"It's been so long," says Mother as she pours another cup for me, "I was so worried that I might not recognise you,"
"You didn't though,"
"Not the way you look, Netea. I always knew you were going to be so much more beautiful than me. I mean in you, like you'd stop being my daughter and just become another Muse,"
"Akantha's given it a go, don't worry." Mother knows Akantha, after all, it was her that had made a home visit right after my name had been read out. It was her friendliness and reassurance that convinced Mother to let me go in the first place.
"I'm sure she did, and I'm sure she's equally annoyed that you didn't listen," she laughs, drawing my hand to hers across the bench. "Oh, Netea. I'm so happy to see you, but you know you have to go back,"
"I will, don't worry -,"
"Are you? I still know you, it seems, so I know that you have a tendency to run away at the last minute,"
"If my graduation wasn't on the solstice, I might," I explain. "But there's so much riding on this, the whole village is meant to crowd into the acropolis, and my graduation's just part of the schedule. If I mess it up, I ruin the solstice. That's not the name I want for myself, or for you,"
Mother chortles, scraping her hair behind her ear. "You think I'd care if I was known as the mother of Netea, the girl who ruined the solstice? I'd be simply proud that they know your name. That's always what I wanted for you, to be more than just a seamstress -,"
"You're not just a seamstress, Mother. You're the best person I know. I may have wanted to be a Muse, but I'll always wish to be like you."
Mother finishes her tea and rises, groping under her pillow on the single, large bed in the room, until she pulls out her treasure chest. She comes back and puts it on her lap, revealing gleaming gold more precious than anything in the marketplace. She presents a ring to me, a band silver that's become a little dull, wrapped around one black gemstone that I can see my distorted reflection in.
"I've never shown this to you because I was always afraid you'd lose it, but it's a ring your father gave to me." No wonder it was locked away, I think. My father was never a part of me, but he was of Mother, and when he ran off, I think he ripped a chunk out of her heart that she's kept trying to fill in for all these years. "It might seem odd, but I always wanted you to have it. Sometimes it reminds me of him and what he did, but other times it reminds me of hope. When your father gave it to me, it came with promises of a wonderful life and a new beginning,"
I scoff. "He didn't exactly come through on that,"
"No, maybe not," Mother says softly, "but I think before everything happened, those hopes and prayers were real. So I want you to have it."
With an arm around my mother, I slip the ring onto my middle finger where it fits best and hold it up to the light. At that moment, I realise it's almost sunset - time to go - but as I feel the ring's cold metal, it's as if Mother's strength is flowing into me, and it's the greatest gift she could ever give me.