CHAPTER ONE True
“I’m . . . fine,” the love of my life mumbled, searching my face. “But who the hell are you?”
I gazed into his deep blue eyes and stopped breathing. I knew every green and brown fleck within them. I knew every dream and fear and hope they disguised. And yet they were a complete blank as they stared back at me. Slowly, achingly, a cold terror settled into my veins even as my lips tingled from our kiss. He wasn’t joking.
“Orion, do—do you truly not know me?” I stammered.
He chuckled in an embarrassed way and smoothed the back of his dark wavy hair as he looked around, waiting for the punch line. I took a startled step back, catching my shoe on the curb. Automatically, instinctively, Orion reached out and grabbed my arm to steady me. His touch stopped my heart, and I stared at his tanned fingers, then into his eyes.
It’s me, Orion. Please. Please, remember me. I’m the one who saved you. I brought you back to life after eons of hanging among the stars. I nursed you back to health and we fell in love. We spent hours, days, weeks together, telling our secrets, whispering our hopes, learning everything there is to know about each other. Please, you must remember me. Please, please, please.
He released me. “Sorry, no. How do you know my name?”
I felt Hephaestus’s presence at my side, the left wheel on his chair coming to a stop right next to my leg. I stared mutely down at him, my dark-skinned, dark-eyed, leather-and-metal-and-denim-sporting friend, wishing he could snap his fingers and wake me from this nightmare. Like me, Hephaestus was a former god, and as such, was almost mind-bendingly handsome with his square jaw, flawless complexion, and perfect muscle definition, but while he had been human for generations, I had only been in this mortal body for two weeks. I was still getting used to its quirks. Like the psychotic, panicked pounding of the pulse that I was currently experiencing. I had thought that I was familiar with every working of the human heart. As Eros, the Goddess of Love, it was supposed to be my specialty. But this was something new.
Hephaestus nudged my leg with the rubber coating on the wheel of his chair, but my brain couldn’t form words. My brain could form nothing other than a silent, anguished scream.
“Lucky guess?” Hephaestus offered.
Orion laughed again. “That’d be a first. Everyone’s always surprised when I introduce myself. I think my mom was high when she named me. She never heard of Michael or David or James?”
“You have a mom?” I blurted.
His handsome brow knit. “Doesn’t everyone?”
Hephaestus laughed loudly, forcibly. “Good one.” He looked at me with wide eyes, urging me to get it together. But at the moment I didn’t even know what “it” was, let alone how I could get it together. From the corner of my eye, I saw Darla Shayne and Veronica Vine in their matching outfits—Darla’s a blue minidress, Veronica’s a pink one in the same style—checking Orion out as they sauntered by on their way into school.
Back off, I thought, angry adrenaline surging through me. Back the eff off.
Darla turned to walk backward, slipping her sunglasses to the tip of her nose for a better look. Some skateboarder guy was performing tricks nearby, and without a thought I glared at his board, sending it flying out from under him and rolling into Darla’s path. She tripped and fell right on her ass on the sidewalk with a screech.
That was what you got for coveting a goddess’s man. But as I watched the boy retrieve his board and Veronica help Darla brush off her backside, I knew I was out of line. My power of telekinesis had only just returned to me, and I still had no idea why. The deal with Zeus was that I had to form three couples without my powers. To that end, he’d stripped me of every last one before depositing me here on Earth. So why had this one returned? What did it mean?
And most importantly, would I get in trouble for using it?
I decided not to think about that right now. It was too much to wrap my brain around. Especially now, with Orion standing two feet away from me. I’d deal with the power issue later.
“Yeah, well, Dad says it was her idea.” Orion gestured toward the white SUV that had dropped him off, which was now idling at a stoplight near the corner. “He put his foot down when it came to my sister, so she lucked out and got Amy. Boring, normal Amy.”
I swallowed a sharp lump in my throat. He had a mother? A father? A sister? What was happening? How was this possible?
“I’m Heath,” Hephaestus introduced himself, extending one mesh-gloved hand. Orion shook it, then looked at me. “And this is True,” Hephaestus added.
“Nice to meet you guys.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “So, you greet all the new guys in school with a kiss like that?”
“No,” I said.
They both looked at me, waiting for more. Expecting more. An explanation, a joke, an excuse. But I had nothing. Orion was right there. Right. There. So close I could smell the piney shampoo he’d used this morning and see the tiny cut on his neck from shaving. I could have reached out and brushed the lobe of his ear and knew exactly how it would feel beneath the pad of my thumb. I knew every last inch of him—each variation of his laughter, every lilt of his voice, and the nose-prickling scent of his skin. I knew the particular way he stretched upon awakening, how he smacked his lips when he tasted something sour, that his gaze would dart to the horizon whenever he was startled.
But to him, I was a stranger.
“Anyway . . . I’m supposed to go to the main office?” Orion said, raising his eyebrows. He directed this comment at Hephaestus, probably discerning that I was a lost cause.
“We’ll show you, right, True?” Hephaestus said, turning his wheels toward the ramp outside the school’s side door.
“Yes,” I replied, finding my voice. “Yes. Of course.”
Orion walked next to Heath up the ramp. When I turned to follow them, my knees went weak and I had to grab on to a NO PARKING sign to keep from going down. I clung to it and tried to breathe.
What is happening? What is happening? Why is he here? Why does he not remember me?
“True?” Heath prompted as the door automatically opened in front of them.
I summoned every ounce of strength within me, called on every triumph of my endless, immortal existence to buoy me, and forced myself to stand. Then I cleared my throat and followed the love of my life and the former god who was my best friend into Lake
Carmody High. If ever there had been a sight more surreal than the two of them moving together under the huge HOMECOMING! banner, I wasn’t aware of it.
“So where’re you from?” Hephaestus asked Orion, glancing over his shoulder at me as we made our way down the front hallway. A few students milled around at their lockers, checked their phones for messages, and reviewed their homework. I was aware of them, but I didn’t really see them. Orion was the only person I could see. I had never felt a longing like this in my life. It was as if he was pulling me along by a leash clasped around my heart.
“We just moved here from Boston,” Orion said. “My dad got a new job in Manhattan and my aunt lives in Lake Carmody, so she found us a house.”
This had to be Zeus’s doing. There was no other god powerful enough for machinations like these. Creating an entire family? A history? A house and a move and a job? But why? Why had he sent Orion here? The deal was, he’d keep Orion with him while I completed my three love matches here on Earth, and I would be returned to Orion’s side once I succeeded. No one had said anything about sending Orion back to Earth, or about him losing his memory—his entire personality. Why would Zeus do this?
Could this mean that our deal was off? It was possible that Zeus was somehow displeased with my last match, and his punishment was to condemn us to live in this random American town for good. But there was no reason for him to disapprove of Charlie and Katrina. The sand timer he’d sent to track me had turned when they’d sealed their love with a kiss. I had thought I was on my way to victory. And now, this.
Hephaestus opened the door of the front office, and Orion stepped inside. I moved to follow.
“Thanks, guys,” he said, adjusting one backpack strap on his shoulder. “You don’t have to come with me. I got it from here.”
My arms went limp at my sides at the very thought of leaving him. I’d just gotten him back. Sort of. “But I can’t—”
“Right. Well, good luck!” Hephaestus said, and he let the door swing closed.
“We can’t just leave him!” I hissed.
“We have to!” Hephaestus replied, wheeling toward the wall. “He thinks he’s just a regular human kid. He thinks we’re regular human kids. Normal people wouldn’t follow him around like puppy dogs.”
I could see a tiny sliver of the side of Orion’s head through the door’s window—the wave of his thick dark hair—as he spoke with the administrative assistant, Mrs. Leifer. His muffled laughter sent my pitter-pattering heart into my stomach.
“What is he doing here, Hephaestus?” I whispered urgently. “What does this mean?”
“I don’t know,” Hephaestus said. “Perhaps Zeus sent him here to goad you on? Remind you of why you’re doing this?”
I liked his theory better than mine. At least that would mean that there was still a potential end to this trial. That I could still complete my mission, form my three couples, and return home to Mount Olympus with Orion at my side, his memory perfectly restored. But I didn’t quite believe it. Zeus had seemed so pleased at the idea of keeping Orion as his slave, at the prospect of torturing him while I did my work on Earth. Now, on a whim, he sends Orion here to torture me? It didn’t add up. Something was off. I needed to know why Orion was here. I needed answers.
“We must contact Harmonia,” I said breathlessly. “Find out what she knows.”
It was my sister Harmonia who had dispatched Hephaestus to me after I’d sent up a desperate plea to her in the town square, begging for help. Now that I was human, he was my only direct line to Mount Olympus. Aside from praying and offering up sacrifices—two notoriously dodgy forms of communication and bargaining—I had no other way to contact home.
“That’s not really how it works,” Hephaestus told me.
“What do you mean?”
Orion disappeared, moving out of view inside the office. I leaned over Hephaestus, trying to catch a glimpse.
“Excuse me. Your breasts are kind of in my face,” Hephaestus groused, gently shoving me away.
I groaned and stood up straight. “What do you mean that’s not how it works?” I repeated.
“I mean, I don’t contact her. She contacts me.”
I heard Orion laugh again, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I sidestepped Hephaestus and walked into the office at the exact moment Orion was shaking hands with a guy I’d seen around school. He was tall and muscular with shaggy brown hair, and his pretty blond girlfriend was at his side. He wore one of those blue-and-white varsity jackets that every other person at this school seemed to own. It looked like Orion had just met his peer guide.
“Peter Marrott,” the guy said. “And this is my girlfriend, Claudia Catalfo.”
“Welcome to Lake Carmody,” Claudia said with a smile.
“Thanks.” Orion nodded at Peter’s jacket. “You play ball?”
“He’s the starting quarterback,” Claudia replied, looking up at Peter proudly. She sipped hot tea from a paper cup and entwined the fingers of her free hand with his. She was petite, the top of her head barely reaching Peter’s shoulder. Her auburn hair was
tied into a French braid, and she wore skinny pink jeans, a white button-down, and a flowered headband. Her face was familiar, but I couldn’t place why. “He’s going to play in college next year, right, Peter?”
“Maybe,” Peter said, a blotchy blush popping up on his cheeks. He tossed his light-brown bangs off his head, and they fell right back into place. “You play?”
“I was starting running back at my old school,” Orion replied, rounding his sexy shoulders. “I had twenty-one touchdowns and almost a thousand yards last season.”
My brain went fuzzy and I felt faint. He had an athletic history too? What else had he left behind in Boston? A part-time job? A slew of clubs? A girlfriend?
“Really? That’s awesome. We’re a little weak at running back this year,” Peter replied excitedly. “Our starter graduated, and the backup guy is kind of a bust.”
“Think they’ll let me try out?” Orion asked hopefully. The eager tone in his voice nearly broke my heart. I loved him so much. It killed me not to be able to reach out and touch him, hold him, tell him I was going to make everything okay.
“Definitely! Come on. I’ll introduce you to Coach Morschauser right now.”
They turned toward the door as one and paused, catching me standing there with what I was sure was pure desperation in my eyes.
“Um . . . excuse us?” Peter said.
I glanced behind me and realized I was blocking the door. “Oh. Sorry. Right. I’m . . . sorry.”
I shoved the door open and stumbled out ahead of them, almost mowing over Hephaestus, who was still, loyally, waiting for me.
“Thanks again, you guys. I’ll see you around,” Orion said dismissively.
“You’re . . . problem,” I blurted. “I mean, no welcome. I mean—”
“True, stop,” Hephaestus whispered, grasping my wrist.
But it didn’t matter. They were already halfway down the hall. Claudia leaned toward Peter and loud-whispered, “That’s that girl. The one who stole my scarf on the first day, remember?”
Right! That was why I knew her. I’d used her scarf to tie my hair back on my first day of school, before I started to get a handle on how covetous people were of their things. They glanced back at me, even Orion, with that look in their eyes. That look that I had, unfortunately, grown accustomed to. Orion’s, at least, had a smidgen of sympathy in it, a touch of curiosity. But the fact remained:
Every last one of them thought I was a freak. Including the love of my life.