It's weird how people cry in different ways.
Like, why don't all people's cries sound the same? Wouldn't that make more sense? No one is really crying about anything new... But maybe it's like sneezing: although everyone is doing the same thing, the same body function, each person does it in a different way. It's what makes that person unique. Or special.
But right now, Sally Jackson didn't feel that special. In fact, she felt downright miserable. Here she was, the Sally Jackson who had stayed tough when her parents had died in a devastating plane crash and she'd been orphaned, forced to go live with her kind but lazy old uncle. But that woman would have been ashamed to see the state that Sally was in now:
Her shoulders, which shook from the effort of sobbing so much, were hunched over, her wet face in her hands. Her tears were salty and cool, and so slippery that they raced down her slightly crinkled face like seals on ice. She squeezed her sea-green eyes shut in an effort to stop the continual flow of the tears, but that did nothing. This was just one of those moments when she had to cry. After all, this was a very big day, and there would never another one like it.
Sally was losing one of the most important people in her life. She'd known him for a very long time now, but that didn't seem to make much of a difference. He'd made up his mind: he was leaving her. He was going away, and he might not be back for quite a while.
She reached into the big cardboard box resting beside her on the couch, replacing the item she currently held for a new one randomly. She was not disappointed by the exchange.
"Look at this one!" she said softly to herself, amusement and sadness tinging her words. She stared down at something in her hands: a small, 6-inch square piece of paper. A photo. The image was slightly blurry, as if either taken with a cheap camera, or the subject of the photo was in motion. The picture was only further smudged by the spattering of Sally's fat tears. If one looked past the quality over the picture, she could see a few items in the edge of the shot: something brown that was maybe a table leg; a tan carpet; and what looked like a really ugly shoe. But in the center was a true Kodak moment: a little dark-haired boy, no older than eight or nine months, was staring at the camera with a huge, toothy grin on his face. There was a slightly visible trail of drool down the left corner of his mouth. He was standing on both legs, and, although slightly wobbly, he stood with the confidence that many adults often lack; he was frozen mid-step, his huge green eyes wide, as if he was a deer caught in headlights. Sally flipped the photo over, reading the label on the back: May 3, 1994: Percy takes his first steps.
Sally sighed as she put the photo back in the box and searched inside for another one. There were so many! She knew that as a mom, she may have been overly prolific in her paparazzi-ness of her child, but she'd always felt that she should capture as many moments with Percy as possible, since he was a demigod, thus always in danger of some sort. Still, she was almost regretting it now. As she sorted through the stack, she recognized picture after picture, many of them related to Percy's time dealing with the Greek gods.
A picture of Percy at Camp Half-Blood after his first quest, when he accepted Riptide as his weapon of choice. A medium-length xiphos made of Celestial bronze. A photo of him eating cookies that she'd baked for him at Christmas, where he was surrounded by friends and family in the background. Homemade blue chocolate-chip cookies, buttery and hot, with the chips still melting. Percy posing on the front steps of Goode High School on his first day, looking slightly embarrassed but still smiling. Goode was a big brownstone building overlooking the East River. A shot taken from behind him of his first "official" date with Annabeth in which they'd gone to the movies (the photo was snapped during the movie too). Annabeth was a pretty girl, her blonde hair curled like a princess. Him at his high school graduation from Goode, one of his hands raised in a wave toward the camera, the other held out to receive his diploma. He was frozen mid-step in the picture, just like in the photo of his first steps, his eyes so green, and so alive.
Sally let out a deep sigh. She was tired. So, so tired. Her mind was almost numb with exhaustion. It was the kind of exhaustion that comes from too many sleepless nights, where you stay up, trying to cry yourself to sleep but failing because your tears must be cried, your sadness must be felt. She was just so tired of being tired.
As she retrieved another photograph from the massive box overflowing with similar pictures, the phone rang on the small oak table next to her, and she pushed the blanket out of her way, sniffling, to reach the phone, the picture still grasped firmly in her hand; as she did so, an avalanche of used tissues tumbled off the couch and onto the floor, until the carpet under her feet was covered in snot rags. She had to turn on a lamp in order to see the phone (an old Blackberry that she'd had for a few years; she wasn't much one for technology) 's screen in order to see who the caller was. Out of Area, it read.
Pull it together, Sally, she thought as she answered the phone, trying her best to sound composed, if only for a few minutes. "Hello?"
"Sally!" The voice on the other end of the line cried in surprise. "Have you been crying?"
"N-no," she stammered, trying her best to plug the hole in the levy that allowed these damn tears to keep flowing out.
At the reply from her, the voice- a man, it sounded like- made a noise that sounded like tsk tsk tsk, as if he were scolding her. "You used to be a much better liar, Sally."
"Poseidon," she said in shock, whispering the man's name. It was quite a surprise to hear from him. After all, it isn't every day that an extremely powerful god of the sea that you dated for a while and had a child with suddenly calls you up like, "Hey, what's up?" The last time she had spoken to him had been an uneventful Iris Message, a failed attempt by him to spend more time with his wives, ex-wives, girlfriends...
Poseidon let loose a small, low chuckle on the other end of the line, and Sally felt her face heat up. Although she knew she wasn't in love with the sea god anymore- she was happily married to Paul, the perfect husband, after all- but memories of that summer she'd spent with Poseidon on Montauk Beach and the things they'd done, the adventures they'd had, the things they'd said to each other, were still more than enough to cajole a bright red blush out of her cheeks. She was extremely grateful that this was a phone call, and not an Iris Message like last time.
Poseidon's chuckle suddenly ceased, and she could practically hear the man's brow furrow in concern. He said, much more fondly this time, "Sally, really, is anything wrong?"
Sally sighed. She figured she'd have to tell him. She knew he wouldn't leave her alone otherwise. And he was the god of the sea, for gods' sakes! He would find out eventually anyway, so it might as well be sooner rather than later.
She quickly glanced at the photo still in her hand, her tight grip having crinkled it. It was a picture of Percy at his first and only tee-ball game (they had later discovered that he was more of a swimmer, for obvious reasons). He'd been about five years old, one of the youngest on the team. In the photo, he was staring at the camera in total elation, his face lit up in the joy that the world needs more of, his green eyes bigger than the soft baseballs they used for the sport. He'd just hit his first home-run, she recalled fondly. She took a deep breath, which hitched at the end. Her throat constricted, and she tried to swallow the massive lump that had lodged itself there.
"Percy is going to college."
There was a stunned silence on the other end of the phone. Several seconds passed by. Sally stared at the screen of the phone in confusion, wondering if they'd lost the connection somehow. "Hello?"
After a few more seconds of awkward silence, Poseidon responded in an apologetic manner. "Yeah. Right. Sorry, Sally. I'm still here." He cleared his throat. "Where?"
"The University of Minerva in New Rome at Camp Jupiter," she replied automatically.
"Wow. Okay. I just..." Sally was surprised to hear Percy's father take a shaky breath, taking a moment before he replied. "I just, I didn't expect him to be so...old." He continued, talking faster now. "He's just so grown up. I can't believe it. It seems like only yesterday that he was that little pudgy toddler who couldn't walk a foot without falling down, but who could sprint across an entire football field if he had a sword in his hand. I remember he used to be so cute, with those big green eyes of yours, and the dark mop of hair that I gave him, and the wonderful smile you passed on to him. Now he's not cute anymore: he's handsome. He's got girls crawling over him, and he doesn't even realize it! I've heard the rumors, and it seems like every female in the world loves him. But he's steady, and he's been with one girl the entire time. He's a young man now: strong, funny, passionate, kind, smart, talented... "
Sally nodded sympathetically, as if the phone could pick up her actions and transmit them to Poseidon so that he'd be able to tell how much she understood what he was going through. She tried to form the words in her mouth, but as she listened to him ramble on- rambling about his son, their son- she couldn't quite get sound to pass through her lips and to form audible thoughts. She was just so in awe of his emotions, and touched that he seemed to care that much about their Percy. Everything Poseidon told Sally seemed solidly true, up until the point when he said wistfully :
"He's all grown up, and I missed his entire childhood." There was so much sadness there, so much regret, angst, guilt, and bitterness hidden inside those few words, that it made Sally's heart ache.
"That's not true," she whispered.
"Thanks Sally, I appreciate it, but I'm afraid it is."
"No, it's not," she said more firmly this time, slightly frowning. Wiping away a tear, she paused, considering something. "Poseidon, come here a minute."
He was there in an instant, appearing by her side so fast that she dropped the phone in her hand and almost knocked over the box filled with Percy's pictures. Poseidon just calmly hung up the phone. "You called?"
"Don't scare me like that!" she exclaimed, her heart still beating fast. "Oh, and please excuse the mess. We just cleaned out all the boxes and finished moving into this new two-story house, only to have it messed up again with more clutter by Percy, since he's leaving..." She cleared her throat. "Anyway, I want you to see something." She handed him the photo she'd been holding in her hand the entire time during the phone call, the one where he'd just hit a home-run.
Poseidon looked at it confusion, and then glanced up at her, staring at her in expectation. "Well?"
"Well?..." she prompted, not allowing his stubbornness to dominate the purpose of this conversation. "Do you recognize it?"
"Of course," he said, trying to hand it back to her. "It's Percy's first tee-ball game, the one where he hit his first home-run. But," he said cautiously, "I wouldn't know that, because I missed it."
"Were you? Were you really?" questioned Sally as she stood up, thrusting the photo back to him again. "Because this looks an awful lot like you." She pointed to a man standing amid the crowd behind the batting cage; he was wearing a teal baseball hat, along with the colors of Percy's team. His eyes shined bright with pride as he watched his son.
Poseidon shrugged his shoulders. "It was one game. For tee-ball. It wasn't a big deal."
"Oh?" she asked, fishing out a second picture from the box that still rested on the sofa. She showed it to him. "Well, what about this one? Hmm?" It was the one of Percy at the Christmas party, eating cookies. There was a man among the throng of friends and family members, keeping towards the back, but still leaning over a shoulder to peer at his son's grinning face.
Poseidon squinted at the picture in dismay. "Gods, I used to be fat."
Sally wouldn't let him win by changing the subject. She pulled out all the pictures she'd gazed at: the first date, the first day of school, after the first quest; and at least a dozen more: getting a new haircut, picking out his first car, using his own credit card for the first time. And in each one, Poseidon appeared somewhere in the picture, always in the back or the edge of the shot so as not to be noticed by his son, but there just barely enough so that Percy wouldn't ever be without a father. The sea god could deny none of the evidence that Sally had shown him.
"And the most recent one," she said finally, holding out the graduation photo. There in the crowd below the stage, on the very first row, was Poseidon, staring at Percy with such pride and love in his eyes that it seemed like no father could ever care for his son more than he did.
"Don't you see?" she summed up. "You've been there for every important moment in Percy's life, both the small and the big ones. That takes real dedication. I know you couldn't be with him every day during his childhood like I could, but you were there in spirit. And you made every effort to see him as much as possible. You were always there. That's what really matters."
He was silent for a moment before saying something, but finally Poseidon whispered softly, "I wasn't in all of those pictures."
"What?" Sally asked in confusion, sure she'd heard him incorrectly. She had clearly shown him all of the pictures, and his face in every one of them.
"I wasn't in all of the pictures," he said louder, looking up at her. "Percy's first steps. I wasn't in the shot."
Sally grinned. "Oh really? Whose ugly shoes do you think those were?" Poseidon grinned along with her, and laughed. It was a good hearty laugh, one that Sally missed, and the sound reverberated around the living room that had been so solemn only a moment ago. It was such a contagious chuckle that she couldn't help but join in, their laughs bouncing in harmony around the walls.
Just as their laughter was dying off and they were wiping away tears, there was a tremendous bang from upstairs. They looked to the stairs, only to see an avalanche of boxes roll down the steps, with Percy tumbling after. The whole scene looked rather ridiculous, and reminded Sally of that nursery rhyme, "Jack and Jill." Still, being the mother she was, paramedic was her first and foremost role when her son was in possible danger. She rushed to his side, where he lay on the wooden floor, moaning.
"Percy, Percy, look at me. Are you hurt? Where are you hurt? Oh my gods, you're hurt, aren't you? Oh gods, I bet you've lost a ton of blood, haven't you? How much blood have you lost? Are you bleeding internally? Did you break any bones? How many-"
"MOM!" he exclaimed, sitting up suddenly, probably much faster than necessary, since he clutched his head and winced. But upon seeing the worried expression on his mother's face, he tried to play it off. "Mom, seriously, I'm fine." She gazed at him doubtfully. "I'm fine! Really! I could just use a little help taking these boxes out-" His sentence died off slowly when he saw the other person in the room. "...to...the...car."
Percy shook his head in confusion. "Dad? I don't understand. What are you doing here?"
Poseidon pushed off from the wall he'd been leaning on and crossed the room to Percy, who stood up from the ground (again, much faster than he probably should have). "I came to see you, Percy," he said, rather matter-of-factly. He glanced down at the mound of scattered boxes on the floor. "You are going to college right now, aren't you?"
Percy gulped, but stared him in the eye as he answered. "Yes, sir. I start in a few days." He gestured to himself as he hurried to pick up an overturned box. "I was going to drive up there by myself, since I wouldn't want to put Mom in any danger because of monsters, and a lot of my friends like Annabeth are flying up there tomorrow. I thought it would be best if I didn't invade Zeus- I mean, your brother's- personal space. So, yeah, just me," he repeated.
Sally, who was standing slightly behind Poseidon but facing Percy, began to gesture wildly at her son, wiggling her eyebrows, moving her hands, and nodding her head at the man beside her. Thankfully, Percy was adept at reading "Mom", because he got the message.
Turning to his father, he said, "Sir, I'll be kind of lonely riding up there by myself, and it's a long, risky drive. Would you-" he cleared his throat nervously, not daring to meet his father in the eye. Suddenly his shoes became very interesting, and he studied them intently. "Would you like to come with me?" He peeked up at his father very slowly, and was surprised to see him beaming from ear to ear.
"Of course!" the sea god roared, pulling his son in for a hug. "Oh, this will be so great! We can have father-son bonding time, and we can talk about father-son stuff, like football, and fishing, and baseball, and hot sauce, and..." He trailed on and on as he scooped up three quarters of the spilled boxes with one arm, and led his son out the door with the other. "Goodbye Sally!" Poseidon called over his shoulder as he went out to the car. In a moment both he and his son and his son's belongings were gone, ready to leave for college. And Sally hadn't even gotten to say goodbye.
But she wasn't worried.
She waited. Less than one moment later, Percy burst back into the living room, calling to his dad (who was no doubt already in the car), "One second, Dad, I forgot my keys!" He rattled his car keys, which he'd already had in his hand, mischievously at his mom, the other hand over his mouth in fake conspiracy. Suddenly he let his goofy grin drop, and instead looked at his mom in total seriousness.
"Mom," he said, with some concern, "I-"
"Shh," she whispered, the tears from earlier already making their way back up to her eyes. "You don't even need to say anything."
Percy shook his head in protest. "But I do. I want to tell you thank you, thank you for always being there for me. I never would have done anything right if you hadn't taught me the right way to do it. All the good things that come from me? They came from you. You, Mom. You are the best mom anyone could ever hope for. All my life, I've known that, but I think that now is the proper time to tell you that. No guy in the entire world is as lucky as me. Nobody else has a mom as good as you. So thank you. Thank you for everything. Ever."
At this point, the tears were so welled up in Sally's eyes that she couldn't even see the details of Percy's face, but she guessed he was crying, or close to it, from the choked sound of his voice. It showed how sweet and gentle he could be, a teenage boy going off to college that was willing to cry, and she loved that about him, but she would not cry in front of him, for fear that he would threaten not to go if it would hurt her, which it would. But he couldn't know that. He needed to go. He had to. This was the part where she let him go, without ever really letting him go. That was her role as a mom. This was what she'd been preparing for Percy's entire life.
The moment she had to say goodbye.
"I love you, Mom," he said finally. He hugged her, and there were more words in that hug than there had ever been in any other. Gazing at her fondly and memorizing her face, he kissed her on the cheek, once, twice. And then he ran out the door.
Only when she was certain he was in the car and she could hear the rev of the engine as it rolled away from this, from her, did she whisper softly, "I love you too, Percy."
And then the tears spilled over.
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