It was Wednesday: the day where two graduations and two funerals happened back to back. Nobody knew how to feel, how could they celebrate when they should be mourning, and how should they mourn when they were supposed to celebrate? Did God think that they were extremely talented at compartmentalizing, or did he think they weren’t supposed to care?
It was early in the morning, long before the sun rose upon the dreaded day when Peter gently knocked at Maize’s door.
He was tired. His face showed it the most, the circles under his sad eyes were heavy and dark, and his chin was unshaven. His hair was curly and messy, indicating he hadn’t washed it since they all got the news of Talia’s death three days ago.
Maize welcomed him into her room, though she found it hard to get out of bed. She had been distracting herself with the things that made sense to her: old calculus topics. At the time where everything was confusing, she needed a formula, a process, something that would get her the right answer because there was none in her life.
Peter laid down on the bed next to Maize and immediately read the look of tension on her tear-stained face. Maize hadn’t slept at all, and that was obvious. He had tossed and turned all night and had restless sleep. He came to her for calmness, but he could tell that she had a storm brewing inside of her.
“Hey, hey, hey.” He softly spoke. “It’s okay, you can let it out. You don’t have to keep doing calculus, so you won’t think about Talia. I’m here. Let yourself feel it.” He said, clearing the bed of math textbooks and papers. He put the things on her desk and grabbed a box of tissues, kneeling on the bed in front of her and wiping her eyes.
Maize looked up and met Peter’s eyes. They were full of sorrow, concern, and mourning, but they were desperate to comfort her in any way. He didn’t know what to do and neither did she, but he would try anything and everything to bring her the happiness she deserved.
“What can I do to make you feel better?” He asked.
“Help me understand, Peter. Because I sure can’t do it on my own. Talia was nothing but horrible to me, and she nearly tore us apart. She had fun being malicious and vengeful. She pushed me off a bridge and put my life in danger more than once. She never had a good thing to say about me and caused trouble somehow and someway every time. She constantly threatened me and turned my friends against me. But, I’m devastated, Peter. It hurts so bad now that she’s gone. William, he lost his daughter. When I almost died, I saw him at his worst. He cares so much about me and I’m not even his blood family like Talia was. That was his only daughter, and her mother isn’t in the picture. He’s lost everything. How will he heal now?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered. “I don’t have any answers and I know that’s what you need,” Peter spoke against her cheek. He rested his hand on her neck and pressed his forehead against hers. His large, warm hands held her waist underneath her soft, loose tank top.
“I know it’s hard, Maize. But we have suffered enough over these past few days and hell, over the entire course of our goddamn lives. I think it’s about time we got some peace.”
Maize and Peter laid down in each other’s arms and laid awake until the sun rose. Just as the sky began turning orange and pink, they drifted off into a few hours of much-needed rest. It wasn’t as much as they needed, but it was a time of unwavering, definite rest. It wasn’t just their bodies and minds that needed critical moments of rest: their souls were tired and bore heavy weights that they weren’t ready to carry but had to anyway.
The first event on their calendar was Zelda’s funeral, scheduled for ten in the morning. Talia’s funeral would be in the afternoon.
Maize rose from her bed, washing her face with cold water that only further revealed the dark bags underneath her eyes. Her hair was limp and greasy, disguised through a French twist, and it was obvious she was deeply miserable. She stepped into her simple black dress and Peter zipped up the back as she stepped into suede pointed-toe flats. Peter wore a black dress shirt tucked into dark gray slacks and Oxford shoes. Both their outfits would translate to their graduation setting later that night, making them feel even more emotionally conflicted. How were they supposed to feel?
Maize and Peter both entered the main gathering room to meet the other Gods preparing for the funeral. They were quietly speaking with an unexpected guest: Arawn.
Nobody had seen Arawn or heard from him in months, nothing since Russia, and his appearance at the compound for the funeral was a bit shocking to everyone. But Arawn was more surprised by the other God he hadn’t heard from since Russia.
“Maize,” Arawn quietly exclaimed when he saw her enter the room. She was solemn and quiet and immediately noticed Arawn’s presence. She hadn’t seen him since Russia. Maize’s arms were crossed around her stomach, her shoulders hunched as her protective shell. She stood in the shadows of the room, as they were all gathering together before becoming part of the funeral procession.
“I thought you were dead, Maize.” He explained, confused, the words barely passing his lips.
“I was,” She chuckled. “But something brought me back.”
“I just can’t believe it.” He walked towards her, opening his arms out to her for a hug. Arawn hadn’t hugged others much, but it felt right in the moment.
“I’m really sorry, Maize. You were on my team, I left you behind and I shouldn’t have. I’m really, really glad to see you.” He spoke as they hugged. “Ya know, my girl Savannah is helping me be more affectionate and better with my emotions. It was an honor to fight with you and I’d be by your side any time. We need each other now more than ever, and I just want to know you have me.” Arawn explained further as they pulled away from the hug but stayed in close proximity.
Changing the subject, Dike asked Arawn about Savannah, whom he had spent his time with after what happened with Maize in Russia. Savannah had the ability to communicate with ghosts and speak with the dead.
“You should bring her over sometime. William’s in a bad way and my gut is telling me he’ll need to know that Talia is okay now.” Dike suggested. “Maybe Savannah could speak to Talia?”
“Of course, she’ll help in any way she can. I didn’t bring her because she never knew Talia and I knew William wanted this to be private. She doesn’t do funerals, though. Too many souls all in one graveyard. She says there’s always drama.”
After Arawn’s response, Ariel walked into the room as she dabbed a tear from her eye with her pashmina. The group was fully gathered, except for William who would be arriving separately from the rest of the group. They were all worried about leaving before him, what if he didn’t come, what if he had a breakdown, there were too many alternatives to consider but he insisted on arriving on his own time. He didn’t attend the first funeral, Zelda’s service, and would meet the rest of the Gods at Talia’s funeral.
They had concluded that William wanted to stay at Talia’s gravesite long after the funeral was over, and he didn’t want to hold anyone up. But, even so, they were worried that he would have an even harder time grieving and letting go if he didn’t say his final goodbyes and lay his daughter to rest.
Zelda’s casket was covered in lilies, a symbol that she has departed from the complex world to a better, more peaceful place. She was a complex person but had a good heart and good intentions, even if she didn’t show them all that well. Her father’s status and fame hardened her, but she was always soft on the inside.
There weren’t enough chairs for Zelda’s friends and family. They didn’t see one single politician other than her father there, the chairs were filled with people her age, her classmates and close friends. Her entire extended family was there, and despite the large numbers, they all had something deep, heartfelt and astoundingly moving to say about Zelda. She shouldn’t have died, and everyone knew it. The Gods felt the worst about her death, and it was best that William didn’t come because it was partially his fault.
He decided for Talia without considering Talia’s input. He tried to save Talia but killed her and Zelda instead. He couldn’t bear to face that again with Zelda.
When they arrived at the graveyard for Talia’s funeral with the rest of the funeral procession, they realized that William didn’t have a lot of family or friends. It was a Townsend contrast from Zelda’s funeral that was packed to capacity. For Talia, there were only enough seats for the Gods, Aunt Malorie, and Anne because William didn’t have anyone else. Talia didn’t have many friends, either. She never made a friend in her life, because she always had to be on top, above everyone else, better at the game than everyone.
During the funeral, Peter held Maize’s hand and Anne’s. It was soon becoming clear to Maize why Talia’s death hurt so much, and it was because Maize felt William’s pain. Maize wasn’t friends with Talia, but they had been through battle together, and she mourned her compatriot’s passing. But William, William was broken in every way a man could be broken. It was hard to tell if he would ever recover from his daughter’s death. How could he ever tell Talia’s mother? He didn’t even know if she was still alive too. His family seemed to grow smaller and smaller the older he got, and it wouldn’t be long before he truly had nobody. Maybe they would all outlive him, and he would die before that happened. He could only hope he would die with someone to remember him.
Anne seemed to have understood William perfectly at that moment when she approached him.
“William, I know what it feels like to lose your family. I’ve been there. I know how much it hurts, William, but I know you and we will make it through together. I won’t let you grieve alone. But, you’re never alone because your family isn’t gone, William. You have me, you have all your friends, the other kids, and you have Maize.” Anne comforted William as he grieved after Talia had been set to rest. Most of the grievers had paid their condolences and left.
“Anne, it’s not the same. Talia was my blood. I can love those kids and protect them until I die, but with Talia it’s different. I don’t have any more family that is flesh and blood. I’m the last of the Townsends, and that’s the loneliest feeling of them all.”
“Well, you’re not exactly the last of the Townsends. I’ve been meaning to tell you for years... it’s something that you’ve always known-”
“Anne, stop. Don’t tell me something I need to hear just because you think it will help me heal. I only have, and I’ve always had, one daughter. Now she’s dead, and I’m alone.” William deflected, trying to save himself from further emotional wreckage. He had had enough for one day; he didn’t need anything to pile on top of that.
“William, don’t do this! Don’t isolate yourself when everyone here loves you. Don’t you dare tell me that that’s not good enough for you, especially Maize? She has spent her whole god damn life waiting for a father that gives her an ounce of support. She has a heart of gold, and you know it. David told her every day that she wasn’t enough for him, she never met his standards and he was never proud of her. She is just trying to break the cycle of hate, and with you, she is finally happy. She feels like she finally has a father! She’s been waiting on you her entire life, so don’t you dare turn your back on her and tell her she’s not good enough for you either.”
“Anne, she’s not Talia, and you know it.”
Anne stood back in shock. A lump formed in her throat at his words.
“William, if that is how you really feel, then I think it would be best if you didn’t come to Maize’s graduation tonight. If my daughter, if your daughter isn’t good enough for you, I can’t keep seeing you, either. Stay far away from Maize if you feel this way about her. She does not need yet another man in her life telling her that she’s not worth his love. She would be ruined hearing that- especially from you.”
Maize was close enough to hear everything, and it was just too much all at once. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing- she had no idea that William and Anne were involved in any way, but Anne dropped another bombshell on top of that one. David wasn’t even her father, oh no, it was William goddamn Townsend, and even he didn’t want her. Anne was right. Maize was completely destroyed.
Anne’s eyes met Maize’s, and her heart broke for her daughter. Anne didn’t want Maize to find out like this, this was the wrong place and the wrong time. William watched Anne’s expression change and he turned his head to see the person Anne was empathizing with. By no surprise, it was Maize. At that moment, William Townsend knew that he didn’t have a chance in hell with Maize. Everything he had worked so diligently to build with Maize was knocked down and smashed to bits in that instant. All of his efforts in making up for lost years were for nothing because he said that Maize wasn’t good enough for him. He could tell that Anne was right if he felt this way now he had no business being anywhere near Maize. The last thing he wanted was to cause more pain.
Anne pushed him out of the way to join her daughter, whose bottom lip was quivering in an attempt to hold back tears. Anne quickly took Maize back to the car and away from the rest of the grievers, because Maize needed to go home. They both needed to get away from that situation as soon as possible, but that didn’t mean that it was over. Maize had a lot of questions to ask Anne that were currently unresolved. She needed a full, comprehensive explanation because her whole life felt as if she wasn’t living in truth.
Anne rushed Maize out of the funeral, and they drove home to Queens together. Anne knew that whatever she said would be difficult for Maize to hear, but she went ahead and said it when she parked the car in the driveway.
“Maize, I’m sorry that you may have found out William is your father this way. For your whole life, he always wondered if you were actually his daughter and not David’s, but it’s my fault that I lied to the three of you. You have every right to be mad at me, and I understand why you are. But, I didn’t expect William to reject you, because he never gave up hope on you this whole time. I don’t know why he chose now to do it. But, even if you don’t really love me all that much right now, I will always love you. Especially if William and David won’t.” Anne explained. Maize nodded, biting her lip.
“I understand, mom. I think I’m just going to try and rest before graduation.” Maize whispered in response, getting out of the car and heading straight to her bedroom, still untouched from the last time she was there.
It seems as if she found herself in the same situation, blindsided with news by William Townsend that left her on an emotional rocky outcrop. Where they stood was shaky, unstable and unpredictable. Maybe the ground beneath them would never be solid. Maybe it never was, and it was Maize’s mistake for thinking so.
Back at the compound, the Gods had once again gathered together. This time, they had to move on to the next situation at hand: graduation. The outcome was bleak, considering they all knew what had happened between Anne, Maize, and William. The tension in the air was so dense it was nearly suffocating. But, they had to keep going.
“Arawn, William’s not coming to graduation tonight. We thought he was, and we weren’t expecting you, but things changed and now we have an extra ticket. Maize needs a little bit of extra support tonight, and we were hoping that you’d come to fill an empty seat.” Dike asked Arawn softly as the original Gods were gathered in a sitting room in the compound.
“Yes, of course, but I’m concerned as to why William isn’t coming.”
“He’s grieving, but it was also revealed to us that he’s her biological father, but he doesn’t think that Maize is exactly... good enough... for him.” explained.
“Maize’s other father, David, told her the same thing too. So, we really need to show her that she’s good enough for us. She’s had a long and sad history of families that failed her, so I just want to show her that we can be her chosen family and that family isn’t an f-word.”
“Oh, shit.” Arawn sighed. “I’ll be there.”
As the hours loomed nearer and nearer to the ceremony, Maize’s stomach felt like a rock. Anne came into Maize’s room and stroked her hair as she sat on the bed next to her.
“I know it’s hard, Maize. Take a few moments to breathe, and then I can do your hair and makeup for tonight, okay?” Anne suggested softly. Maize found it hard to look at herself in the mirror as Anne gently brushed her hair, for all she saw was William and was painfully reminded of his words.
She felt absolutely horrible. She had half his DNA, his stubbornness, his nose, his dark hair that showed itself naturally at her roots, his broad shoulders, and his determination. But she also inherited his self-deprecating qualities. That’s all she could see in herself; how could she ever get used to the pain of being unwanted by him when he was a part of her?
Anne curled her hair and brightened up her eyes and face, reducing her heavy purple bags and red, tired eyes. Maize looked almost passable for alright.
She slowly got into her graduation gown, zipping up the full-length robe. She placed the distinguished honors medal around her neck, the honors rope draped across her shoulders and the National Honor Society stole around her chest that dropped down her back. Anne pinned her cap into place, making sure it would stay on her head.
“There we go, baby. You can do this; I know you can.” Anne reassured as they walked downstairs together and headed to Bryant Park in Manhattan to take pictures. Anne knew Maize wasn’t up to it, Maize was slumped in her chair as she leaned against the window, for she was in despair.
“You don’t have to smile, Maize,” Anne told her daughter when they arrived in the foggy park near the fountain. Anne knew how much pain Maize was in, and she wouldn’t force her to put on a fake expression just for her. Anne wanted Maize to be real.
Maize wiped away the tears that edged at her eyes and she sat on the cold concrete of the fountain, crossing her ankles and giving Anne a closed-lip smile, just enough to show that she was trying to celebrate something.
“You look beautiful, Maize,” Anne reassured, knowing Maize was hurting, and they headed back to the car so they could drive to the theater for the ceremony.
In the moments before the graduates walked out into the orchestra seating of the theater, Maize lost it completely.
She had tried to hold herself together, but she had broken the promise she had made to herself earlier that day that she wouldn’t cry, and she would make it through the ceremony. Her legs were shaking in her heels as she stood in the line they were placed in for the procession, but the sadness she was feeling had chipped away at her until it was a flood. She knew that when she walked out there, everyone in her class would have their family out there to celebrate with them. But who did she have? Her family didn’t want her, her family told her she didn’t compare to others that came before her, her family said that she just wasn’t the same.
So, after everything, who would be in the audience waiting for her?
To her ultimate surprise, it turned out to be everyone. Everyone except William... but she wouldn’t go and tell her mother, Dike, Arawn, Nat, Hecate, Diana, Menoetius and Thor that they weren’t good enough for her either. Because they were- they meant everything to Maize. It just really, really hurt that William wasn’t there too.
After the ceremony, the Gods approached Maize each with a bouquet of flowers, each collection different, until she had her arms full of love. She buried her face in the cellophane-wrapped bundles to smell their fragrances, but also to hide her face for a moment where she let tears slip down her cheeks. They surrounded her on all sides, encapsulating her in a group hug that doubly acted as a shield from the ugliness of the world she got in one heavy dose that day.
Nobody was in the partying kind of mood, and it was mutually agreed upon that they would have a real celebration in a few days when the wounds weren’t so fresh. There would be cake and a huge buffet spread waiting for them whenever they all felt ready when the time was right for them to start celebrating the accomplishments of the graduated Gods.
Though, when they had the party for the graduates, Savannah was invited and introduced to the group for the first time. She was nervous about meeting everyone and so was Arawn because he wanted them to like her as much as he liked her. Savannah had her triggers that would puncture some deeply traumatic memories that had occurred with The Order of the Black Rose, and they were both hoping that nothing would happen during the party. Savannah had been going through lots of therapy, but she still wanted to make a good first impression to Arawn’s coworkers and make it through the celebration without incident. All her fears were eased the moment Savannah turned around and saw Maize because it was like looking into the face of an old friend.
“What is it, Savvy?” Arawn asked her quietly.
“I know her, Ari.” She responded with a calm smile.
“You’ve never met her before.”
“Not in person, but she’s died a few times, Arawn. Her soul is... complicated.”
“Hi, Maize. You don’t know me, but we have spoken before. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, let me say that I never get the chance to connect with the physical form of my friends.” Savannah spoke softly as they walked together to have a private conversation.
“We like her, Arawn,” Diana spoke for the entirety of the group. Arawn’s cheeks rose to a shade of pink as he smiled.
“I’m glad, I was nervous this whole time that you wouldn’t. Just, don’t ask her how we met or anything of the sort, it’s still pretty fresh and you don’t want to open up that can of worms.”
“We’re also glad that she’s making friends with Maize. I think we all need a good friend right now, and Savannah seems to fit right in with our team of misfit toys.”
“William’s going to want to use her. I know that. She’s just been through so much I don’t want to let her out of arm’s reach. I want to keep her close, and away from William right now.”
“Arawn, we haven’t heard from him in days. I don’t know what to tell you, but we’ll keep a distance between them if William decides to make an appearance.”
As much as Arawn wanted to keep Savannah away from William, there were some things that were just out of his control. Savannah headed down the long hallway to use the bathroom, where she ran into William by accident. He looked like a dead man, a zombie, for his skin was pale and his eyes were sunken and dark. His beard was untrimmed, and he obviously hadn’t slept. Savannah jumped when he addressed her.
“Are you Savannah?” William asked. “I heard you can speak with the dead.”
“Yes, and occasionally.” She responded.
“Would it be possible if you got into contact with my daughter, Talia?” He asked, and Savannah saw it coming.
Savannah wasn’t going to lie to him, but she was secretly content with not being able to contact his daughter. Arawn had told her about Maize and William’s relationship, and she knew that it was for the best that he moved through all the stages of grief. It was best that she couldn’t reach Talia because William needed to come to peace by his own accord. It would help him see Maize in the end.
“No, I’m sorry. I’m not a medium, I’m not a psychic. I can’t light a few candles, say an incantation and summon her. I tend to stumble onto the souls that talk to me, I don’t get to choose the deceased. I will let you know if that changes, just know they open up the conversation and I have no control over that.”
William nodded in understanding.
“But, I have spoken with Maize’s soul on more than one occasion in the past. She has an old, old soul. I mentioned this because all the souls I have connected with have all conveyed their wishes to speak to their loved ones just one more time, saying all the things they left unsaid when they were alive. Speaking from experience, it might be wise to say the words she needs to hear.” Savannah advised, leaving William to think.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Savannah spoke, opening the door to the restroom. Just as quickly as he came, William escaped back into the shadows. Maybe nobody would ever see him again, for he had become a ghost, never to save another person. How could he ever save anyone when he couldn’t save his own daughter? Maybe he was calling it quits, and William would never be a part of anything again.
Maybe it was just time to let go.