (or was that last week? She’s never sure), so she makes cookies to treat him this time.
From there she always goes upstairs and unlocks the door to his room to let him out so he can go to school. She has to keep him locked in, after all, because he’s a very bad person sometimes. There was the time last month when he broke one of his father’s statues, and then the time before that when he went and let all those monsters out of the labyrinth. And he was always trying to kill people: that boy with the green eyes, and those other little demigod friends of his. Plus, if she didn’t lock him into a single place then she always lost track of him, and then Hermes only knew what might happen to him. He could get in trouble with his teacher again, or go and make another attempt at destroying Manhattan.
This time, however, the routine doesn’t go according to plan. When she brings his little backpack upstairs and takes the padlock off his door, he’s not there in his room. His window is open and there is a folded piece of paper resting on his bed, his careful third-grade handwriting covering both sides.
May frowns. This is not how the routine is supposed to go. Luke is supposed to be asleep in his bed, and he’s supposed to get up now, take his backpack and lunch bag from her, sit down for her to help him tie his shoes, and then leave for school. May knows what the next several steps in the ritual are supposed to be, but for the life of her she can’t see how she’s supposed to execute them without Luke there. She looks at her watch; maybe it’s afternoon and she already sent him off to school. But no, it’s morning, and Luke isn’t there.
After continuing to stand in his room for a second, May shakes her head to clear it. This happens sometimes: she does the routine wrong, forgets some step along the way, and keeps on letting things go wrong. In this case a few details have gotten out of place: the window is open, the note is on the bed, and Luke is absent. There is also a coating of dust on everything in the room, and a faint wrong smell in the house, and there was all that extra stuff on the table downstairs that May didn’t remember putting there, but by now she’s learned not to let the small details like that bother her too much.
She shuts the door to Luke’s room, locks it again, and walks back to her own room. No matter; this happens sometimes, and the only thing to do is to start the routine over again and try to figure out where she erred. Maybe she didn’t bake the cookies long enough. Cookies are tricky like that: they tend to go wrong unless you keep a careful eye on them. (They’re like little boys in that regard.) Maybe she made the fruit punch with too much powder again. Oh well, she’ll give it another try, see if she can’t get it right this time. She’s sure if she can just do it again, do it right this time, she’ll open the door and Luke will come out so she can give him his lunch and get him off to school.
A few more days of the routine after that (or is it more than days? Maybe it’s more than that—she certainly knows she feels older) and when she turns around from the sink there’s a pale young man in armor sitting at her kitchen table. He’s watching her with an odd, pained look on his face. May wants to ask him what’s wrong: he looks like he’s been unwell, and there is a tear running down the furrow of scar tissue cut into his cheek. But instead (and more importantly) she first asks whether he’s a god; he looks so much like the Hermes she remembers that she figures he must be. He denies this, grimacing at the compliment (poor dear; she can tell his face was damaged recently and he must still be self-conscious) and she moves from there to asking him whether he’s seen a little boy with blond hair around here anywhere.
The young godling seems surprised by the question but after a minute he gives her a pained smile and tells her that she should stop waiting for Luke and she should definitely stop waiting for Hermes. From there he asks her how she’s doing, voice suddenly high and uncertain, almost afraid.
May pats his arm comfortingly and tells him it’s fine, that she does well especially ever since the checks started arriving a while ago. They’re for hundreds of dollars each, from pawn shops for the sale of gold drachmas, and really help out when she forgets how to deal with money. She suspects Hermes might have something to do with this, but when she tells the young man this, his expression goes cold and hard, and his tone is flat when he abruptly asks her if she will allow him to go take on the Curse of Achilles.
May is a little taken aback by the request—she has no idea why a self-assured young man like him would need her permission to do anything—but pats him on the arm and tells him to do anything he needs to avoid earning another scar. Then she gives him a sandwich and cookies (she has a few extra, it seems) and watches him in nervous silence as he eats.
He stands up to go after that, but turns away from the door at the last minute and wraps her in an impulsive hug. When she’s still pressed to the breastplate of his armor he bends down to bury his face in her hair like he’s much younger than he actually is.
“I’m going to make this better,” he whispers into her hair. “I swear I’m going to make them pay. He’s going to kill me, Mom, and I don’t want to die, even… even if I sometimes think it would have been better if I’d never been born. But I’m going to do it, I swear, because it’s the only way. He’s going to make them pay for what they did to you and Thalia and Ethan and all the others, and if I have to die for him to do that… I’m scared, Mom, but it’s going to be okay. He told me, it’s all going to be okay for you. Okay?”
May has no idea what he’s talking about, but he sounds so desperately afraid and alone that she stands up on tip-toe to plant a kiss on his cheek, the scar rough under her lips. Then she gives him his backpack so he’ll have his homework when he gets to school, hands him one of the lunches she packed so he won’t be hungry, and smooths away the lock of hair that falls across his face so the other kids will see how beautiful he’s grown up to be, how like his father.
After the young man shuts the door behind him, May stares off into the distance for a moment, sad for some reason she can’t put her finger on. Then she shrugs and goes back into the kitchen, because there’s no time to be standing around when there are sandwiches to be made. Maybe this time if she just adds a little more salt to the cookies she’ll get it right, and when she goes upstairs Luke will be waiting for her, waiting to go to school like the wonderful little boy he sometimes is.