"N - Netea?" Mother gasps, her lips luckily parted as it seems she's forgotten how to breathe.
"I had to see you, Mother," I say quickly, "I'm sorry, I know I'm not supposed to, but I just -,"
"Darling!" She wraps her arms around me and nearly chokes me. My arms link around her notched back and tears well in my eyes from the joy and the heat. "You're here," she whimpers, "my little girl is here in my arms again."
She tenses and pulls away, looking at me seriously. "But it's your birthday. That means today is -,"
"My graduation, I know. It's tonight and I was told to wait around, but knowing you can't go, and that you're here, I - I just couldn't leave without seeing you,"
"And here I was thinking you'd forgotten this world," she beams, "my little girl rising higher than us all, and you still came back down,"
"Of course I did, Mother," I say, half indignant. "They can tell me off all they want when I get back, but I don't care." She cuddles me again, her hands twirling in my long, styled hair, leaving orange handprints across my back and for the first time in a while, I don't feel lost.
Mother still has to tend to the shop while I visit, but she assures me it's a slow day and that I'm welcome. She cleans up and makes tea, and we sit by the upstairs window on a cushioned bench so that she can still glance out to see customers if they should come in. The view is as I remember, a vista skimming the roofs up to the Twins and the acropolis, a place I'd gaze at late at night when candles were lit and the village was like a sea of stars, the acropolis gleaming like some heavenly place. We sit and talk for hours, drinking more tea and laughing and telling stories, everything that I wished I could have shared with her the moments after it all happened, instead of years later. I tell her about the attendant that Marissa used to run off with at night, and just Marissa in general - a best friend that Mother never met. Then about Calliope, even Illiana, and Mother takes it all in with both joy and sorrow that I see right through.