Author note: I loved writing this cozy moment right before a whirlwind of a story starts.
Nothing like waking up to a good cup of coffee and a nightmare. A spider the size of a corgi skittered in my direction across the linoleum of the kitchen floor. A few weeks ago, I would’ve screamed bloody murder at the sight of the creature. If you’re an arachnophobe and wish to conquer your fear, I highly suggest living with Arachne and her children as a form of immersion therapy.
If you’re not a good person, you might end up as their dinner.
Cerberus lifted his three heads, one woofed, another sneeze-drooled (don’t ask, it’s even grosser than you’d imagine), and the third panted, not seeming to understand why the other two heads were in a tizzy.
“It’s okay, Spot,” I said, but my tone lacked the confidence I attempted to portray.
Cerberus’s heads whined, panted, and drooled respectively. Then the pooch rose, circled around in his dog bed and settled down again.
At first, I felt ridiculous calling the three-headed monster “Spot.” Upon Persephone’s instruction, I had to call Cerberus the name while outside her domain. I wasn’t clear why, but she was adamant. Never argue with the Queen of the Underworld, not unless you want to end up her subject.
Like Arachne and her children, I’d grown accustomed to his name over the last few months. Also, he acted like a dumb dog someone would name “Spot” ninety percent of the time.
The spider spun wildly. Something was stuck to his back, likely a sticky note from Arachne.
“Stop spinning, please.”
The spider obeyed.
I was right. There was a note attached to his back. In neat blue script contrasting the yellow paper, the note read, “Be down in five.”
A totally unnecessary communication. Arachne liked testing my patience with her children.
The spider tapped one of its legs impatiently. Gregory was the peskiest of the pest babies.
“Okay, Greg. I read it. You can go back to your mother now.”
The spider spun in a circle. It was definitely Gregory. Most of the children would go back to Arachne, satisfied. Greg didn’t trust me, or he didn’t like the paper on his back. Either way, he’d keep spinning near my feet until I took the note off him.
I shuddered, reaching then drawing back my hand.
The action excited Greg. His spinning became more frantic.
The thing was, I could tolerate his presence, mostly, but touching the spider was a whole other story. However, if I didn’t take the note, there was a good possibility that he would take it upon himself to crawl up my leg. The thought alone made my vision swim and darken around the edges. I really didn’t want to pass out in my own home. Again.
I inhaled deeply, closing my eyes. “One, two…”
“Thanks, Greg,” my son Luke said, followed by the telltale sound of paper crinkling.
Clicking sounds indicated the spider was scurrying off.
I opened one eye, hoping that to be the case.
Lukie had the note in hand, a smirk on his handsome face. When my son gave me that sarcastic smirk, he looked like my ex, Carlo—or rather Pietro now that he was in jail and using his birth name. I’d known him as Carlo for too long to go back to the name of the boy I’d fallen in love with.
After I’d fallen out of love with Carlo, I’d broken the cardinal rule of criminals: never snitch. I’d told the ISEA agents everything I knew about my ex to save my own skin. It’s a stupid rule. No one in real life followed it. There was no honor among thieves or any of that nonsense.
Besides, Carlo had done worse than snitch before I even had the chance. He’d made up things about me. He’d pinned all his crimes his crew had ever done on me, claiming I was a supe and had mind-controlled them since I was sixteen years old.
If I could do that, could someone please explain his multiple extramarital affairs, why he and his crew stole my savings, and most of all why he ditched me once he made the biggest score of his life. Can’t? Neither could the lawyers.
Faking that I was psychic may have made me a bit of a scam artist myself, but I’d never committed a serious crime. Not really. Telling people what they wanted to hear and giving them advice under the guise of being able to read the future wasn’t illegal, yet.
The government was talking about passing laws about that now that supernaturals or “supes” had come out of the closet as real. There were a lot of charlatans out there pretending to be supes to game people out of their money. How did you prove someone was not psychic?
People had a hard time telling when I couldn’t see the future. My heart was always in the right place when I fabricated readings. I gave good advice and entertained them in the process.
A few months ago, I discovered that I’d descended from the Oracles of Delphi and could read the tapestry woven for humanity by the Fates. I just had no recollection of any of my real predictions. So, still a fake psychic, but kinda not?
My son set the sticky note with a few spider fibers still attached on the table and then turned, opening the coffee mug cupboard. “I think Arachne sends Gregory so you’ll get over your phobia.”
“I think she sends Greg because she finds my phobia amusing.”
Luke chuckled as he poured some of the steaming coffee into his mug. “You’ve got to admit it’s kind of funny that an arachnophobe lives with Arachne and her children.”
“Says the guy who asked for a tarantula every birthday.”
Juan, Luke’s fiancé, entered the kitchen. Ready for his commute to work, Juan sported a blue velvet smoking jacket, cream button up, and trousers. His lovely curls were on display, shiny and expertly coifed. He flashed us a thousand-watt smile. Juan was definitely a looker. Then again, so was my Luke.
“Buenos dias, familia.”
“Ah, my favorite is awake. Kalimera!”
“I love when you speak Greek, mami. It sounds so beautiful.” He kissed me on each cheek like a proper son-in-law should. I loved Juan fiercely; he was so good for my boy. I couldn’t wait until the two tied the knot. Unlike some parents, I kept it to myself.
My heart had grown two sizes since they moved into the house in Milagro Bay. I was just happy to be a part of their lives.
“Don’t let him tease you. He doesn’t like spiders either. He just hides it better,” Juan whispered conspiratorially.
I pointed at my grown son. “Ha!”
“Not true. I love them!” Luke placed his hand over his heart, mock offended, but mischief sparkled in his eyes. “Ask Greg.”
I shuddered. I wouldn’t be asking any spider anything.
My son and future son-in-law chuckled and then kissed each other.
“Ma, stop!” Luke blushed.
“Love is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Affection was something I’d only experienced in the early days with Carlo. Our marriage had chilled with each affair. So much so, my ex would teasingly call me roomie. It stung. Every. Time.
I hoped the boys would stay true to each other. Even a modicum of loyalty was better than what I had with my ex.
Juan poured a to-go cup.
Luke got Juan’s bento lunchbox ready to carry out the door.
I loved watching their little routine as I sipped my coffee.
“I put some of that leftover lamb souvlaki you liked in there,” I said.
Luke groaned. “Ma! He was fine with the tabouli I made.”
“I really am, babe.” Juan kissed my son again and winked his thanks in my direction before exiting to the back porch.
Unlike my Luke, Juan was not a vegetarian. I’d slip him meat whenever I could. Luke called it undermining their healthy lifestyle, I called it giving the skinny man a little extra before he wasted away.
“It’s such a long commute to Seattle from Milagro Bay. Too bad he can’t work from home like you, Lukie.”
He threw up his hands. “For goodness’ sake, ma. It’s Luke.”
I grinned. “Okay, Luke.”
I liked to tease him with his nickname, but I’d never disrespect him and call him by his dead name. Never accepting our son, Carlo refused to call him Luke.
They hadn’t spoken in ten years. Ever since Luke had moved into his college dorm. My son kept in touch with me, but I hadn’t seen him face-to-face in all that time.
I should’ve left Carlo a long time ago and followed Luke out west. I could’ve started over years ago. Now, I was eking out a new life in a new town as a middle-aged woman.
There were a thousand reasons why I should’ve left Carlo. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the man who stuck with me. Some good my loyalty did. In the end, he left me.
Luke looked at his watch and gulped down the rest of his coffee. “Got to go. Grandma is picking me up for harpy lessons.”
Nicky, the local queen of the harpies, was my stepmother. Since my birth mother Apollonia faked her death and married Nicky after she’d abandoned her previous life, the harpy didn’t have a hand in raising me nor was a part of Luke’s childhood. However, Nicky had always wanted to be part of our lives. She stepped in wonderfully as my mother-figure and Luke’s grandma.
Wanting to see Nicky too, I followed Luke to the back door.
She flew in just as we walked out. As a full-blooded harpy, she was born with golden wings and soft golden down, covering her lithe humanoid form.
We greeted her with hugs.
She tousled his hair affectionately. “Ready, Lukie?”
Nicky got to call him that and only Nicky.
He grinned ear to ear. “Yeah. I’m hoping to sprout some wings.”
“Sorry, kiddo, very few harpies that aren’t born with wings can do that.”
“My boy is a prodigy,” I said, partly because I thought so and partly because I wanted to be included in the conversation. The little girl my mother left behind ached for time with Nicky.
“Your lessons will come soon,” she said, wrapping her arms around Luke.
I nodded, hating that I felt a twinge of jealousy. I didn’t know which I was jealous of more: my stepmom getting Luke all day or Luke getting a day with the mom I’d always wanted. At forty-four, it was pretty pathetic to be jealous of either.