IV. The Yellow Chariot
I had read all the letters. They were love letters from my dad to Aphrodite, and they looked legitimate. I had grown up reading his diaries, so I knew they were real. I wasn't sure how to feel about it, but I knew no one would plan such an elaborate prank.
I called Professor Donahue, and he informed me to meet him at the reception.
I packed all of my ‘nice clothes’ into a duffel bag and placed my laptop, Kindle, notebook, and pencil case in my purse along with toiletries. I swept my gaze over the room one last time before placing the envelope with my note to Victoria explaining everything on the table and walking towards the reception.
The clicking of my heels announced my arrival and Professor Donahue turned around to see me walking down the stairs. “Do you need help with that?”
I was prideful, and my bag wasn’t really that heavy, so I said, “No, I’m fine, thank you. I thought we were leaving at night.”
“The whole point of coming with me was for you to be in my chariot,” he said, leading the way out of the reception as he dug in his pocket for his keys.
I had a lot of questions, but I said nothing. The sun was low on the horizon; it would set. Purples, pinks, and oranges riddled the sky, and the silhouettes of trees looked beautiful. It had been a long time since I had left the University building, and I chided myself for not doing it sooner.
He pressed his key fob, and a yellow car beeped in response. I didn’t know enough about cars to know which model it was, but it looked nice. “Your chariot, huh?” I muttered under my breath as I placed my duffel in the boot and closed it gently, afraid to break it.
The Professor took the driver’s seat and motioned for me to sit shotgun. I opened the door and gingerly put one heeled foot in before the other, closing the door behind me and placing my purse at my feet. I don’t know why I was feeling so tentative, but I didn’t argue with my intuition. He started the car while I took out a pen, highlighter, notebook, and my Kindle from my purse. I unlocked the device and pulled up the book I was reading.
“Do you mind me inquiring what you are doing, Morgana?”
My name felt odd coming from him. I was too used to Miss Sallow, despite it only being the first day I had met him.
“I’m doing your essay, Professor,” I said. “I have work to do for Film and Math too. Can’t afford to fall back on tasks.”
“Do you often do this?” he asked, nodding at the gatekeeper before driving out of the school campus.
“Finish your work before time?”
“Not really, no,” I admitted. “Sometimes I finish my work too early before time and times I finish my work three hours before the deadline. There is really no in-between.”
“Hmm…” he replied. “I was like you once.”
“Yeah, I was quite the overachiever. I wanted to impress Hera all the time. She did not care for me because her husband was my father and she was not my mother, but as a child, that always translated to me not being good enough for her.” He looked at me. “That’s why I am the god of so many things. Poetry. Music. Medicine. The Sun. Art. Oracles. Prophecy. Archery. Plague. Light. Knowledge.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“My mother is like that,” I whispered. “I suppose it is similar, isn’t it? She’s my stepmother, just as Hera is yours.” I shook myself. “Where were you trying to go with this story, Professor?”
“You need not call me by my human name outside school. Apollo is fine,” he said. “And I was trying to tell you that stressing yourself out doesn’t help you much.”
“Are you kidding?” I scoffed. “You think I don’t know that? Every single day, I beat myself up for stressing out so much, telling myself it’s useless to worry for a woman who doesn’t care about me. But I don’t know who I am without all of this,” I motioned towards myself. “Don’t you see? I’m Morgana, the daughter of Alexander Sallow. I’m Morgana, the person who scored the highest grades in English. I’m nothing without excellence.”
“No,” he said. “You’re Morgana. That’s it. Full stop.”
“If only I knew who I was without all this pomp and circumstance,” I replied, putting my stuff back in my purse. There was no way I’d be able to finish my essay now. Besides, it was dark out already.
He turned up the radio and muttered something at me. I felt myself get lighter and happier.
“Heart beats fast,” he sang. “Colours and promises.”
“How to be brave,” I finished. “How can I love when I’m afraid to fall? But watching you stand alone–”
“–All of my doubt suddenly goes away somehow.”
“One step closer.”
“I have died every day waiting for you,” we sang together. “Darling don’t be afraid; I have loved you for a thousand years. I’ll love you for a thousand more. All along I believed I would find you. Time has brought your heart to me; I have loved you for a thousand years. I’ll love you for a thousand more.”
I smiled at him. It was uncharacteristic of me to sing without being asked, but I suspect it had something to do with Apollo that I was doing so.
“You have a beautiful voice,” he said.
“Are you still stressed?”
“Apollo!” I chastised, and he laughed. “You did that on purpose!”
“Are you really surprised? After what happened outside my classroom?” he asked, and I remembered how he placed his hand on my shoulder and it calmed me down.
“You’re mean,” I grumbled. “Trying to get me to stop stressing using underhanded methods.”
“It’s not underhanded if it worked, Morgana,” he replied. “You should sleep. We won’t reach there for about six hours, and you’re a human.”
“It’s all right. I don’t need that much sleep anyway,” I said.
We fell into a comfortable silence as I retrieved my Kindle and continued to read, I’d Tell You I’d Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You.
“Hmm?” I replied, my eyes stuck on the words, All these years I’d thought being a spy was challenging. Turns out, being a girl was the tricky part.
“Have you watched Pitch Perfect?”
“All these years I’d thought being a student was challenging. Turns out, being a girl was the tricky part,” I muttered.
“So, I’ll take that as a no?” he laughed, and I nodded. “Aph will be disappointed, although it will thrill although sissy dearest.”
“Do all the gods teach at University or is it just a select few?” I asked.
“Well, Athena teaches Math and Visual Arts, Hermes teaches Film, Hephaestus teaches Interior Design, and Hades teaches Economics,” he listed off. “That’s–” he counted–“five of us.”
“So, Professors Donahue, Brown, Jackson, Canterbury and Ivanova,” I said. “Interesting. What do the rest of them do?”
“They do various things. Aphrodite and Hera star in movies. Zeus is a weatherman which is funny, honestly. Ares is a diplomat, which is also ironic. My sister is helping with feminist issues worldwide. Demeter and Gaia are helping to reduce climate change. Tyche and Dionysus work at a casino. Poseidon… Um… I honestly don’t know. He’s a turbulent guy. Hestia takes care of matters at home.” He paused. “You should really sleep. This journey tires mortals.”
“I’ll sleep when I’m tired,” I told him, looking at my clenched hands. I suspect not wanting to sleep had a lot to do with my fear of losing control. I looked at my left wrist, my heart stopping. “Wait, what’s going on?”
Apollo’s jaw tensed. “No,” he muttered. “This wasn’t supposed to happen this soon.” Then he continued in a normal voice, “What do you see?”
“There’s a… sun?” I said as black ink pulsated over the veins of my left wrist. “No, wait. There’s a sun, and then there are words below it.” I tilted my head to the side, trying to make out the words. “Even the darkest night will end,” I whispered.
“And the sun will rise,” he finished. “Les Misérables, 1862.”
“Explain,” I said, as my body filled up with a soft, warm feeling. I felt powerful. “What’s happening to me?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I… can’t.”