You make your way toward the pavilion, glass tables glitter in the sunlight, cherry blossom petals whisper past in the breeze. It’s a lovely sight, one unfortunately ruined by the entire student body quieting down and turning to look at you.
Yeah, that never gets old, you think bitterly.
You sigh, ignoring their stares to the best of your ability, making a beeline to the empty table near the fountain.
Taking your cue, everyone returns to their previous conversations, many of which are now about your team’s success in the First Trial.
The bruises you sustained there are still tender, as are your muscles, in addition to a head-splitting, Athena-bearing headache that comes in and out of existence every once in a while—though Avery says that the headache is more from malnutrition, exhaustion, and an inordinate amount of stress.
“I might not be able to do anything about that last part,” Avery had said ruefully, “but I can at least tell the lunch workers to let you get an extra healthy snack.”
“Great, more vegetables,” you groaned sarcastically as you bled profusely.
Your food tray is teetering with chicken breast lying on a bed of vegetables, a precariously placed bowl of black bean soup, some sort of purple smoothie in addition to bottled water, an oatmeal raisin cookie, and—because you assume either Avery or the lunch workers took pity on you—a small boat of fries.
You sit down at your usual spot and feel positively ancient when your muscles strain at the action, and you immediately set about ignoring the implications of the word and focus instead on the sudden unease you felt on realizing that you now have a usual spot to sit on.
And that you are alone.
Looking around the area, you see Calypso paused mid-step, tray in her hand. Her feet are pointed in your direction but her attention is with the other Ares kids. She smiles broadly at them and gestures toward you with a nod of her head, but before she can take another step, one of the Ares’ kids begs her to finish telling them how she kicked the other team’s ass. She pauses, open-mouthed, as she turns to look at you.
The sudden unease grows heavier but you resolutely ignore it and wave her off along with a light tug at your lips. After her performance in the First Trial, she deserves the chance to brag.
She beams and sets her tray down with the Ares kids and faces them fully, returning to her story. Despite your discomfort, you can’t help but smile at the wild gestures that accompany her storytelling, but then you catch the smug look on the Ares child who’d requested she stay and your smile is dragged down by that heavy feeling from earlier.
But Calypso remains standing, and for that you can will yourself to ignore the feeling.
Tearing your attention away, you consider what to eat first. Definitely the fries will be last—a treat in case the rest of the food is terrible—and the chicken smells divine (you snort at your own joke) so that should be second to last...
You wonder which would be riskier: the thick, dark soup, or the runny, purple smoothie. You pick up the smoothie to sniff it, expecting to smell blueberries, strawberries, or other fruity scents, but gag at the musky scent of dill weed.
Alarmed, you slide the cup a full arm’s length away.
Ignoring the snake slithering up your spine, you go to pick the raisins off of what should have been a plain oatmeal cookie but your stomach curdles when the stubbornly embedded raisin causes the cookie to peel off the small plate you received it on.
You immediately drop the cookie onto the floor like a hot potato (your stomach grumbles) and scan the pavilion again, desperate for one of your friends to come over so you can trade food.
Your eyes fall on Santiago reading a couple of tables away. He's sitting the way a sunbathing cat must feel, all splayed limbs, warm sunlight, and an arrogant cast to his face. In one hand he’s casually flipping an Oreo like a quarter, in the other he’s languidly holding a book; bits of crumb fly off with every flip of his cookie.
Given his casual appearance, you are surprised to see a tense set to his shoulders, his mouth drawn in a hard line, and a furrow marring his brow. His head is stock still and you notice that his eyes aren’t moving across the page, they’re focused and frozen on a single point in the book.
Then, like a pinball, his eyes dart up at you, widen briefly, then snap back down to his book. He stops tossing the Oreo, crushing it in his fist, and nonchalantly yet stiffly brushes the crumbs off his lap.
His face reddens and he looks even more tense now. He takes a very slow, very stiff breath, but when he exhales his breath carries a small flurry of black crumbs off of his book and the blood drains from his face.
He stands, shuts his book, and leaves.
You feel your stomach plummet and your throat dry as you watch him walk away from you. You tell yourself it’s out of envy of his dead cookie and you crush your discarded oatmeal and still raisin cookie with your foot out of spite.
Exhaling shakily, you look around for a friendlier, more beautiful face, but Adonis isn’t with the Aphrodite kids. You feel pleased at the fact but before you can wonder why, you find him facing the cherry blossom tree.
He stands contrapposto, a hand on his hip, the other gliding up to rub at the side of his neck as he looks away from the tree. His lips move slightly, and you realize he must have said something. Your eyes flit around him to see who he could possibly be talking to but then his eyes glide over and come to a halt on yours.
Butterflies erupt in your stomach when Adonis’ lips slide into an easy smile.
He cocks his head in your direction—at you, you belatedly realize—pointing you out to whoever he’s talking to, and his focus on you is stolen by movement behind the tree.
Aeson’s head whips around the tree to see you, disturbing the flutter of cherry blossom petals that have been falling around them. Your own butterflies reach your throat but wither and die there in the sudden heat that creeps up your neck toward your cheeks as Aeson smiles lightly at you.
It is the softest of smiles, but is more than enough for your cheeks to become twin suns. For a single moment you think they’re going to come over and sit with you, but then Aeson’s smile twists with amusement and he turns back to Adonis.
They both turn away from you.
You can't breathe.
The heaviness from earlier has wrapped itself around your lungs, your throat, your heart, and squeezes so tightly that your eyes prick with tears.
Stiffly, you turn back to your tray, ready to stuff your face with fries and abandon the rest, but are horrified when you see they are halfway gone.
And Saint, sitting across from you, has frozen mid-chew, with a handful of golden, crispy, half-eaten fries clutched in his hand.
“Um...are you sure you don’t want to eye-fuck Aeson for like thirty seconds more?” He glances down at the fries, “Forty seconds, tops.”
You want to punch him.
“Please don’t be mad!”
You want to rip every single one of the goddamn cherry blossoms out of that fucking tree.
“I’m just really tired—”
You want to chuck your crushed oatmeal raisin and dirt cookie at Santi’s stupid head.
“—and I was so hungry—”
You want to throw a boiling pot of black bean soup at that stupid smug Ares bastard’s face.
“—and you just had so much on your plate—”
You want Santi’s stupid, goddamned Oreo.
“—and you weren’t even eating it—”
You want a purple slushie that’s blue raspberry and cherry mixed together, like you used to get every day after school from Al’s.
“—and fries are my favorite—”
You want to go back to Aunt Alice’s house and sit in your seat, the one next to the window that faced east and warmed you with the sunrise.
“—and, haha, since you’re my sister, my only family—”
You want to go upstairs, jump over the squeaky sixth step, fall into your real bed, and go the fuck to sleep.
“—I thought you wouldn’t mind me.”
You want to be alone.
“Obviously I was wrong.”
Alone, alone, alone.
“Very, very wrong.”
“It’s ok,” you finally say.
“Uh—” His head whips up.
You push your tray over to him, “I’m not hungry. You can have it.”
If Saint says something back, you don’t hear him. If Cally hisses at Saint what did you do?, you wouldn’t know. If Donny and Sonny exchange worried looks, you don’t see it. If Santi almost crosses your path and backtracks to hide behind a pillar, you wouldn’t care. And if the student body grows quiet and stares at your escape, you don’t notice.
Because you’re already gone from the pavilion and the cafeteria and the school and stomping your way up the stairs and breaking into a run to your room and locking your door and ripping off your uniform and throwing it at the floor and screaming.
You grow blind with tears.