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D for Diva
I’M FAILING HERO-OLOGY? APHRODITE STOOD in the middle of the Mount Olympus Academy gymnasium and stared at her grade in shock. That can’t be! she thought. She closed her sparkling blue eyes and opened them again, hoping she hadn’t seen right. Unfortunately the D was still there. Okay, so a D wasn’t exactly failing. But it was close.
She glanced around and saw mean-girl Medusa eyeing her in a nosy way from across the gym. Uh-oh. Quickly, she stuffed the reportscroll into the pocket of her new chiton. She’d work on somehow getting her grade changed later. But for now she’d better do what she’d come here for and get out fast before any-one asked about her grades. She couldn’t let anyone find out about this. Plenty of students at MOA thought that anyone who was beautiful was automatically an airhead. She didn’t want to reinforce the idea. Besides, it wasn’t true!
Absently, she fluffed her long, naturally wavy golden hair. Sure, everyone said she was the prettiest goddessgirl at the Academy. But one bad grade didn’t mean she was D for dumb. Right?
With her eyes glued to the giant game board which now hogged the center of the gym, Aphrodite hurried toward it. The board was normally set up in Mr. Cyclops’s Hero-ology classroom. It had been moved here for a party to celebrate Hero Day. Today’s party kicked off the start of Hero Week, a five-day school break.
“Excuse me. Sorry. Pardon me,” she said, weaving through the throng of students between her and the game. Every godboy she saw was instantly dazzled by her smile and moved aside for her to pass. Whew! The gym was packed. Hero-ology was a required class, so every student at MOA had gathered here. She’d arrived late because she’d zipped down to the Immortal Marketplace bright and early for gift wrap and lost track of time. A window display had caught her eye and she’d wound up trying on one chiton after another. Could have happened to anyone, right?
Eventually, she reached the game board, which covered the top of a table about the size of two Ping-Pong tables set side by side. Its three-dimensional world map showed colorful countries dotted with castles, villages, roads, and hills. The countries were surrounded by oceans filled with small sea monsters, mermaids, and scaly dragons that really moved!
Dozens of three-inch-tall hero statues stood atop the board here and there as movable game pieces. Most already had a small gift resting beside them. It was tradition that each student reward his or her hero on this special day. (Hence the need for her trip to the mall that morning for gift wrap!)
Unfortunately, the statue of Paris, her valiant mortal hero, had been set on the far side of the game board on Mount Ida in Asia. Aphrodite glanced back toward the gym door, wishing she could escape now. But she couldn’t leave without giving Paris the gift she’d brought for him.
Clutching her pink shopping bag, she began to pick her way around the edge of the huge game. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of her best friends, Athena. They waved to each other, wiggling their fingers. Athena’s reportscroll was clasped to her chest and her face glowed with pride. Since she was the biggest brain in school, it was a no-brainer to guess that she’d made an A.
Hearing a whoop, Aphrodite looked over to see Apollo high-fiving with Artemis, another of her best friends. Obviously, the brother-sister twins were happy with their grades! Even Dionysus, who was a major goof-off, was proudly showing around his C. He’d done better than she had? No fair! Acting in school dramas and playing in Apollo’s band were the only things he took seriously. Other than that, he pretty much joked around all the time. Well! She didn’t think she deserved a D. And as soon as could, she was going to have a talk with Mr. Cyclops about changing her grade.
Aphrodite breathed a sigh of relief when she finally reached the far side of the game board. She dug into her shopping bag and took out a package wrapped in sparkly paper and tiny corkscrew ribbons. It was the gift she’d chosen to reward Paris.
“Here you go, little hero; I hope you like what I got you.” As she spoke, the magical gift wrap began to unwrap itself. Inside the small gift box was a shiny gold shield about two inches tall. “It’s one of a kind. Real fourteen-karat gold. I found it at the Immortal Marketplace and my godboy friend Hephaestus added the swirly monogrammed P. P for Paris. See?”
She set the shield on the game board next to him. Everything they did to their statues actually happened to the corresponding real mortal heroes living far below on earth. So that meant the life-size, living, breathing Paris had just received a big gold shield like this miniature one from her. And he could hear her voice, too, as if she was whispering in his ear.
“Sorry about making you fall in love with Helen,” Aphrodite went on. “And about the problems it caused in Troy.”
Their class assignment had been to send their heroes on quests. Instead, she’d accidentally helped Paris start a war. One teensy-weensy little mistake. Was that why she’d gotten a—gulp—D? Thinking about it made her remember that she was in a hurry to get out of there.
She maneuvered around the game board again, heading for the side door. Maybe she could slip out before anyone noticed how upset she was. Before anyone could ask her about—
A green hand fell on her arm. “Hey, how’d you do?” asked Medusa, stepping between her and the door to freedom. Aphrodite stopped dead, staring at the snakes that grew from Medusa’s head in place of hair. They flicked their forked tongues in and out as they stared back at her with beady red eyes. Momentarily mesmerized by them, Aphrodite didn’t say a word.
“Earth to Bubbles.” Medusa snapped her fingers to get her attention.
Aphrodite’s eyes flew to Medusa’s face. “Stop calling me that.” She hated the nickname. It was kind of embarrassing that she’d been born from sea foam, and some people never let her forget it.
“Oops. Sorry.” Medusa shrugged, as if saying the nickname had only been an accident. “So did you get your grade?”
“Of course,” Aphrodite replied casually. “How about you?”
“I got a B,” Medusa said with a self-satisfied smirk.
Behind them, two godboys—Apollo and Ares—pushed their way up to the game board. Then they began noisily racing their heroes up and down the Mediterranean Sea in miniature ships. Several other students gathered to watch.
Medusa spoke more loudly to be heard over the commotion. “So what’s your grade?”
Apollo glanced at Aphrodite over one shoulder. “Bet you got an A, like Athena.”
“Yeah, Aphrodite’s better at starting wars than anyone I know,” added Ares. His eyes sparkled as he grinned over at her. Aphrodite couldn’t tell if he’d meant that in admiration, or if he was teasing. As the godboy of war, he actually might think that starting a war was a good thing!
“I didn’t do it on purpose!” she protested. “I just wanted Paris to find love.”
“Yeah,” growled Medusa, “only my hero, King Menelaus, was in love with her first.”
Godsamighty! thought Aphrodite. Get over it, already! She jutted out her chin, blue eyes flashing. “Who’s the goddessgirl of love around here anyway?” she demanded, setting a hand on her hip. “Me, that’s who!” She thumped her chest for emphasis. “So I’m the one who should decide who falls in love!”
Medusa rolled her eyes. “You are such a diva!”
“Huh?” Aphrodite huffed, drawing back in surprise. What was she talking about?
“It’s true!” Medusa insisted. “You’d do just about anything to get attention. Even start a war! But word is that the mortals on earth aren’t exactly happy about that.”
Aphrodite glared at her, something she wouldn’t have dared do if she were a mortal. Medusa could turn mortals to stone with one stare. “I told you that was an accident.”
“I think it’s nice that she wanted to help Paris find love,” Persephone interrupted, coming to stand beside Aphrodite.
“And as for the war—all of us have made mistakes with our heroes,” said Athena, slipping between Aphrodite and Persephone and linking arms with both. “Just look how lost I got my Odysseus on his way home from Troy.”
Persephone, Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite were all best friends, as well as the most popular goddess-girls at MOA. It was nice that her friends stuck up for her and their words gave Aphrodite a warm feeling. Still, what Medusa had said about the earthbound mortals’ disappointment in her was troubling.
Before she could think more on that, though, Artemis spoke up from behind her. “Athena’s right,” she said. “The whole reason we’re at MOA is to learn how to be the best goddesses we can be. Mistakes are part of the process. Besides, I thought the Trojan war made this year’s Hero-ology class way more interesting than in past years.”
“Yeah!” added Ares, glancing up from the game board race. “War’s cool.”
“That comment was so not helpful,” Aphrodite informed him. She’d had an on-and-off crush on Ares all year long. No surprise. After all, he was tall, blond, and muscled—easily the cutest boy in school. But recently things had been even rockier between them than usual. So rocky that she was sure she was over him now. Very sure.
Medusa nudged her with an elbow. “So give it up. What was your grade?”
This girl was as irritating as a Harpy! It seemed to Aphrodite that half the class was listening by now. She didn’t want to fib, but Medusa had forced her into it. Faking a bright smile, she said, “If you must know, I got a—”
Everyone cringed and looked upward. The gym’s domed roof was open to the sky, which was quickly filling with dark, angry clouds. A tremendous storm was blowing in, seemingly out of nowhere. Outside, hail the size of fists began to fall.
“Pull the roof!” Mr. Cyclops yelled. Ares, Apollo, and several other godboys rushed to begin tugging on the long ropes that operated the movable roof cover. Other students ducked under the bleachers to avoid the first raindrops that were falling in through the open roof.
Once the cover was in place, everyone, including Aphrodite, rushed to the windows and doors to peer outside. “Not again!” she heard someone mutter. It sounded like Athena.
Outside, Principal Zeus was stomping his way across the sports field. Since he was nearly seven feet tall with bulging muscles, a bushy red beard, and piercing blue eyes, he was a scary sight even on a normal day. In a bad mood, he was terrifying. And right now he seemed to be in a very, very bad mood, indeed!
His expression was fierce and his meaty hands were balled into fists. Wild storm winds whirled around him, whooshing scrolls out of passing students’ hands, tangling their hair, and whipping at their chitons and togas. Thunderbolts crashed toward the ground, tearing up grass and splitting trees.
“Whoa,” said Persephone. “Someone’s grumpy today.”
Aphrodite glanced at Athena. Aside from being King of the Gods, Ruler of the Heavens, and the principal of MOA, Zeus was also Athena’s dad. Not surprisingly, her friend looked upset and a little embarrassed. It had to be hard for her to see him so angry. Aphrodite reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze. Then she looked around for Mr. Cyclops. Apparently unfazed by the commotion outside, he was sitting alone at the table that held the Hero cake and other refreshments. Recognizing a chance to ask about her grade, and fueled with determination, she headed in his direction.
“Do you have a minute, Mr. Cyclops?” she asked sweetly. He’d been studying his grade book, and when he peered up at her, she jumped back in surprise. His humongous single eye appeared even more humongous than usual. He was wearing new glasses! Since he had only one eye in the middle of his forehead, there was only one lens, and it magnified his giant eyeball to twice its normal size.
He ducked his head as if he felt self-conscious about the new glasses, or rather, glass. “Nice specs . . . er . . . spec,” she said, trying to put him at ease.
“Yes, well, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.” He removed the glasses and laid them on his desk.
Thinking that it wouldn’t hurt to buddy up to him some more before asking about her grade, she added, “And that’s a lovely pair of sandals you’re wearing. Are they new too?”
His eye narrowed. “Is this about your grade?”
“Um . . .” she hedged. How had he guessed?
He held up a hand and shook his big, bald head. “Don’t try to flatter me into giving you a better one. That kind of thing might work on godboys, but I’m immune.”
She frowned at him, but quickly relaxed her expression again, remembering that frowns gave you wrinkles. “But I don’t get it. I turned in all my assignments this year. I had perfect attendance.”
“You turned in your assignments late. And half the time, you got to class late too. But that’s not the reason for your low grade.” He pointed toward the game board. “That is.”
“You’re still mad about what happened with Paris?”
“Mad?” Mr. Cyclops’s single eyebrow rose. “You started a war among mortals on earth, Aphrodite. That’s inexcusable. I’ve asked you numerous times to stop by my office to discuss your class work, yet you avoided me.”
Aphrodite toyed with the GG charm—GG for Goddess Girl—that dangled from her golden necklace. Unfortunately, she knew that what Mr. Cyclops said was true. He had asked her to come by to chat earlier in the semester, but she’d been busy with her social life and hadn’t gotten around to it. After all, what was more fun—shopping and hanging out with friends, or getting scolded by a teacher after school? Duh.
She darted a glance toward the other students. They were all still clustered around the windows and doors, peering out at Zeus. While their attention was on him, maybe she had enough time to make Mr. Cyclops see reason.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” she said, repeating what her friends had said, and speaking softly so none of the other students would overhear. “Besides, war is such a strong word. I prefer to think of what happened in Troy as more of an . . . an unfortunate incident. I mean, you said you wanted us to test our heroes in ways that prove they’re heroic. You said that otherwise they’d just be ordinary mortals. If I hadn’t started the war—I mean the incident—the class wouldn’t have been as challenging for the heroes or for the students. Right?”
Mr. Cyclops sighed. “Challenging your hero is one thing. A war is quite another. You’re lucky Athena came up with the idea for the Trojan horse. If not for her, the war might still be going on. You should try to be more like her. Spend a little less time being a diva and more time on your studies.”
“Diva?” Aphrodite flipped her long, lustrous golden hair over her shoulders, eyes sparkling with annoyance. Medusa had just called her the same thing. Obviously, they didn’t know what they were talking about!
“Just try to remember that a goddess’s actions affect everyone around her, mortal or immortal. Lots of folks on earth and at MOA are not too happy with you right now.”
Another terrible crash drew their eyes to the entrance just in time to see one of Zeus’s thunderbolts soar past. There was a loud crack as it struck a sundial in front of the gymnasium.
“See that?” squeaked Mr. Cyclops. “That’s what I’m talking about!”
“You think it’s my fault Principal Zeus is in a bad mood?” Aphrodite turned her head from the door to look at her teacher, but his chair was empty now.
“I don’t think. I know,” said his shaky, muffled voice. It was coming from under the table! He must have only pretended to be unfazed. The last bolt had landed closer than the others and had finally unhinged him. Aphrodite lifted the edge of the white tablecloth and bent down to look at him. “Greek mortals are annoyed over your meddling,” he went on, still cowering from the thunder. “Principal Zeus is getting flack from them. Which means I’m getting flack from him. We’re all getting flack!”
Aphrodite wanted to ask what flack was. She figured it must be something icky since each mention of the word got Mr. Cyclops more and more worked up. But before she could ask, he went on.
“And when Zeus is in a bad mood, all the teachers are in a bad mood. Which means YOUR GRADE STANDS.”
Aphrodite winced, hoping no one had heard him. “What if I can figure out a way to convince mortals to forgive me for starting the Trojan war—um, incident?” she asked, beginning to feel desperate.
Mr. Cyclops crawled out from under the table and sat in his chair again. Planting both elbows on the tabletop, he gazed at her and tapped his fingertips together as he did when something intrigued him. “A community service project? Interesting idea. What did you have in mind?”
Truth was, she didn’t have anything in mind. She wasn’t even sure what he meant by “community service.” But she did know that mortals liked it when goddesses did things for them. It made them feel special. Her gaze skittered around the room, as she tried to think of something that would put a smile on Mr. Cyclops’s face and a good grade on her reportscroll. Her eyes fell on Persephone and her crush, Hades. They were holding hands. Seeing them together like that reminded her of love, which reminded her that she was the goddessgirl of love (not that she ever really forgot). Why not use her matchmaking talent to help fix her grade? Thinking fast, she said, “I’ll start a Lonely Hearts Club to help lonely mortals find love!”
“Hmm.” Mr. Cyclops’s eye blinked at her. “I don’t know. Your matchmaking with Paris, Helen, and King Menelaus was a disaster. Why would this be any different?”
“Disaster is such a strong word,” said Aphrodite. “I prefer to call it an unfortunate love triangle. Besides, how was I to know Medusa had already made King Menelaus fall in love with Helen too? Really, she’s the one you should be mad at.”
“If you’d been paying attention—”
“Nothing makes people happier than being in love,” Aphrodite said quickly.
Mr. Cyclops studied her for a moment. Then he put on his glasses, and leaned toward her like he’d reached a decision. Aphrodite held her breath, hoping.
“All right. Forge ahead with your community service project,” he told her. “If you give it your all, I’ll raise you to a B. However, if you don’t set things right with mortals by the end of the week, your D stands.”
Her jaw dropped. “You want me to spend my vacation on this? But it’s Hero Week! I was planning to go on a trip with my friends.”
“Your choice,” said Mr. Cyclops in a take-it-or-leave-it tone. “But I’d hate for you to have to repeat this semester of Hero-ology. And something needs to be done to get Zeus out of this funk.” He gestured toward the uneasy students still gathered at the entrance. “Mortals and teachers aren’t the only ones affected by his bad mood. Your classmates will eventually start looking around for a reason for it. And fair or not, you may get the blame.”
Aphrodite heaved a huge sigh. Doing “community service” was not the way she’d planned to spend the holiday. But she didn’t have much choice if she hoped to improve her grade, patch things up with mortals, and keep immortals from blaming her for Zeus’s grumpiness. “Okay, I’ll do it. And don’t worry. The Paris-Helen thing was a fluke. I’m the goddessgirl of love, and nobody is better at matchmaking than I am. You’ll see.”
“Let’s hope your enthusiasm translates into results,” said Mr. Cyclops, in a voice that told her he wasn’t truly convinced.
But she’d show him. As she left the gym and headed outside, her optimism was high. If she had to be stuck here during the break, at least she’d be doing what she loved best—matchmaking. Still, Hero Week was only five days long. She would need to do some fast advertising of her Lonely Hearts Club to get things rolling. Fortunately, she knew exactly who could help her with that.
Pheme, the goddessgirl of gossip.
© 2011 Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams