“Excuse us,” I told Melissa and dragged Aphrodite down the hall. “Don’t ever talk to her like that again!”
“Like what?” Aphrodite asked, all innocence.
“Like she’s beneath us. Like anyone is beneath us. She’s not my human; she’s a person—”
“Yes,” Aphrodite agreed. “Of course she’s a person. She’s human. She is beneath us.”
I gaped at her cavalier attitude and looked to Hades for help. He hadn’t said a word since we’d walked into the house. I followed his gaze to Melissa’s mother, crossing back and forth behind the half wall that separated the living room from the kitchen.
“Would anyone like cookies?” she called, putting a plate down on the bar. “They’re just ready . . . ” Her voice trailed off when she felt the power of Hades’ stare.
“Minthe?” he breathed.
She met his eyes, and her face paled.
Melissa and I glanced at each other in confusion. What was this? “Treat her like you’d treat me,” I told Aphrodite quickly. “And listen to what she says. She’s your best bet at fitting in here. You can’t just walk around like you’re better than everyone—”
“But I am.”
I rolled my eyes. I didn’t have time for this. “Don’t act like it,” I snapped, moving away from Aphrodite and closer to Melissa.
“Hades, I wanted to tell you—” Mrs. Minthe began.
“But I thought it best she not further invoke Hera’s anger,” my mother interrupted in clipped tones.
“I thought you were dead.” Hades’ voice was careful, as if he was trying very hard to bury whatever emotions were at war within him.
“What’s going on?” Melissa asked.
“She’s the Minthe.” I managed to work the words out of my dry throat. “Isn’t she?”
Melissa knew the myth. We’d both heard it in Latin class, and then later, after my winter in the Underworld, we’d analyzed every facet of that myth to figure out what kind of girls Hades liked. Melissa met my eyes, looking pale and shocked.
“Hades and I used to see each other before I was a priestess of Demeter,” Mrs. Minthe explained.
“Hera got jealous and turned her into the mint plant,” Hades added.
“Why would Hera be jealous?” Melissa interjected. She blinked, seeming surprised at the sound of her own voice, and I knew that question had been the least important one on her mind. She’d just blurted it out without thinking.
Hades hesitated, but my mother had no problem filling in the gap. “Hades and Hera were a couple long before she married Zeus. Didn’t he tell you, Persephone?”
I didn’t bother to answer her smug question. No, he hadn’t told me, but I’d already guessed. He’d always been unusually defensive on Hera’s behalf. He’d been open with me about every other relationship he’d ever had. Obviously, that one was a sore subject, and I saw no reason to get upset about a relationship that had ended when dirt was new.
Aphrodite gave my mother a strange look and stepped closer to Hades in a show of solidarity.
“So you’re nymphs,” Aphrodite exclaimed, indicating Melissa and her mother with a wave of her hand. At Melissa’s questioning look, she clarified, “It’s easier to turn a nymph into a plant. Humans are easier to turn into animals. It’s not impossible, mind you . . . ”
“I’m a nymph?” Melissa asked her mom.
“Half,” Mrs. Minthe replied. “Honey, the difference between a human and a nymph is so inconsequential it’s hardly worth mentioning. We work well with nature. Unlike the human myths, turning into trees or rivers isn’t typical of our race, unless cursed.”
Melissa’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. “Oh, so you got turned into a plant? Why?”
“It made sure even her soul was out of my reach.” Hades’ voice was bitter.
“Demeter rescued me. In return, I swore to be her priestess for all time.”
I wondered how many of my mom’s priestesses were refugees from other gods. I was about to ask when Hades interrupted. “Well, it’s good to see you, Minthe. I’m happy that you’re still alive.” He turned to my mother. “I am grateful to you for that.”
I fiddled with my necklace and studied Mrs. Minthe out of the corner of my eye. Her every feature should have been familiar to me, but too many conflicting images were vying for my attention. I saw the woman who babysat me since before I could walk. She’d baked every one of my birthday cakes. She was Melissa’s mom, and that image didn’t resonate with the youthful nymph I’d imagined from hearing the stories.
Words were being exchanged between Hades and Minthe, but I couldn’t hear them. The words didn’t matter anyway. Their eyes spoke louder, telling stories of regret and angst. I shouldn’t be in here right now. Melissa gripped my hand, and I knew she understood.
“I’ll . . . uh, I’ll be back. Tomorrow. Can you . . . ” I kept losing my train of thought, the right words slipping past me like water flowing through my fingers. “Aphrodite . . . ”
“I will be fine.” Aphrodite beamed. “You should have told me she was a nymph,” she added, as if that made all the difference.
In mythology, things went a bit different, and as always, there are quite a few versions. She was a nymph who slept with Hades. She was a nymph who unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Hades. She was an old flame of Hades that Demeter overheard venting about losing Hades to that “ugly, dark-eyed Persephone” and wondering what he could possibly see in her.
Whatever the inciting incident, the result is the same story to story. She was turned into a mint plant, stomped on, and ground into dust by either a jealous Persephone, or an angry Demeter.
Why did I change it? Well, for starters, I didn’t want Hades to cheat on Persephone while I was still establishing whether or not they were a couple. I didn’t want to leave the Minthe myth unused though, because I didn’t want readers to stress that she was going to pop up later to cause obligatory love triangle drama. So I stuck with the old flame version, only instead of Demeter or Persephone having anything to do with cursing her, I had Hera do it. That worked on a lot of levels. For starters, it’s a very Hera thing to do. I can’t count the number of myths that feature Hera transforming some poor unfortunate woman into a plant, animal, or inanimate object because of Zeus’ dalliances. And since in my universe, she, Zeus, and Hades were the original love triangle, it made sense to use Minthe to demonstrate that Hades’ affections were not a one way street. Including Demeter in the myth was a callback to the original myth, because you can bet Demeter destroyed that mint plant when restoring Minthe to human form.