gone but not
My cousin Drew led me away from the celebration in the conference room to the front of the big barn, where a young, red-headed woman was waiting by the check-out counter.
“Athena Spencer?” she asked.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She shook my hand, her vivid green eyes exuding warmth and confidence. “Abby Knight Salvare. Bloomers Flower Shop. Have I got a case for you.”
I stared at her in surprise. “A case? Involving your flower shop?”
The woman was a few years younger than me, more than a few inches shorter than me, pretty, and just brimming with energy. She smiled brightly. “I’m sorry. I meant to say murder case. My husband, Marco, and I have a detective agency in New Chapel, Indiana.”
Maybe it was her short stature, or her green and yellow floral sun dress, or the smattering of sun-kissed freckles across her cheeks and nose, but the woman standing before me didn’t look any older than twenty-five. It was surprising to hear her impressive resume. “I see. Well then, it’s nice to meet you, too, Abby.”
“I’m sorry to be so forward, but I feel like already know you.”
“The reason I’m here is because I’d like your help,” she said.
“You’re locals. You know this town. And I understand you own a detective agency, too,” Abby said.
“Yes, yes, I do,” I stammered. “Actually, my partner, Case Donnelly, and I own it. The Greene St. Detective agency. But how did you find us? We’ve only been open a few days.”
“Research,” she answered, setting her deep yellow purse down on the counter and pulling out several sheets of printer paper. “My husband is a pro at it. He found these articles in your local newspaper about the cases you’ve solved.” She shuffled through the papers and showed me the story written after Case and I had solved the double-homicide, the news story that had first given me the nickname Goddess of Greene Street. “He also read that you worked at your family’s garden center. So here I am!”
“Athena, do you want some cake?”
I turned to see my bubble-headed younger sister, Delphi, standing in the conference room doorway, where a surprise party was underway celebrating my most recent success at catching a murderer, which, after taking a step back to appreciate the accomplishment, would’ve been three cases solved in less than three months. Clearly, our reputation was starting to spread. “I’ll be there soon,” I replied to Delphi and turned back to my guest.
“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting,” Abby said. “Why don’t I come back later?”
“How about at two o’clock this afternoon?” I suggested. “We close at two on Sundays so there won’t be any interference.”
Abby gave me her bright smile again. “Perfect. I’ll go have lunch somewhere in the meantime.”
“I’d recommend the Blue Moon Café,” I told her. “It’s just one block down and around the corner. Good food at reasonable prices.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you at two.” She started to walk away and then paused before she reached the door. “So, this is the famous statue,” she said, putting her hand on the tall Treasure of Athena that greeted customers as they walked into the garden center.
“That’s her,” I said.
Standing at over six feet tall, my namesake wore a traditional flowing toga gathered over one shoulder with a clasp so that the material draped down over her small, firm breasts. Another layer of material swirled down from her waist to the sandals on her feet. Her hair was swept up beneath a helmet that covered the top of her head. Her arms were bare and slender, but her strength was evident. One hand rested on her right hip, the other hand was outstretched in greeting. She was the Goddess of War and Wisdom, strong, courageous, and independent, things I strove to be.
My pappoús had famously purchased the statue at the Talbot estate sale, which had ultimately led me straight into a double homicide investigation. He’d originally wanted to put it in his diner’s front entrance, but the statue had been too large for The Parthenon. So my dad and I had gladly welcomed it to Spencer’s.
As Abby left the store, Case came out of the conference room and put his arm around my shoulders. He was dressed casually in a light green polo shirt and khakis, his wavy dark brown hair intensifying the color of his golden-brown eyes. “Everything okay?”
“I think so.”
“Who was that?” he asked.
I glanced over Case’s shoulder to see several customers enter the store. “I’ll tell you about her later. Let’s go wrap up this party. We’re starting to get busy.”
We returned to the conference room, a long, narrow room just up the hallway from the office where I worked at Spencers Garden Center. The room was full of members of my big, zany Greek family, including my parents, three sisters, one aunt, one uncle, one cousin, and my grandparents, who’d taken time away from their diner to be there. Also in attendance was Officer Bob Maguire of the Sequoia police department, my sister Delphi’s current flame, and Lila Talbot, the silent partner in the Greene St. Detective agency.
“Now we can cut the cake!” my mother cried, and with the long, sharp knife in her hand, began to cut slices into the three-layer cake with the strawberry pink frosting on it that said, Three Cheers for the Goddess of Greene Street! Case had given me that title after the first murder case I’d solved, the press had reported it, and it had stuck.
Lila, Case, and my family had surprised me with this little party. After a tumultuous day yesterday, where my life had been in grave danger, today had started as though nothing unusual had taken place. I’d felt a huge letdown all morning. And then they’d surprised me with this.
“Here’s your cake,” my sister Selene said, and thrust a plate into my hands. She looked at her wristwatch. “I’ve got to cut out. I have a client coming in soon.”
Selene was a hair stylist at Over-the-Top Hair Salon. She, my sister Maia, and I were all named after Greek goddesses, Selene, the oldest at thirty-six, after the moon goddess, Maia, twenty-eight, after the goddess of the fields, which was fitting since she was a vegetarian, and me, thirty-one, after Athena the goddess of war and wisdom. My mother, Hera, had been named after the mother goddess, and so she had carried on the tradition with us. Delphi, at twenty-five, was the exception. She was named after the Oracle of Delphi.[EM2]
“I’m going to head down to the office,” Case said. “How about dinner tonight? On the boat. I’ll make spaghetti and you can tell me all about the red-headed stranger.”
I suppressed a little shiver of excitement at the thought of being alone with him. Case was a very romantic, very masculine man, but he was also something of a loner. “It’s Sunday, remember? Big, family dinner on Sunday? You’re always invited, you know.”
He paused, as though having an internal debate. “I’ll let you know later.” He glanced around to see if anyone was watching, then leaned in to give me a quick kiss before striding toward the door. I watched him go with a contented sigh.
Case had come to Sequoia from Pittsburgh to collect his family’s statue, the Treasure of Athena, and ended up being charged with a murder involving the statue. After we’d worked together to find the real killer, we’d gone on to solve two more homicide cases[EM3] [LT4] . Now Case had his private investigator’s license and together we had opened up the Greene Street Detective Agency.
Tall, fit, and handsome, Case had admitted to staying in Sequoia because he liked me, even going so far as to say he wanted me to be a partner in his detective agency. That was fine by me since my job working as bookkeeper for my dad at our family owned and operated garden center didn’t occupy that much of my time.
“Athena,” my dad said as I forked a piece of strawberry cake into my mouth, “enjoy your party. I’ll go help Drew on the salesfloor.”
“I’ll be right out,” I said with a mouthful.
My dad had created the job for me when I moved back home with my ten-year-old son Nicholas after my marriage had ended. The job provided me with income and the relaxed schedule allowed me to have breakfast and dinner with my son and take time off for school events. During our busy summer season, I also helped customers in the garden center with selection and design. I didn’t have any formal training, but I did have a passion for it. Plus, I’d practically grown up at the garden center, learning all about horticulture from my father.
At a tap on my shoulder, I turned to see Delphi rubbing her forehead. She was dressed in one of her quirky outfits, today a purple and black striped tube top with a gauzy black skirt and her favorite purple flip-flops. She waited for a young couple to walk away and then said, “Athena, I had a vision a few minutes ago. It was about the redhead who came in earlier. Who was she?”
Delphi’s visions were well-known in our family. Being named after the famous Oracle made her believe she had the gift of foresight. After years of teasing and eye-rolling, we’d given up on taming our sister’s otherworldly grandeur and had come to appreciate Delphi for who she was – comic relief. Oddly, her predictions were right about twenty-five percent of the time. In fact, her last prediction had helped save my life, so I felt like I should pay attention to her.
“She’s Abby Knight Salvare, a private detective. What did you see?”
“I saw a red flame.”
“What does that mean?”
“The red flame could be Abby, but it could also mean danger. I’m not sure. Just keep that in mind.” With a satisfied nod, she turned and walked away.
The party dwindled quickly as most of my friends and family had to get on with their day. And so, too, did my workday begin.
At two o’clock on the nose, Abby Knight stepped inside the big barn that my Grandfather Spencer had converted into a garden center and looked around. I had come up to the sales floor to watch for her and now I walked toward her with a smile.
“There you are,” she said in a friendly voice.
“Come back this way,” I said, and led her toward the conference room just as my dad locked the front door, closing the shop early as we did on Sundays.
We took seats across from each other at the long, walnut conference table, where she folded her hands and smiled at me. “Where to begin,” she said.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee before we start?” I asked.
“No, thanks. I had two cups at the Blue Moon and I’m already jittery.” She took a breath. “Okay. Here it is. Have you heard the news about the fashion show murder that happened this past Thursday evening?”
“I didn’t know it had been classified as murder. The last I heard, one of the models collapsed and died backstage.”
Abby pulled her purse open to retrieve her cell phone.
As she scrolled through her phone, I continued. “These past few days have been a whirlwind. When did the news break about the murder?”
“This morning.” She handed me her phone. “Here, take a look.”
I scrolled through the article as Abby spoke. “The murder victim was a woman named Carly Blackburn. The article states that she’d been poisoned sometime before the show.”
“Poisoned how?” I asked, still scrolling through the story. “I don’t see it here anywhere.”
“Actually, that’s the only piece of information I managed to draw out of my cousin. She was practically in hysterics when I talked to her over the phone. Jillian was the emcee for the event. She was also in charge of the models, making sure they had everything they needed for the show, including water. Unfortunately, one of the models died after drinking poisoned water.”
“And the police think your cousin did it,” I finished.
“They’re holding her now on suspicion of murder.” Abby held her fingers an inch apart. “I have a feeling that they’re this close to charging her with premeditated murder.” She sat forward. “I know my cousin. She may be something of an airhead, but she would never willingly hurt anyone. So, what I need from you and your partner is help getting Jillian the defense she needs, not only by pointing me toward a good attorney but also by working with me to find the real killer.”
Before handing Abby’s phone back, I spotted a name I recognized. Eleni Sloan, former president of the Greek Merchants’ Association and wife of one of the most beloved, powerful people in town, Mayor Charles Sloan. Eleni had been one of the models in the fashion show.
I continued reading and found a quote by another prominent woman who had modeled for the show. “Did you read what Hope Louvain said?” I asked Abby. “She told the reporter that your cousin and Carly were long-time enemies, dating back to their college years.”
“Yes, I read it. She publicly threw Jillian under the bus, which is definitely not helping my cause.”
“Hope Louvain and Eleni Sloan are very influential people in this town,” I told her. “And according to this article, they both seem to believe Jillian is guilty. Going up against them is not going to be easy.”
“That’s another reason why I came to see you,” Abby said.
“Because you’re good at what you do. Marco told me all about the Talbots,” Abby explained, “and Pete Harmon, so I know you’re not afraid to take on powerful people. And by the way, I don’t expect you to work for free. I’ll pay whatever your going rate is.”
Wow. This would be our first official case. I was practically salivating at the idea. “I’ll have to run it by my partner first,” I said, “but I think he’ll be on board. Let me get my iPad so I can take notes.” I pushed back my chair, hurried down the hall to the office, snatched the iPad off the desk, and hurried back. Abby was under the assumption that I wasn’t afraid to take on powerful people, and over the course of the past few months, I had worked very hard to overcome those fears. But this situation was different. These women were well-liked, respected. Eleni was one of the original founders of the Greek Merchants’ Association, and more importantly, a good friend of the family.
Hope Louvain was an award-winning middle school teacher, not to mention that she was also married to Sequoia’s chief of police. I was going to have to tread very carefully.
“Okay,” I said, opening the tablet, “what do you know about the case?”
She sat back. “I don’t know much. According to the article, there were three models – the police chief’s wife, the mayor’s wife, and the murder victim Carly Blackburn. There was also a woman mentioned in the article who provided the models clothing for the show.”
“Fran Decker,” I said. “She owns a women’s boutique a few blocks down from here.” I typed in the names of the women at the show before continuing. “Where is Jillian now?”
“In jail,” Abby answered. “Which is why I need a good defense attorney.”
“I think I know someone who can help. Has she been charged with anything?”
“Obstruction of justice,” Abby replied.
I glanced up from my notes in surprise. “How?”
“Jillian was told not to leave town - and then she left town. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but that’s Jillian. So, the police picked her up and brought her back to Sequoia.”
“And the only evidence that the police have against Jillian is that she handed out the water bottles?”
“I don’t know all the evidence they have, but I do know that she purchased the water, and the bottles were in her possession until she delivered them to each dressing room.”
“Have you seen Jillian yet?”
“Not yet. I was hoping you could help me get in to see her.”
“I think I can make that happen. When would you like to go?”
“As soon as possible.”
“Let me make a phone call. I might be able to get you in tomorrow afternoon.”
Abby smiled in relief. “That would be great.”
“Where are you staying?”
“At the Waterfront Hotel, where the murder took place. Do you know it?”
“Maybe a little too well. It’s a beautiful place, but you might want to steer clear of a man named Mitchell Black. He’s not the most helpful when it comes to his father’s hotel.”
“See, you’re helping already. I knew coming to you was the right decision.”
I hoped she was right about that. I smiled at her comment and stood up. “My phone is in the office. I’ll make that call and be right back.”
Once again, I hurried up the hallway, dashed over to my desk, and grabbed my phone. I opened my recent call list and found Officer Bob Maguire’s number. After explaining my situation to him, I was delighted to hear that he could get Abby and me into the jail the next day, skipping all the red tape that would’ve required twenty-four hours to process.
Next, I placed a call to my once-upon-a-time boyfriend Kevin Coreopsis, who had gone to New York after college and returned home just this past year to become a defense attorney. As a new lawyer in town, I guessed that Kevin would be more than willing to take Jillian’s case.
After I finished with my phone calls, I returned to the conference room and sat down with a smile. “Good news. I have a contact on the police force who can get us into the jail tomorrow afternoon, and I’ve lined up my friend Kevin Coreopsis to handle Jillian’s case. He’s going to go to the jail to meet with her tomorrow after our visit.”
Abby pressed her hands to her heart. “That’s wonderful! What a huge relief. Does this mean you’ll work with me on the case?”
“I still have to run it by my partner, but I can definitely help with your jail visit. Why don’t we meet at our office tomorrow at one o’clock? I’ll write down the address for you.”
“That would be perfect.”
I jotted the address on a green sticky note and gave it to her. She tucked it in her purse, pushed back her chair, and rose. “I won’t keep you any longer. It is Sunday after all.”
“Is your husband going to join you here?” I asked, as we stepped into the hallway.
“No, Marco’s holding down the fort at home. We have two pets to take care of.”
“What about the flower shop?” I asked.
“Bloomers will be fine,” Abby answered. “I have a great staff.”
“You’re welcome to have dinner with my family this evening, although I have to warn you it’s a big, crazy, Greek family and quite a noisy gathering.”
“That’s very kind of you, but I think I’ll just enjoy the hotel amenities and maybe do a little internet sleuthing.”
“Good luck,” I told her.
She held out her hand. “See you at one o’clock tomorrow.”
I couldn’t wait to tell Case about Abby’s visit. I texted him and learned he’d left the office and gone home, which to Case meant the Pame¢, the small houseboat he was buying from my grandfather. “I’ll be there in ten minutes,” I told him. “I have exciting news.”
After closing the garden center, I locked the door behind me and set off down Greene Street to Oak, the cross street that took me out to the harbor. My pappoús’ boat was docked at the southern end of the harbor on the last of three piers along the wide, wooden dock, directly across from the section of Greene Street known as Little Greece.
I used the short plank to cross onto the boat, stepping down into the back. The flat-backed stern had a blue vinyl U-shaped seating area surrounding a plastic table for outside dining. Up a step and toward the cockpit were the swivel seats for fishermen and beyond that the helm. A deck on either side of the boat led to the bow where a sundeck could be used for tanning or cooling off after a swim.
I crossed the stern to the center door that led below deck and rapped twice. “Hello, I’m here,” I called.
“Come on in,” Case called back.
I walked down the five steps into the small living room. There was a built-in sofa, also in blue vinyl, across from the galley, with two white plastic chairs and a small, square white Formica table in the middle that was bolted to the floor. Beyond that was a tiny bathroom followed by a cozy bedroom tucked into the front of the boat.
My pappoús had purchased the boat decades ago, and for years our family had enjoyed it for weekend getaways. As we grew older, the boat was mainly used by Pappoús for fishing, but he had given that up as his arthritis progressed.
“Wine?” Case asked, holding out a bottle of cabernet.
“It’s a little early, don’t you think?”
“Not when family is visiting for Sunday dinner,” he joked.
I sighed. “Bring the bottle.”
He poured me a glass, took one for himself, and settled onto the sofa. I settled next to him and took a sip of the wine.
Case’s arm slid behind my neck, and I let my head fall back against it. “Tell me about your visitor today,” he said. “I’m guessing that’s your exciting news.”
I took another sip of wine. “Her name is Abby Knight Salvare. She and her husband Marco have a private detective business in New Chapel, Indiana.”
“Where is that?”
“It’s about an hour and a half southwest of here. I wrote about New Chapel when I worked for the newspaper in Chicago.”
“Why did a private detective come to see you?” Case asked.
“Because she needs our help.”
“She needs our help? That’s surprising.”
“Not really. We know this town better than she does. We know the people. We have connections. Abby seemed to know all about us and the cases we’ve solved. She and her husband really do their homework.”
“Sounds like we may need to do a little homework of our own,” he said. “I’ll have to look into this detective team, see what kind of history they have.” Case reached over for his laptop stuffed between two blue vinyl cushions and opened it up. “What did you say their names were?”
“Abby and Marco Salvare. I think she said it was the Salvare Detective Agency.”
Case typed it in, then silently scrolled for a while. “Wow,” he finally said. “This news article says that they’ve solved twenty-four homicide investigations. That’s quite a record.” He looked up from the screen. “How did they find us?”
“Abby’s husband did some research and found articles about the cases we’ve solved.” I took a drink of wine. “They even knew about Pete Harmon.”
“Harmon? That news broke yesterday.”
“Marco’s very good at research,” I said. “Sounds a lot like you.”
Case continued scrolling through the pages of search engine hits about the private detective team, stopping periodically to read through an article. “Marco was an Army Ranger. Now he owns a bar and runs the detective agency. Interesting.”
“And Abby works with flowers. She and I have a lot in common. They’re like a version of us from a different town.”
“A better version of us,” he said.
“Not better. Just more experienced.” I finished my wine and set the glass down, a nervous excitement tingling the tips of my fingers. “What do you think? Do you want to help them with this case? She said they’d pay us the going rate.”
“Working with a top-notch detective team would certainly give us legitimacy,” he said.
“That, too.” Case shut the laptop. “I think we should take it.”
He leaned toward me for a kiss. “We’re in business, Goddess.”
I leaned back with a relieved sigh. “Abby wants to go see her cousin in jail as soon as possible, so I suggested tomorrow afternoon. I’ve already called Bob Maguire and he said he can get us in without having to go through all the red tape. Do you want to go?”
“I told Abby I’d meet her at the office at one o’clock.”
“Now about dinner with my family tonight . . .”
Case scratched his chin. “You know, I think I’ll skip dinner and stay here to do research on the murder.”
“We want to be prepared, right?”
I stood up. “Case, it won’t take all evening to read a few news articles, and you can’t do any more research than that until we learn more from Jillian.”
Case swirled the wine in his glass, watching as it circled the sides.
“And Nicholas will be really disappointed if you don’t come.”
Finally, he glanced up. “I don’t want to sit next to your Uncle Giannis.”
“You don’t have to.”
“And I don’t want a coffee grounds reading from Delphi.”
“All right. I’ll come to dinner.” He pulled me back down, practically into his lap. “But I think we should come back here afterward to watch the sunset together.”
At the thought of that my heart fluttered. We kissed for a long moment, then I pulled back to say softly, “I would love that.” Before any more kissing derailed my plans, I rose and walked to the door. “See you at five.”
At five o’clock on the dot, Uncle Giannis, Aunt Rachel, their sons Drew and Michael, and my Aunt Talia and Uncle Konstantine arrived, all talking at once. Case showed up shortly afterward, slipping in quietly amid the noisy chatter. Counting the seven of us Spencers, plus Case, Yiayiá and Pappoús, we were sixteen in all.
Mama, Nicholas, and I had set up two long tables on the patio behind the house and loaded them with food. There was grilled lamb, pastitsio (Greek lasagna), two whole chickens roasted with crispy, lemony potatoes, a cucumber, feta cheese, Kalamata olives and tomato salad.
The temperature outside was perfect and the open patio gave the family more space to relax and enjoy their dinner. I loved eating outside. It felt less claustrophobic. The loud noises didn’t resonate quite as much, and with our family, the noise was inevitable.
While we’d been outside setting up the food, Yiayia had been in the kitchen finishing the spanakopita. They’d been practically falling off the platter when she’d brought them out, so Niko and I had secretly popped a few of the scrumptious little spinach and feta triangle-shaped pastries into our mouths before the rest of the family had arrived.
My mom and dad sat at opposite ends of the long table, Mama closest to the back door for quick access to the kitchen, with my grandmother, whom we called Yiayiá, next to her. I sat at the far end near my father. Case sat next to me, and my son Nicholas, who now called himself Niko, sat across from me. Delphi was seated further down, glaring at me.
Because Case had joined us, Delphi was forced to sit next to Uncle Giannis, who had the unseemly habit of talking with his mouth full. I smiled back at her and lifted my shoulders.
“Tell us again how you figured out who murdered the photographer,” Uncle Giannis said to Case.
“Actually, it was Athena who figured it out,” Case replied.
My mother’s voice boomed proudly from the far end of the table. “My daughter the hero.”
My dad raised his glass of Greek wine and we toasted to our success.
“Wouldn’t that be the heroine?” Selene called out. My sisters Maia and Selene were also seated at the far end, so they practically had to yell to be heard.
“Hero, heroine . . .” Mama smiled at me. “She’s my brave girl, that’s all. Niko, you should be proud of your mama.”
Nicholas shoveled a bite of chicken into his mouth, looking alarmed that he was put on the spot. “Very proud,” he mumbled.
“So then tell us,” Uncle Giannis said after finishing his first glass of wine. “How did you solve it?”
I gave them a condensed version of the murder investigation, leaving out the part where I was almost choked to death by a camera strap, and hoped that it would settle the topic for the evening. Although my mother was proud, she was also leery of my new private investigation endeavor. I didn’t need to give her any more reason to fear it.
“What’s next on your agenda, Case?” Aunt Talia asked. “Anything else in the works?”
Case glanced over at me. “Well, we had an inquiry today.”
“Already?” Mama asked. “I trust it’s nothing dangerous.”
“Of course not,” I answered, trying to avoid the subject. “Just a simple inquiry.”
Delphi’s eyes grew wide. “That’s why the mysterious red-headed woman came into Spencer's today.”
My mother leaned in. “What red-headed woman?”
Everyone else quieted.
I shot Delphi a glare and then said as vaguely as possible, “Her name is Abby Knight Salvare. She’s a private detective from New Chapel, Indiana, and she wanted to pick my brain on a case she’s involved in.”
“She wanted to pick your brain?” Mama asked with a lift of one eyebrow.
“She’s heard about the cases we’ve solved,” I said and shrugged as though it was no big deal.
“Thenie,” Delphi said with a serious glance, “you should know Abby’s aura is yellow, a fiery yellow and that’s a very bad sign. It spells danger for her and anyone around her.”
“I thought you said you saw a red flame,” I said. “Now it’s a yellow aura.”
“Athena,” Mama scolded. “Listen to your sister.”
“The red flame was my vision,” Delphi insisted. “The fiery yellow was her aura.” She huffed at me. “You still don’t understand.”
“Delphi,” I countered, “Abby is a respected private eye. Of course she’s going to encounter some danger in her work but that doesn’t mean this case is dangerous. It’s a straightforward investigation.”
“Enough talk about danger!” Mama ordered. “The fact of the matter is, Thenie, that you work too hard.”
“How did this become about me?” I asked.
“Between the garden center, and Niko, and investigating the photographer’s death,” Mama said, “and before that, the Talbots and helping Selene, you haven’t taken any time off for yourself. John, tell your daughter she’s working too hard.”
My dad reached over and patted my arm. “Take a little time off, Thenie. Delphi can help out more at the garden center. In fact, the county fair started today. Business always slows down during the fair. Why don’t you and Case take Niko? Have some fun.”
“Yes,” Mama said, now directing her attention toward my new partner. “Case, why don’t you take my daughter and her son to the fair?”
Case, who up to that point had managed to keep himself out of the spotlight, finished chewing his roasted lamb and slowly wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin. After resting the napkin back onto his lap, he looked at me. “Sure, why not? When would you like to go?”
Clever. He had quickly turned the conversation back over to me. After looking around at the faces who were now suddenly very interested in my answer, I shrugged. “I’ll think about it.”
At that, everyone started talking, all chiming in with their ideas of what to do at the fair. Then my grandmother rose from the table, all five foot two of her, and banged a serving spoon onto the tabletop until all conversation halted.
“Athena,” she said in her raspy voice, “you work too hard. I say you must make time for your lover.”
My mouth dropped open. I glanced at Case and saw him staring at his plate. Niko giggled. Maia choked on her water. Selene had to cover her mouth, and Pops looked up at the sky. I noticed Delphi giving me a chiding smile.
Mama tugged on my grandmother’s arm until she sat down, then Mama said, “What Yiayiá means is that you need to take time for your loved ones. Take a break from all this work, go to the fair, spend some quality time with your son. Right, Mama?”
“She heard me,” was all Yiayiá would say.
I was so embarrassed I couldn’t look at Case. At that moment, I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. The only break in the silence was Uncle Giannis chomping away.
“You have to take Niko on the Ferris wheel,” Aunt Talia said from the far end of the table.
“And the Tilt-a-Whirl!” Cousin Drew chimed in.
“I can’t do the Tilt-a-Whirl,” I said, and pointed to my stomach.
“Then Case can take me on it,” my little Nicholas said, beaming at Case.
“You bet, buddy,” Case replied.
“Don’t forget the Arabian horse show,” Uncle Giannis said.
“And elephant ears!” Selene said.
“Carmel corn!” Maia added.
Delphi raised her hand. “How has no one mentioned cotton candy yet?”
“When can we go, Mom?” Nicholas asked. “Tonight?”
“You’re better off going in the middle of the week,” my mother said. “Less crowded then.”
The chatter started again, everyone talking about their favorite parts of the fair, so I resumed eating. I could feel Case’s gaze on me, however, and I knew he sensed something was up. I looked down at my food and said nothing, but the truth was, I didn’t want to go to the fair.