Grace and the Greek Warrior, Part 10: The Conclusion!

While this series has been inspired by writing prompts up until this point, by now, I knew how I wanted it to end, so I just wrote it.  It’s not cheating, I swear!

Catch up with previous parts here or on Wattpad.

A Vial of Tears

The Greek statue exhibit at the Norton Museum of Fine Art was just as deserted as Grace had ever seen it in her own hometown gallery.  Perseus’ state stood in the corner opposite the entrance.  Grace was certain he couldn’t see her yet, because he hadn’t called out to her inside her head.

She lingered there, reviewing the plan in her head.  On the long series of flights back home from Greece, and then on to Texas, she had formulated a dozen different plans and discarded them all.  She knew she would have to see the inside of the museum before she could work out what to do.

There were security cameras, of course, but the coverage had gaps.  She’d struck up a conversation that morning with the guard at the front desk, pretending to be a vapid tourist who wanted the dirt on all the “really cool” local attractions, and he’d thought she was flirting, so she managed to sidle around the curved desk to chat with him while getting a glimpse at the security display.  There was only one camera in each of the smaller exhibits, and none in the hallway leading to the closest set of restrooms, which seemed like a terrible oversight to Grace.  But she whispered a prayer of thanks to Aphrodite anyway.

So, before she went to revive Perseus, she ducked back out of the museum and took her rental car out for a spin, looking for a clothing shop.  The first thing she found was a Wal-Mart, which she wrinkled her nose at, but it was close and it was cheap.  She made her best guess at Perseus’ size and bought a polo shirt, a pair of jeans and a belt, a pack of underwear, and finally, a pair of flip-flops, since she was afraid of getting  his shoe size wrong.  No one would bat an eyelash at flip-flops in late summer in Texas, or so she hoped.

Packing it all into her ridiculously oversized purse, she paid her admission to the museum again–a different attendant was at the booth, which was lucky, because Grace hadn’t considered until she came back how odd that would look–and meandered the building for a while admiring the artwork.  She needed to give the attendant long enough to lose track of when, exactly, Grace had arrived.  And hopefully to forget she’d come alone.

When Grace’s heart started to pound with the excitement of what she was about to do, she found a bench and pretended to study a Vermeer painting while she got her breathing under control.  She remembered Perseus counting her breaths for her, and had to hold back from reaching out to speak to him.  If this went wrong, if this didn’t work, then she wanted him never to know she’d even been here.

After two hours of pacing the polished wooden floors and pretending she was just a regular patron, she made her way to the statue exhibit and stood inside the doorway.  The camera wouldn’t see her here, so she pulled a red silk scarf from a pocket of her purse and draped it over her hair, looping it around her neck and tucking it into the collar of her white blouse.  Her curls were her most distinctive feature, and unless she went full ninja, it was the only reasonable way to disguise herself.

She kept to the outer edge of the room, keeping her head down and approaching Perseus’ statue from the side.  She slipped her purse from her shoulder and set it on the floor, kneeling and drawing a small glass vial from another pocket.  Her hands shook, but not from fear–she was almost certain she was hidden from view of the camera by another statue.  They shook because when she touched the glass, memories flooded her of the vigil she had kept to earn Aphrodite’s blessing.

In so many of the tales, stone reverted to flesh when wet by the tears of a loved one.  If Perseus had still been close at hand, Grace would have tested her unblessed tears on him first–but making the extra trip to Texas seemed like a needless delay when it was likely her tears alone would fail.
The bottle of tears in her hand now, though, came from the full day and night she had spent on her knees in the ruined temple of Aphrodite outside Athens.  Not knowing how to pray properly to a goddess she had never before thought was real, she had spent the hours reliving every conversation with Perseus in her head, allowing herself to say silently to him the things she never had, letting the goddess of love and desire read what was in her heart.

When morning came and Grace thought that nothing had happened, that she had failed, she stood, and swayed, and fell back to her knees weeping with exhaustion and sorrow at her failure.  But as she wiped her eyes and tried to stand again, an empty vial etched with a pattern of seashells appeared on the stone before her.  When she picked it up, it was full, and the tears had vanished from her face.

Now, she pulled the stopper and poured the contents out onto Perseus’ sandaled stone foot.

She held her breath, waiting for something to happen.

A crack appeared under the sheen of the liquid.  Then another, and another, and then a spiderweb of cracks radiating from the first.  Slowly they traveled up the leg.

Perseus! she cried.  Try to move!

Grace?  He sounded sad and exhausted under the surprise on the surface.  What are you doing here?

Try to move, she repeated.  She reached out to brush at the crumbling stone, and she smiled when she saw warm olive skin underneath.  She laid her hand on the top of his foot and felt the tremor run through him.

Grace!  I can feel that!

The cracks widened with a crisp popping sound as Perseus twisted and struggled.  The shards of stone that fell away shattered into pebbles, and after a few moments the pebbles melted to dust on the floor.  More and more of the man beneath was revealed until, at last, Perseus shook his head wildly from side to side, scattering the last few bits of stone.  Grace stood, then, and looked up at his living face, smeared with dust but smiling.  She reached up a hand to help him down–his pedestal was still stone, as sturdy as ever–and when he took it and stepped close to her, she saw his eyes were brown, darker than she’d imagined, but just as intense.

“Grace…” he whispered, his voice hoarse.  And then, when she considered for a heartbeat tipping her face up to kiss him, he looked away and began to cough, deep and dry, covering his mouth with the back of his hand.  When the fit was over, he looked at her sheepishly.  “Water?” he rasped.

“There’s a drinking fountain by the restrooms.  Come on, you’ve got to change anyway.”

He set aside his spear and shield before following her out of the exhibit.  They encountered no one in the hallway, to Grace’s relief.  While Perseus drank his fill at the fountain–which he knew how to work without prompting, leading Grace to surmise he’d been displayed somewhere he could see one before–she ducked into the women’s bathroom and checked for other occupants.  Empty.  Perfect.

She took Perseus’ arm and steered him inside, then began pulling the clothing out of her purse.  “Go into one of the stalls and put all this on.  I’ll be right out here if you need anything explained.”

He looked it all over briefly and nodded, seeming fascinated by the plastic bag surrounding the underwear.  “It’s so thin,” he murmured.

“Plastic is pretty neat stuff,” she said shortly.  “I hate to rush you, but the longer we’re here, the more likely it is something will go wrong.”

“Of course.”  He took everything into the first stall and the lock clicked behind him.  He asked no questions, so Grace spent the time pulling the scarf from her hair and stowing it in her purse again, splashing her face with cold water to combat the flush in her cheeks, and counting her deep breaths so she wouldn’t think of how Perseus was undressing not ten feet from her.

He emerged looking oddly normal in his new and utterly boring clothes, though his cloak was rolled up in his hands.  “Is there room in your bag for this?  The armor I’ll have to leave behind, but I’d like to keep this if I can.”
Grace nodded and took it from him.  The deep-red material was thick and sturdy, but the roll nestled neatly in the bottom of her purse.  While she took care of that, he washed his face at the sink.  “We should hide the armor, though.”  She stepped past him into the stall and clambered up onto the toilet seat.  She could just reach the ceiling tiles, and she lifted the corner of one and shoved it over to make a gap.  “Hand it up,” she told Perseus.  His eyes widened, but he complied.

“You’ve thought of everything,” he said admiringly.

But she laughed.  “I’ve barely thought of anything.  I’m making it up as I go along.  And we still have to get out without raising any kind of suspicion.”

Perseus handed her the last piece and she settled the tile back into place.  He lifted her down with his hands around her waist, but when she was safely on the floor, he didn’t let go.  He took the half-step necessary to break into her personal space, bent his head an inch, and kissed her.

Grace forgot how to breathe, or maybe forgot that she needed to.  Perseus kissed her with thousands of years of longing and passion, fierce and undeniable.  His body pressed hers against the stall divider, hot and solid and alive.

Before she had time to do more than accept his kiss–because Grace would certainly have liked to do more–he pulled back, turning his head away.  “I’m sorry,” he choked out.  “Now’s not the time, I know.  And…and maybe you don’t…”  He shook his head, unwilling to finish that sentence.  “But I had to.  Once.  In case something goes wrong.  I’m sorry.”

Grace touched his face with one hand, lifting his chin.  She liked that she was almost as tall as he was.  She liked the way he leaned toward her even as he apologized, like he couldn’t bear to be any farther away.  “Don’t be.”  She took his hand and led him out of the bathroom, collecting her purse from the sink on the way.  She kept his hand in hers while they ambled towards the front entrance–any quicker than a slow stroll would seem odd.

Before they reached the ticket booth, though, she let go.  They stood past an archway that shielded them from view.  “‘Something else I didn’t think of,” she murmured.  “The attendant saw me come in alone.  You’ll have to go first, without me.  Don’t run or anything, but don’t dawdle.  If she looks up and notices you, just smile and say ‘Have a nice day.'”

“She won’t remember I never came in the building?”

“There was a different attendant at the booth earlier today.  She’ll assume you came in on his shift.  I hope.  I mean, why would she think anything else?  You don’t look much like a statue anymore.”  She smiled.  “Just wait outside.  I’ll only be a minute.”

Watching him cross to the door was the most anxious minute of her whole day, or maybe her whole life.  But nothing happened.  Perseus stepped out into the sunshine and Grace’s shoulders sagged in relief.  She made herself wait another minute before following, and when she got outside and didn’t immediately see him, her heart nearly stopped.  But he’d gone halfway down the entrance stairway and seated himself on one of the steps, rolling up the cuffs of his jeans, which had turned out to be too long.  She hadn’t noticed, in the bathroom–she’d hardly looked farther down than his lips.

He stood up quickly when she approached, catching her in a tight embrace.  “Thank you,” he breathed into her hair.  “A thousand times.  A million.  I can never say it enough.  Thank you.”

Grace’s eyes started to water.  “I still wasn’t sure it would work.  Until it did.”

“What did you do?”

She shook her head against him, and he pulled back, though he didn’t let go.  “I’ll tell you, but not now.  We’ve got a long drive home, so there’ll be plenty of time to talk.”

He swallowed hard and nodded.  “How long?”

“Three days.  I flew out here, but with you, we can’t fly back.  And I’m not sure how you’d feel about flying anyway…”

“I’ll try anything for you,” he said with a wide smile.  “You saved me.”

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

“Grace?”  His expression was suddenly worried.

“Mm?”

“You said, home.  Am I…?”  He trailed off.

However he’d intended to finish that question, the answer was definitely yes.  Instead of saying so, Grace leaned forward and kissed him, softer and sweeter than the one they’d shared in the restroom, but no less satisfying.  “Your home is with me,” she whispered against his lips when the kiss ended.  “For as long as you want it to be.”

“Forever,” he answered, and kissed her again.

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Grace and the Greek Warrior, Part 9: A Writing Prompt Serial

I’m stretching it a little, but…inspired by this prompt from The Daily Prompts.

Catch up with previous parts here or on Wattpad.

The Journal

Day 1
Your exhibit was packed up and shipped away over the weekend.  That’s the first Saturday I haven’t gone to the museum in months, at least, maybe longer.  I missed talking to you, so I found one of my spare research notebooks and decided I’d write to you instead, dedicate it to you.  You are research, after all–or saving you is.  I haven’t made much progress yet, but it’s early.  And you’re out of the country for the next three months, anyway.  So there’s no rush, even though I feel like there should be.  I don’t know where you’ll be after that–I don’t know if I’ll be ready by then.  I have to try.

Day 2
I woke up this morning and realized how silly it is to write this to you like a letter.  You’ve only learned to speak English, not to read it.  I’ll teach you.  And until you get good at it, I’ll keep reading to you.  After all, there are six more Harry Potter novels.

Day 3
Sometimes I’m convinced the Internet has everything if only you look hard enough, but not today.  I think I’ve hit every dead end there is about curing petrifaction.  Which means I need to take my efforts to the university library instead.  I only hope I can come up with a good reason to be looking into sources that have nothing to do with my usual area of study…or that the staff don’t ask too many questions.  I’ve known a few of them for years, so “personal interest” might be good enough to get them off my back.

Day 4
Too busy today with my normal life to do anything constructive.  But I was thinking of you.  I’m always thinking of you, now.  Is it terrible that I “talk” to you sometimes in my head?  I can imagine what you would say.  I’m sure I don’t always get it right, because really, we don’t know each other that well yet.  But you’re always kind, and you always ask questions I don’t expect, and you never let me come down on myself too hard.  So maybe I do know you pretty well after all.  And you definitely know how to handle me.

Day 8
After three days of serious and tedious digging through Greek historical texts in translation, I may–may–have found something.  It’s thin, and it feels too early to get excited.  I thought it would take longer, and how horrible is it going to be if I have the answer but can’t implement it?  A plane ticket to Amsterdam isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things, but once I’ve freed you, I wouldn’t be able to get you home.  No ID, no passport.  So you have to be in the States.  Hopefully somewhere within reasonable driving distance, but if I have to take a vacation to save you, I will.   Once I’ve got you safely stashed away, we can work on creating an identity for you.  I should be more worried than I am about breaking the law to do it.  But right now, that just doesn’t seem important.  As long as I don’t get caught, anyway.  But that’s another thing to add to the research list–the going rate for fake documentation, and who I need to talk to.  I have no idea where to start.  But I’ll figure it out.

Day 14
As much as I hate it, you’re on hold.  I’m speaking at a conference next month and Deb–that’s my department chair–wasn’t pleased when she found out I wasn’t fully ready for it, even this early.  You might be the most pleasant distraction I have living in my brain, but until I know I have something solid, I can’t let my quest to free you interfere with my work.
Listen to me, defending myself.  When you’d be the first person to tell me not to sacrifice anything for you.  But I want to.  I wish I could quit my job and bum around your museum in Amsterdam, looking at the artwork and talking to you.  It’s completely unrealistic.  And I picture it in my mind at least five times a day.

Day 20
I miss you.  I love you.  I wish I had told you that, but I didn’t want to make things worse.  It would have been selfish of me to say it, so I didn’t.  But you won’t see this for months, probably, maybe longer.  Maybe never.  But I can’t let myself think that for long, or I’ll get discouraged.  So I’m staying positive.  I hope one of the first things I do when I see you again is free you from that statue.  And one of the first things after that, I’d like to kiss you.  If you want me to.  I hope so.  I miss you.  I love you.

Day 26
I think I’ve had a breakthrough.  I need to get my hands on a particular rare book, but there’s a copy in a college library only an hour away from where the conference is being held.  I should be able to sneak away long enough.  It’s two weeks away, though, so until then, I’m at a standstill.

Day 35
I dream about you every night.

Day 42
I just left the library.  I’m sitting in my car writing this, because it can’t wait hours and hours while I drive home.  I have an idea, a mash-up of modern witchcraft and ancient magic…I still don’t believe half of this is real.   I have to go to Greece, to the temple of Aphrodite, do a ritual and keep vigil to earn her blessing.  Because if you’re real, and the Gorgons are real, then she is too, right?  I was on the right track all along with the folk tales about tears turning stone back into flesh.  But they need to be tears of true sorrow and love.  And I need to know where you’ll be next, so I can plan this trip!  I don’t know how long the magic will hold, so I have to go right before I come to you, to be sure.  And I have to wait at least another month and a half…it’s already been so long.  It hasn’t, not really, but it feels like it has.  And I knew going into this that it might take years, so I shouldn’t be so impatient that I can’t appreciate how lucky I am that I have something to try so soon.

Day 60
I don’t want to forget to tell you that I’m still trying to live my life while you’re gone.  Cam–that’s the guy I had the disastrous date with–isn’t letting me become a shut-in.  We’ve been having lunch together every week or so, and when he thinks I’m looking particularly pale and withdrawn, he insists on taking me out with some of the friends he’s made since he started here.  His circle of friends doesn’t overlap much at all with mine, so I’ve met some people through him who’ve turned out to be pretty interesting, especially when we all go out to a pub for Quiz Night.  Which I’ll have to explain to you, and I’m not sure if you’d think it sounded fun, or ridiculous.  Maybe both.  And I’m not sure you’ll like any of my new friends, either, or my old ones for that matter….okay, I can admit it, I’m nervous.  About you, and about how you’ll fit into my life.  About if you’ll fit into my life, and if you’ll want to.  Because here I am, planning for a future without talking to you about it, because I can’t.  For a while, at least, you won’t be able to survive without me, not knowing how to navigate the modern world outside of museums.  You’re smart, though, and resilient.  You have to be, or you’d have gone mad by now.  So I know we can get you there.  But when you’re ready…will you leave?  I wouldn’t want you to stay because you felt like you owed me…

Day 76
As tempted as I am to tear that last page out, I won’t.  We’ve always been honest with each other, and whatever happens, I’m sure you’ll understand my pangs of doubt.  And forgive them.  But I wish you were here, so I wasn’t trying to figure all this out on my own.  And I still don’t know where you’re going next.

Day 95
My plane to Athens leaves in the morning.  Well, eventually I’ll get to Athens, it’s going to take three airports and most of the day.  But by the end of the week, you’ll be in Texas, which is farther away than I’d hoped, but still a hell of a lot closer than Amsterdam.  I’m coming for you, Perseus.  Let’s just hope this works.

Grace and the Greek Warrior, Part 8: A Writing Prompt Serial

Inspired by this prompt from All of the Prompts.

Catch up with previous parts here or on Wattpad.

Hope

Grace closed the book with a faint sigh.  The end.

Thank you, Grace.

She smiled at Perseus’ warm tone.  She could have finished reading to him a week ago, but she put off the last chapters until now.  The last day.  Tomorrow the exhibit would close, and a crew would begin the process of boxing everything up and shipping it somewhere else.

Grace wasn’t sure she could have kept her composure through this last visit without something to focus on, so they finished Harry Potter.  But the museum didn’t close for another hour, and she couldn’t bear to leave.

You’re welcome, she answered as she slipped the book into her bag.  She almost picked it up and headed inside, but she didn’t want to cry so soon.  And she didn’t want Perseus to see her cry, either.

But she was afraid that’s how it would end, no matter what precautions she took.

They were silent for a time, which Grace felt was both a blessing and a waste.  She listened to the crickets and the distant sounds of cars on the road beyond the building.

Grace?

I’m still here.

I wish–

I know.  She cut him off before he could say anything that might haunt him in his lonely future.

After a long pause, his voice came to her, soft and tinged with vulnerability.  How could you know?

Because you never asked how my date went, or if I’ve seen him again since.  You didn’t want to know if it was going well.

How was you date, Grace?

Disastrous.  Come on, you must have suspected.  Grace closed her eyes and tilted her head back, taking a deep breath of the early evening air.  I couldn’t stop thinking of you long enough to give him a chance.  There’s no hard feelings, though.  He might even end up being my friend.

Grace–

No, Perseus.  You don’t need to say it.  You can’t.  But I can.  You’ve changed my life in a way I never expected.  You’ve changed me.  I never thought I was a bad person, but I also didn’t know I had this much kindness in me.  I never realized I had so much that I could offer someone else.

Your devotion amazes me, Perseus whispered.

Grace gathered her things and headed inside, making her way slowly to Perseus’ statue.  This isn’t really goodbye, she said as she faced him.  Because this won’t be the last time you see me.  I’m going to keep track of where you are, and I’ll visit whenever I can.  I can’t promise it will be soon, or that I’ll see you often, but when I can, I will.

Don’t promise me even as much as that, Grace, he pleaded.  Hope hurts more than anything.

If you had no hope, you’d never have asked me to come back, after I accepted the truth of what you are.  But if it’s easier for you to pretend, I understand.

Grace stared resolutely at Perseus’ stone face through his silence.  Where am I going next? he finally asked.

Amsterdam.  Thanks to the Internet, I’ll always be able to find you.  But my work doesn’t take me to Europe much, so I’ll probably have to wait until you’ve come back to the States.

And what will you do?

Grace knew he wasn’t asking about her work or her hobbies.  He was asking about her heart.  But she’d kept the secret of her research from him to protect him from the uncertainty of false hope–and so she couldn’t answer this honestly, either.  I have plenty to keep me occupied.  Don’t worry about me.  Keep talking to ladies while you’re in Amsterdam and maybe you’ll find another friend.

His chuckle sounded hollow, but at least he was trying.  My Dutch isn’t nearly as good as my English.

Still worth a try.

I wish I could touch you.

His admission blindsided her with its quiet strength.  She looked down, feeling oddly shy.  What happened to pretending?

I can’t.  I couldn’t let you leave without telling you at least that much.  You are so beautiful, Grace, inside and out–but ever since I met you, all I can think is that you were named for the wrong virtue.  When you’re here, I can’t help feeling hope.

Grace and the Greek Warrior, Part 7: A Writing Prompt Serial

Inspired by this prompt from hourlywritingprompts.

Catch up with previous parts here or on Wattpad.

Distractions

“So, what are you researching now?”

Grace wished for a second she’d ordered a fruity drink with an umbrella so her fingers would have something to play with while she stalled.  But the question was reasonable–Cameron couldn’t ask her what she did for a living, because he already knew.  And for a scientist, it must be second nature to delve into research topics.  She took a sip of her Scotch–18-year-old Glenmorangie, because if she was only going to have one drink, it had better be a good one–and let the smoke-and-honey aroma linger in her nose before she took a breath to speak.  “Are you sure you want to spend our date talking about academia like colleagues?  Because when I ask you the same question, I doubt I’m going to understand the answer.  My background in the sciences is weak at best.”

Cameron laughed.  The sound was full and rich, but it didn’t set warmth blooming through Grace’s body like Perseus’ laugh did.  “I’ve gotten pretty good at explaining my work to laypeople,” he said.  “But it’s a fair point.  I admit to looking into your work a bit, and I don’t understand it, either.  I can view art and have a reaction to it, but trying to pick apart how the movements work or how the art is influenced by politics or other art or anything else…I don’t get it.”

“Anyone can love art,” Grace said, Perseus’ words coming out of her mouth without a thought.  She realized what she’d said and took other sip of Scotch, clearing her throat when it burned going down.  “But studying it can be challenging.”

“So talking about our work is out, for the moment.  You’re right that we probably shouldn’t start by inadvertently making each other feel stupid.”

Grace raised her eyebrow at his bluntness.

He didn’t miss it.  “I have nothing but appreciation for your intellect,” he said.  “I don’t need to understand why you’re smart to know that you are.”

“I thought scientists always had to know why,” Grace remarked.  “Isn’t that what you do, hunting the mysteries of the universe and making them less mysterious?”

“The how is just as important, but the two go together.”  He tapped the fingernails of one hand against his glass.  He’d ordered a draft beer, and Grace tried not to let herself feel any drink snobbery.  “But unless you actually do want to hear all about my research, it’s time to change the subject, because I have this nasty habit of boring people by talking too much about it.”

“Okay, then.”  Grace sipped her drink and cast about for something random and startling to say.  Putting a date off-balance early on wasn’t the kindest thing to do, but it did help her get to know them better.   Over his shoulder, two people at the bar caught her attention–he was sitting on one of the stools, she stood next to him, angled his way, trying to entice him as clearly as he was trying to ignore her.  “What’s your favorite pick-up line?”

Cameron froze with his drink halfway to his mouth.  “What?”

Grace smiled and shrugged.  “You said to change the subject.”

He set his glass down without drinking.  “I don’t use them, so I don’t have one.  I’m a skinny science nerd, I’d need a hell of a line to actually have it work.”

“Oh, they don’t work,”  Grace said.  “At least, not on me.  But they are good for a laugh.”

His answering smile was tentative.  “Please tell me you said yes to me because I was direct.”

Grace nodded, but her heart sank at his tone of self-deprecation.  “Skinny science nerd” might be accurate, but until she knew him better, it wasn’t endearing.  She was trying to fully engage in the date, but her mind kept drifting, and comparisons to Perseus plagued her thoughts.

She’d admired Cameron’s directness, but his lack of easy confidence didn’t stack up to Perseus’ self-assurance.  He radiated calm capability through the force of his personality, even in his vulnerable moments, even with his body turned to stone.

Cameron’s restless fingers and nervous glances at the other patrons in the bar didn’t inspire the same connection.

But Grace knew, on one level, she was being unfair.  The situations were different, and she’d been awkward on plenty of her first dates in the past.  Being the less-awkward one was a strange experience.  Even if she was constantly distracted by thoughts of another man.

That might be why she was suddenly so calm, though.  Grace knew she didn’t need to be here, that this wasn’t going anywhere.  She would rather be at home on her laptop, typing endless strings of searches into her browser and spending hours scanning the results.

Like she had all weekend.  Medusa.  Gorgons.  Perseus.  She’d read every variation of the myth she could find, and none of them ever suggested there was way to reverse what had been done to her friend.  Searching for hypothetical stone-form cures had led her down a maze of dead-ends ranging from witchcraft to video games, where players afflicted by the ailment “Stone” or “Petrify” were cured with a “Needle”.  Tracking down any real-world basis for it was another dead end.  The few stories of petrifaction she did find had nothing to do with needles.

In one tale, a giant turned people to stone, but the hero convinced him to turn them back.  Grace had no illusions that she would hunt down one of the remaining Gorgons–for Medusa was mortal, but her sisters were not–and convince her to revert Perseus to his human body.  Even if she could find them, which was so wild an idea she could hardly keep from laughing as she considered it, she’d almost certainly end up as a statue herself.  Never mind that she’d either have to bring Perseus’ statue to the Gorgon, or the Gorgon to him in the museum.  Impossible either way.

In all the other old tales, the cure was related to water.  Water from a sacred spring or blessed fountain.  Water in the form of tears shed by a sorrowful maiden–one young hero was saved by his sister’s grief.  That almost sounded promising, but the tales ranged all around the world, and none of them seemed related to the Greek mythos, which remained unyielding in its lack of a cure.

Grace refused to believe that Perseus could not be saved.

“Grace?”  Cameron was looking at her with furrowed brows and one hand lifted from the table, like he was considering waving it in front of her face.

“I’m sorry,” she answered.  She had no idea how long she had been adrift in her mind.  “I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.  I didn’t mean to be rude.”

His frown only retreated halfway.  “This isn’t going well, is it?”

“No,” she answered, relieved.  “But it isn’t your fault, Cameron.  I wanted to give this a try, but I’m not all here, and it has nothing to do with you.”

“That sounds like a line.”  He tapped his fingers against his beer glass again.

“It isn’t.”  There was plenty she could say to him about his habit of being down on himself, but if it looked like she was trying to fix him, he’d either be insulted, or think she was still interested.  “It’s the truth.  I was happy to get asked out for the first time in what seems like a very long time, and I wanted to see what happened.  But I’m distracted by something else, and I can’t be starting a new relationship now.  It wouldn’t be fair to you if I’m checked out half the time.”

Cameron stared at his beer while Grace spoke, and for several long moments after.  Then he nodded and looked up to meet her eyes.  “You’re right.  Thank you for being honest.”

“You were direct, Cam, and I do like that about you.  I shouldn’t be anything less.”  Grace downed the last bit of her drink, then fished in her purse and found a twenty dollar bill, which she folded and weighed down with the empty glass.  “And since I’m the one who spoiled our date, the drinks are on me.”

“You don’t have to–”

“Yes, I do.”  Grace smiled and hoped some more directness would be welcome.  “There’s a redhead across the room that’s been eyeing you this whole time, even though you were with me.  If you stick around and order another beer after I’m gone, you might have a chance at salvaging the evening.”

Cameron chuckled, a warm sound that Grace hadn’t expected to hear after ruining their night out.  He hefted his beer in salute at her as she stood. “I accept your apology, Grace.  I’m getting the impression we’d be better friends than lovers.”

“Why’s that?” she asked.  “Because I’m trying to set you up with someone else already?”

“Because after you dumped me, you called me ‘Cam’.  First time all night.”

Grace cocked her head, replaying the last few minutes of conversation in her mind.  “I did,” she said, then looked down at him.  “You’re okay with that?”

He nodded.  “Go on and get out of here so I can see if that redhead likes skinny science nerds as much as you seem to think she will.”

Grace and the Greek Warrior, Part 6: A Writing Prompt Serial

Inspired by this prompt from Writeworld.

Catch up with previous parts here or on Wattpad.

Uncertainty

In the end, Grace couldn’t think of a way to show Perseus her sketchbook without looking like a maniac on the security cameras.

When Perseus made his suggestion, though, Grace guessed he’d put a lot of thought into the solution.  Because she hadn’t brought her sketchbook with the expectation of adding anything to it, she hadn’t thought of it herself.

Sketch the statue across the aisle from me.  After you’ve worked for a while, hold up the book like you’re comparing the two.  I’ll see it over your shoulder.

Grace pulled a pencil out of her purse, which she set down on the floor beside her.  The lack of benches meant she would have to draw standing up, which presented a challenge, working in a book and not on an easel.  But she tried, because his plan was solid.

The statue was of a young woman bearing a water jug.  Grace hadn’t drawn anything in months, so her hand felt stiff and awkward as she tried to capture the flowing lines of the woman’s dress, the curve of her hip, the fall of her hair.

With her back turned, Perseus couldn’t see her blushing, which Grace was thankful for.  This new sketch was going to be terrible, but it wasn’t what she intended to show him.  Over and over for the last two days, she had flipped through the sketchbook, trying to decide what he should see.

The page she kept coming back to was the one she was most proud of, but also the most personal.

Perseus remained silent as she worked.  Grace kept her thoughts to herself as well, because she was thinking things he didn’t need to know.  She wondered if the long years alone had taught him this patience, when in his place, Grace thought she would be climbing the walls in her own mind waiting for her friend to return.  Perseus had greeted her warmly and hadn’t said a word about her being a day late.  Which made her feel more guilty, not less.

When her feeble sketch was half complete, she flipped back to an earlier page in the book and held it up, looking back and forth between her subject and the page.  Her dumb show was for the benefit of the cameras.  If someone was watching, which they probably weren’t.  But nothing could seem out of the ordinary.

Perseus still said nothing, and Grace’s heart shriveled.  She took a step backwards, like she was trying to get a wider view.  She stood right before Perseus, then, close enough that she imagined she could feel the weight of the stone form behind her.

Grace, is that you?

Yes.

It’s beautiful.  And sad.  What happened?

The piece was a self-portrait assignment from her last art class, years ago.  And the image of her was even younger, because the assignment was to work from a photograph.  Grace had copied her younger self’s rigid pose and defiant expression, but instead of matching the color palette to her remembered anger, she chose cool colors, deep blues and murky greens.  Even her skin was cold, done in pale gray, with the sweep of her collarbone accented in ice blue to match her pursed lips.

It was the only way she’d been able to depict the weight of the grief dragging at her after her sister died.

I lost someone, she said.  And no one seemed to know how to help me through it.

I’m sorry.  Perseus’ voice dropped to a whisper, but it still carried so much sympathy.

It was a long time ago, she replied, lowering the sketchbook.  She turned back to the right page and started to draw again.

Another long silence.  Grace almost wished she could hear what Perseus was thinking.  Maybe she’d shared too much, and he didn’t know what to say.  Maybe this tenuous connection between them, this tension, was one-sided, and he felt none of it.

Or maybe he was falling in love with her, too.  But he wouldn’t feel the craving to say so, as she did, because he knew anything between them beyond this friendship was desperate and foolish and doomed.  She should, too.  But she wanted more.

The strangest thing happened to me this afternoon, she began.  Even inside her head, her voice sounded weak and hesitant.  One of my colleagues asked me out on a date.

There was only a two-heartbeat pause for Grace’s anxiety to build before Perseus answered.  Why is that strange?

A tremor ran through Grace’s body, shaking her hand and spoiling the line she was drawing.  He sounded confused, but sincere.  Trying to explain how lonely she’d been most of her adult life would be insensitive, though, considering what he was suffering.  Unexpected, then, I guess.  I hardly know him.

But he wants to get to know you, Perseus replied.  I can’t blame him for that.

The urge Grace felt to snap her sketchbook shut and whirl to face him was almost, but not quite, overpowering.  Her grip on the pencil tightened, the motion digging a deep groove into the page.  I said yes, but I’m already having second thoughts about it.

You should give him a chance.  If you have third thoughts after the date, then turn him down when he asks you again.

The advice was solid and reasonable, but Grace thought she detected a hint of sadness behind the words.  How do you know he will?

I would.

Grace’s heart burst open and flooded her body with heat.  She was right, it wasn’t just her.  But pushing it any farther was stupid and hurtful and she shouldn’t have even baited him this far.  She swallowed hard and cast her next line in a playful tone.  You don’t have to ask, Perseus.  You know I’ll come back as long as you’re here.

Speaking of that, he said, trying to match her lightheartedness and not quite managing to, did you bring Harry Potter with you?

Yeah, I have it.  Let me get comfortable out in the courtyard.  I think we’ve got time for a few chapters before the museum closes.

As she settled on one of the benches, Grace decided she would keep her date with Cameron.  She would go out for drinks, and get to know a few things about him, and do her best to have a good time.

But once she got home tonight, she promised herself an hour of research time before she went to bed.  How does one go about finding the way to break an ancient Gorgon curse, anyway?

Grace and the Greek Warrior, Part 5: A Writing Prompt Serial

Inspired by this prompt from hourlywritingprompts.

Catch up with previous parts here or on Wattpad.

One Good Day

The knock on her office door startled Grace.  She slammed her sketchbook shut and shuffled some papers on top of it.  “Come in,” she called.

The door opened a crack, and one of the new crop of professors stuck his head inside.  Grace had met him before, and seen him around campus from time to time.  She remembered his wavy brown hair and tendency to roll up the sleeves of his button-down shirts, but she couldn’t recall his name.

Since he wasn’t a member of the art history department, she forgave herself the lapse in memory, but she was still bewildered by his presence at her door.  “Yes?” she asked politely.

He glanced at the disorganized mess on her desk and stepped inside.  “Is this a bad time?”

“Since I don’t know why you’re here, I can’t really say,” Grace said.  “But I can tell you my desk usually looks like this, if that makes you more comfortable.”

He smiled and held out his hand.  “Cameron Gladwell.”  The name clicked in her head, linking up with a brief conversation about the irritating shortage of parking on north campus.  “We met at the beginning of the year, but since that was months ago, I can’t blame you for forgetting.”

“Of course,” Grace replied, standing and shaking his hand.  “Biology department, right?”

He nodded.  “One-year visiting professor.  But this morning I got the good news–I’ve been asked to stay on.  Professor Bennett is retiring.”

“Congratulations,” Grace said with genuine warmth.  Though she hardly knew him, that was the sort of good news any professor would celebrate.

“And, since it’s been such a good day, I thought I might press my luck and trek over here from my cramped office in Williams Hall and ask you out for a drink.”

“Really?”  Grace dropped back into her chair.  “I can’t say I expected that.”

“I would have asked you when we first met, but I know better than to get entangled with a colleague when my post is only temporary.  For my sake, and my reputation’s. But now that I’m staying…”

The fluttering excitement of being asked on a date–well, drinks, at least–warred in her heart with a sinking feeling that starting a new relationship would cut into her time with Perseus.

The mere fact that it presented a conflict set warning sirens blaring in Grace’s head, and she glanced down at the pile of papers hiding her sketchbook.  It was Friday, and she’d intended to go the day before.  She’d told Perseus she would.

But she hadn’t.  Because showing him her art, even the smallest, meanest sketch, was an alarming prospect.  Never mind how ridiculous it was to hold it up so that he could see it, and what explanation she might give if anyone caught her in the act.  There simply was none but the truth, and the truth was unbelievable.

Even more alarming was how, over the past two nights, her imaginary Perseus had invaded her dreams.  She had only pictured him as flesh and blood for a few seconds, that first time, but the image had haunted her ever since.  She’d begun to imagine him everywhere, doing the most ordinary things: going for a run on a sunny day, grocery shopping with her, stretched out on her couch reading.  The idea of him in a supermarket was enchanting–had anyone ever told him about freezers and ice cream?–but it was that last image that really captured her.  Perseus’ curly head resting on the arm of the couch while his long fingers turned the pages.

Last night, she’d dreamed he was chopping bell peppers in her kitchen, glancing over when she came in to check on his progress with dinner.

There was nothing sexual about either her sleeping dreams or her waking ones, but making Perseus real–or rather, making him alive–and a part of her life…Grace thought she’d almost be more comfortable if she were fantasizing about sex.  That, at least, was an acceptable sort of fantasy.

She’d fallen for the wrong man before, a man she knew she couldn’t have–but falling in love with a man cursed to stone made that seem like nothing at all.

Perseus was the least accessible man on the planet, and Grace was kicking herself for wanting nothing more than to hear his laugh echoing through her mind.  It was the best laugh she could ever remember hearing.

Looking up at her new potential suitor, she wondered what his laugh sounded like.  “Professor Gladwell…”

“Cameron, please,” he interrupted.  “Cam, if you actually get to liking me at all.”

His self-deprecating tone was mild enough not to be off-putting, so she smiled.  “Cameron, then.  I’m Grace.”

“Oh, I know.”

“But it feels strange to say yes to drinks when I haven’t introduced myself.”

Cameron grinned.  “Fair enough.  So, that’s a yes, then?”

Grace nodded, then reached across the mess on her desk to her business card holder.  She lifted one free and hunted down a pen, scrawling her cell phone number on the back.  When she handed it to Cameron, he stowed it in his shirt pocket–dark-red check, sleeves rolled up–then bent down to do the same on his own card, using the tiny clear area at the very corner of her desk.  She used his lack of focus on her to appraise the corded muscle of his forearms.  Even if the rolled sleeves were an affectation for just that reason, she didn’t begrudge him.  And his hands were fantastic.

Grace pushed the sudden image of Perseus with a chef’s knife in his hands out of her mind, and smiled at Cameron as she took his number.

“When were you thinking?” she asked, tucking the card into her purse.

“I hate to seem pushy, but I really am having the greatest day I’ve had in a long time.  Tonight?”

Grace could feel the presence of her sketchbook, like it was the guilty beating of her heart.  Though what exactly brought Poe to mind, she couldn’t have said.  “I can’t.  I have plans with a friend.  Tomorrow?”

Cameron winced.  “Not unless you want to get drunk with half the biology department and a good number of the chemistry professors.  I’ve devoted all my non-dating time so far this year making friends, and they’re throwing me a party.  Not the sort of thing that makes for a successful first date.”

“As much fun as it would be to see Professor Higgins wasted…”

Cameron’s wince evolved into a shudder.  “She’s not invited.  The guys already warned me she gets handsy.”

Grace spared a moment to wonder if his forthrightness was the result of confidence or obliviousness.  Because they’d hadn’t been speaking for five minutes yet, and he was treating her like a friend.

But then, if he was good at making friends, that was hardly a point against him.  “Monday, then,” she heard herself saying.  “Nobody ever has plans on a Monday.  And I think I can trust you not to want either of us to show up hungover to our Tuesday classes.”

Cameron chuckled.  “Tuesday’s my lab day.  If I show up to that hungover, the students will be on me like piranhas and nothing will get done.  One drink, Grace.  Maybe two.”

“Deal,” she said.  She glanced at the clock, but it was only to give her an excuse–she needed to make herself leave, or she’d keep talking to him.  And she had another attractive man waiting on her.  “I hate to push you out the door, but I need to get going soon, and I should at least try to organize this mess before then.”

“I hear you,” Cameron said, flicking his eyes over her desk again.  Grace thanked her stars that she’d thought to hide her sketchbook.  “See you Monday, Grace.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

The moment the door closed behind him, Grace gathered all the loose papers into one pile, tapped it straight on her desk, and left it there.  She usually kept office hours on Sunday, and it could wait to be sorted until then.  The sketchbook went into her purse, the purse went over her shoulder, and then Grace went out the door.

Maybe Cameron would distract her from Perseus, and maybe that would even be a good thing.  But no matter what happened in her life, in his, she was his only friend.  And she’d left him waiting for her an extra day.  Cameron had been brave enough to ask her out without any run-around, and she admired that–so it would be her example to follow about getting past her own insecurities.

Her heart raced as she drove through town to the museum, but she wasn’t sure if it was because of the man she’d just seen, or the one she was about to.

Grace and the Greek Warrior, Part 4: A Writing Prompt Serial

Inspired by this prompt from hourlywritingprompts.

Catch up with Parts 1, 2, and 3; or read it on Wattpad.

What One Becomes

What does one do with a degree in art history, anyway? Perseus asked.

Grace sat in the sunny courtyard garden that lay at the center of the museum, grading exams.  She’d lost the thread of their conversation while wrestling with a long-winded but woefully incomplete answer–she was trying to decide how much partial credit it deserved.  All sorts of things, she answered.

After three weeks of regular visits, Grace wasn’t insulted by his faintly wry tone.  His open admission of loneliness and curiosity had gotten her to come back; since then, he’d been more guarded.  Perhaps he was embarrassed by how much he had revealed, or perhaps he hated how much he depended on her to sate his need for human contact.  He spoke just as readily, but Grace always had the sense he was holding back, choosing his words with more care.

Some of my students are from other departments, she went on.  They’re getting their degrees in other fields and only taking one of my classes to fulfill an elective requirement, or because they’re simply interested in the subject.  One of my most enthusiastic students is actually a physics major.  But he loves art, too.

Anyone can love art.

Truth. Grace marked the answer half credit and set the page on her growing pile, weighted down by her purse to keep them from scattering in the errant breeze.  But the ones who are getting their degrees in art history?  Many of them will go on to graduate school for more advanced degrees.  Some will find work in museums or galleries.  Some will go into art conservation or restoration, some into appraisal, some into artist representation and management.  Some will become writers–after all, the textbooks I use have to come from somewhere!  And some will end up teaching, like me.

The breeze kicked up again, colder than before.  Grace glanced at the sky, where a bank of clouds was rolling in from the west.  Rain was coming.

Interesting that you put yourself last, Grace.  Do you think your job isn’t important?  Do you wish you’d done something else?

The sharp turn into personal territory startled Grace so much that she nearly dropped the exams she was stuffing into her bag.  Or maybe it was just the way he said her name.  He didn’t, not often anyway.  She was the only one he could talk to, which meant there was never a question who he was addressing.

No, she answered once she’d gotten her paper situation under control.  I love teaching.  Maybe not the grading exams part, but sharing what I love with my students, giving them the knowledge to appreciate something outside their previous experience, watching them explore the world in a new way.  That’s why sometimes the non-majors are my favorites–it’s like I’m showing them an entirely new way to see.

But…

Grace headed inside.  She was starting to run out of excuses to be in the museum doing mundane things she could be doing at home or in her office.  At least being outside in the courtyard seemed reasonable, since she didn’t have a backyard of her own.  None of the staff would ever say anything, but she’d caught some odd looks now and again.  Being a Saturday-morning fixture was one thing–showing up more days than not was different.  She was becoming an oddity.  But nothing.  I’m happy with the job I have.  I’d like to travel more, but that’s such a small thing, really.

I might be irritated that you were lying to me, if I couldn’t tell you were lying to yourself as well.  Perseus sounded oddly stern, and Grace squashed the urge to veer into his exhibit and square off with his statue.

Odd that she didn’t think of them as the same, anymore.

Instead she headed into the bathroom to assess herself in the mirror.  The wind had been at her hair, pulling stray curls loose from her twisted updo.  She took the whole mess down and finger-combed it.

Grace?

Still here, she answered.  Running off without saying goodbye was especially rude when your conversation partner couldn’t follow you.  She hadn’t done it again, since that first day.  It’s silly, you don’t want to hear about it.

I want to hear about everything.  You can tell me.

I’ve never told anyone, though.

Perseus chuckled.  Haven’t we become close enough to share a few secrets?  Besides, who am I going to tell?

Grace twined her fingers in her hair, sectioning it for braiding.  I wanted to be an artist, not study what others have created.  But I’m terrible at every discipline I’ve tried.

Grace…

Her eyes stung with the sudden press of tears at the sympathy laced through his voice.  I know practice makes perfect, and that anyone can improve at anything with enough of it…but I don’t have the vision.  I see beautiful things and want to create them, but all my attempts…they were just no good.

Are you still trying?

I have a sketchbook.  I pick it up every so often, fill in a few pages, then ignore it for months.

Bring it in next time you come to visit.  Draw something for me.

Grace watched her jaw drop in the mirror, her unshed tears forgotten.  What?

Please.

The idea was sweet and strangely terrifying at the same time.  It had been ages since her last art class, which was the last time anyone had seen her work.  She’d never shown anyone her sketchbook.  You don’t want to hear the next part of Harry Potter?

He laughed.  I do, but it can wait.  Please, Grace?

She’d never thought to read him the whole series, only the first book, but it couldn’t wait long.  The traveling exhibits rotated every three months, and half that had gone by already.  All right, I will.  But you can’t laugh.

I won’t.  There was a long pause.  Can a pinky swear work if we can’t actually touch?  Because I can’t cross my heart, either.

Grace laughed aloud, the sound bouncing off the mirror and back through the stalls.  She tied off the end of the braid and gathered her things.  I’ll pretend we did.  I just can’t believe you know about pinky swears.

Oh, I’ve seen my fair share.  School girls never whisper their secrets quietly enough.

Closing her eyes, for a moment Grace saw her younger self sitting on top of the jungle gym in elementary school.  She and her best friend Jake were always together at recess, sitting somewhere isolated from their classmates, talking.  And they’d endured plenty of teasing for it, because girls aren’t friends with boys at that age.

But in her mind, now, it wasn’t Jake, it was Perseus.  Or at least, what she thought he might look like–dark curling hair, olive skin, strong features and strong hands.  She couldn’t picture him as a child, though, and so she wasn’t anymore either, and they were sitting together on top of a jungle gym talking about life, and he absently took her hand.

I have to go, she told him, opening her eyes and moving away from the mirror.  Time for dinner.

Of course, he replied.  Will I see you tomorrow?

As she headed towards the museum entrance, she had to slow her hurried pace to have enough time to respond.  No, I have office hours, then a department meeting.  I won’t be free until after the museum’s closed, if past meetings are anything to go by.  I’ll try to come by the day after, I only have two classes on Thursdays.

Until then, Grace.

Good night, Perseus.  She pushed the door open and stepped out into the rain.