“Do you know what kind of goddess she is? Is she gonna hurt us or be violent?” Marcy asked.
“She helped Audra and Thalia,” Lydia said. “But I can’t make any guarantees on how she’ll react.”
“She might kill us,” Marcy said.
Lydia sighed. “She probably won’t.”
“But she might,” Marcy persisted, but strangely, she didn’t sound that upset about the prospect.
“How are you holding up, Gemma?” Harper turned around fully so she could really get a look at her.
“Okay. But those aspirin I took are doing nothing for my headache,” she admitted.
“Because it’s not real pain. It’s supernatural,” Lydia explained. “Pills won’t do anything for it.”
“Then hopefully this won’t take too long,” Gemma said.
“And … here we are,” Marcy said, and Gemma looked out at the window.
Marcy had pulled up in front of a sage green building that would’ve looked like a warehouse if it weren’t for all the plants. A large faded sign across the front read Floral Essence, written in a lovely scroll. Skylights on the pitched roof gave it more of a greenhouse feel, and nearly every inch of surrounding land was covered in flowers or bushes.
“This is a flower shop,” Harper said as she gazed up at it.
“Yeah. That’s how Audra found her.” Lydia pointed to it. “At this flower shop.”
Harper turned back to Lydia, and so far, nobody had made any move to get out of the car. “But she doesn’t live here.”
“She might.” Marcy leaned forward, trying to get a better look at it. “It looks like a big place. There could be an apartment in the back.”
“So, according to Audra, Diana worked at this place fifty years ago. Fifty.” Harper was sounding increasingly irritated. “She can’t possibly still work here, not if she’s trying to be incognito and not set off alarms as some weird, ageless lady living in a store.”
“She’s a god,” Lydia reminded her patiently. “She can change her appearance. If she wants to age, she can. If she wants to be a tall, blond, twenty-year-old woman or a short, elderly, black man or a goat, she can be.”
“She can be a goat?” Marcy was intrigued.
“Yeah. Didn’t you ever read mythology?” Lydia asked. “Gods were always turning into animals. Zeus was pretending to be a bull or something when he impregnated Hercules’ mom.”
“Why did he pretend to be a bull?” Marcy asked. “How does being a bull make it easier for him to get laid instead of being a friggin’ god?”
Harper turned away from them and stared back out at the flower shop. “So you’re sure this is the place?”
“Yeah,” Lydia said decisively. “If Diana is still alive, then this is where we’ll find her.”
“Harper. Look at that bush,” Gemma said, and got out of the car to inspect it.
It was a huge bush growing up alongside the building and nearly as tall. Each of the blossoms were bright, vibrant purple, and they had to be twice the size of Gemma’s fist. As soon as she stepped out of the car, she’d been able to smell it—the strong fragrance overpowering the other plants and the city around them.
“This is just like the one behind Bernie’s house,” Gemma said when she heard Harper come up behind her. “Thalia planted it in the yard.”
“Do you think she got it from here?” Marcy asked, as she and Lydia joined them.
“She must’ve,” Harper said. “I’ve never seen roses like this anywhere else.”
“Look at this one.” Lydia had moved a few feet away and pointed to a fern with large pink flowers in the shape of a corkscrew. Then she looked around, gesturing to the cornucopia of vivid, exotic plant life. “The flowers and plants here all seem really beautiful and unique. She might be the goddess of nature.”
“I thought Diana was the goddess of hunting,” Harper said.
“The Roman goddess. But Demeter was the goddess of nature.” Gemma couldn’t breathe for a moment. “You don’t think…”
Lydia shrugged. “Audra only ever referred to her as Diana.”
“It could be her, though,” Gemma insisted.
They were all standing outside, and a mixture of terror and hope left Gemma frozen in place. Marcy had apparently grown impatient, because she went inside, and the door chimed loudly as she entered.
“Marcy,” Harper hissed, and hurried after her. “Wait for us.”
Inside, the store somehow felt even more vast than it had on the outside. It was like stepping into a jungle. Vines and flowers hung from the ceiling, cucumber and zucchini were growing over crates into the aisles. It had been warm outside, but the heat and humidity were so strong indoors that Marcy’s glasses fogged up, and she wiped them on her shirt.
“I’ll be right out!” A woman shouted from the far end of the store. “Look around while you wait.”
Gemma and Harper exchanged a look, and Gemma shrugged. The four of them started wandering toward the other end of the store, where the woman had shouted from, but it was impossible not to get sidetracked by the plants.
Gemma stepped away from the main aisle and investigated a wall of vines, strange tangles that completely covered an old, wired fence. The flowers were small, like violets, and a deep, rich blue. But it was the scent that called her in. It was intoxicating, and for a second, her head even stopped hurting.
“Hello there,” the woman said again, sounding closer this time. Gemma heard the jangle of her jewelry as she walked over to the other girls. “What can I help you all with today?”
“Are you Diana?” Lydia asked, and Gemma tried to peer in through the vines to get a peek at her, but all she could see was drapey beige fabric.
“Yes, I am,” the woman said cheerily.
Gemma finally came out from behind the vines where she saw a woman in her late fifties standing with Harper, Lydia, and Marcy. She looked exactly the way Gemma imagined an art history teacher or the leader of a co-op whole-foods store would look.
She wore a long dress with billowy sleeves and some kind of Indian pattern that went down to her feet. Beaded necklaces and bracelets adorned her, though none of them appeared to be that fancy or expensive. Her blond hair was a bit frizzy and pulled away from her face. When she saw Gemma, she adjusted her small, tortoiseshell glasses, then she exhaled deeply.