Chapter 25:

A Pair of Paintings and a Picnic in the Sky

I Became the Plus-One to a Party of the Gods

Turns out that winning the ballroom competition had major perks. Not only were Rina and Caisey hot shots who earned a matching pair of golden tap shoes, they earned the temporary title of Lady and Sir of the Banquet Hall.

“Me, a 'Sir,’” Caisey said, eyes glistening in delight, “I can't believe it.”

“Well, you better believe it, Case. The next few days are gonna be hectic,” Rina warned, clinging to Caisey's arm. She pressed herself into him, trying hard to see his expression when she was sure she'd made him blush.

“Stop, you creep,” Caisey playfully complained, looking away so she nearly had to perform acrobatics to catch a glimpse at his face. He heard rather than saw her pout and couldn't help but return his attention to her so he could see it.

To his surprise, Rina was sticking her tongue out when he turned to look. “I knew you couldn't resist me. I win.”

“Haha!” Caisey laughed because he couldn't even argue.

However, argue he did when he heard what other perks the winners of the crazy ballroom competition received.

Aside from the fancy golden shoes and the cool title to their names, Caisey and Rina were now the central focus of the next and final event in the Gods' Realm's season of celebration. That is, the Beggar's Dinner Party hosted by the King of the Gods, Zeus.

Despite the name, the dinner party was widely respected and anticipated. Every god during the season of celebration desired the honor of being the 'beggar,' because, having so much already, the beggar's role allowed them to 'beg' for much more extravagant, unattainable, or valuable things.

Even to the immortals, it was considered the chance of a lifetime. They were granted wishes and, often, deep desires held from some of their mortal days.

To Caisey’s surprise—and horror—Zeus was even benevolent enough to grant what he called tokens. As Caisey understood it, tokens were the gods' access passes, a way to essentially pay their passage between the realms if—one—they were just visiting the realm to mess around and would not be tethered a human spirit, or—two—the human they meant to visit had a spirit too weak to tether their own to.

Rina confirmed this. If not for Caisey’s strong spirit, she would have needed to spend a ton of her tokens considering how long she'd planned to stay.

This alone would have given Caisey at least a slice of peace of mind with which he could have more easily let Don and Lisa go. But then, he found out there was more he could do with the token.

“Winners in the past have also elected to present these to mortals as a way for the mortals themselves to return to this realm. There are plenty of wishes like these that you may have granted, so please prepare your choice before the dinner party.” The individual presenting the awards to Caisey and Rina explained.

And Caisey's peace of mind was nowhere to be found.

With cracking bones and awkward neck movements, Caisey turned his head toward Rina like he was possessed. She had this smile on his face that told him she already knew what his problem was.

She chuckled some nervous laughter from her throat, held her palms up protectively, and said, “Now, just a moment... before you say anything... I forgot. I-I just remembered when he was telling us. Honest!”

Not answering, Caisey walked toward her, closing the little gap of distance between them which forced Rina to walk backwards. Finally, he said, “So, I defied death to nab the Fates' crystal ball when I could have simply asked for a token if we won this ballroom contest?”

“Blame Lord Baldr for distracting us with his little ballroom challenge!” Rina said, pointing fingers.

Caisey countered, “You gave me that crusty old map before we even knew about Lord Baldr!”

“Oh. You're right. I forgot...” Rina said.

And then she, for a historical first time, turned on her heel and ran.

The next day, Caisey and Rina spent a lazy and uneventful morning together at the palace.

Well, 'uneventful' was never the word to describe a second in Rina's whole lifetime. Only minutes after breakfast, when Caisey was feeling so tired he debated heading back to sleep, Rina called a team of cherubs in to bring paint for an impromptu paint competition between her and Caisey.

“More competitions?!” Caisey cried, wondering how the gods had survived all these millennia without wringing each other's throats.

Rina just looked pleased with herself and assigned a prompt, "We're painting our favorite memories of each other. Ready?"

“No.” Caisey answered.

“Now, go!” Rina cried, throwing herself—literally throwing herself—into the paint.

“Ah! Rina!” Caisey cried before laughing hysterically at the strangeness of the whole situation. He literally could never expect what came next with Rina, and that was undeniably part of the fun.

Eventually, paint time was over, and the pair hid their paintings from each other while they waited for the paint to dry. Then, the time for judging arrived. Sir Mimir, who was apparently Rina’s favorite god for unknown reasons, was called all the way over from his palace for this, so it was expected that he'd be a little prickly.

“Let us get this done with,” he said the moment he strode through the palace doors. Rina squealed and speed-clapped in delight. Caisey was fighting himself not to apologize and just followed them silently back to the main room of the palace.

“Unveil your paintings on the count of three.” Sir Mimir ordered, and after three seconds, both Caisey and Rina snatched the covers off their paintings in a most extravagant way. For a time, they waited for Sir Mimir to say something, but he stared wordlessly at the paintings until Rina asked what he thought of them.

“Unless Caisey's is super ugly. That's it, right? You're lost for words?”

“Hey!” Caisey shouted and smiled because Rina was busy cackling.

Sir Mimir smiled for what Caisey thought was the first time since meeting the old god, and said, “Come see for yourself.”

Caisey and Rina raced around the giant canvasses they had painted on and came to a hard halt once standing before them. Silence filled the air, but sparks of emotion crackled between them as they stared wide-eyed at the other's paintings.

'We're painting our favorite memories of each other. Ready?' Rina had said.

Neither expected to see such striking versions of their own figures staring back at them from the first moment they had met. It was that hot afternoon at the theater. Caisey had just gotten stood up and had met the most amazing girl instead. He painted her in her blue-and-white top and pretty white jeans. His painting focused on her eyes, though; the way they sucked him in as she peered up at him under the strands of her beautiful black hair from her short stature.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, Rina had just descended from the world of the gods to finally meet the guy who had lived in her heart for over a thousand years. She had painted Caisey with his shaggy brown hair looking down at her, an expression so helplessly lovestruck and gentle on his face that Caisey had never known was there.

They both stood so amazed at what they saw that no words were said between them for a long, long time. They simply absorbed the paintings with their eyes, comforted by the startling fact that they had chosen the same memory.

It was a time before either noticed that Sir Mimir had quietly shown himself out.

Much later in the afternoon when the sun was just about to set, Caisey suddenly felt inspired by their earlier painting session. With those feelings left lingering in his heart, he invited Rina out on a real first date.

“Ooh la la~,” Rina sang, never taking anything seriously.

Chuckling and shaking his head, Caisey said, “Come on, dork,” and dragged her outside.

The moment they spread their wings and took to the sky together, Caisey knew he was different. Everything was different. This was their first time leisurely flying together, no swords and arrows or whipping blue tornados, and it felt like second nature. Caisey, once apprehensive, was feeling like he belonged here. Right here, in this sky.

Like birds, they circled one another in a sort of dance, shimmering white wings around glimmering golden ones. They flew so high and far that they reached areas of the Gods’ Realm that Caisey hadn’t yet explored. He knew someday that he’d get there. He wanted to be everywhere.

But right now, this moment was Rina’s.

Finally, the two reached the point in the sky where Caisey had long imagined he could be, not only in spirit but physically. “Wait here,” he told Rina before bulleting back down towards the land and climbing back up again, holding a billowing fabric in his hands.

Snapping the fabric outward to straighten it out, Caisey presented the same beautiful golden picnic blanket that Rina had invited him on in his dreams. It was the same beautiful picnic blanket that had been the witness to their first kiss the night of the festival’s first day.

It was this picnic blanket that held together lifetimes of their memories.

“Obviously, it’s only fitting to have our first real date right here, picnicking in the sky.” Caisey said to Rina. He brandished a hurriedly packed basket of fruit from seemingly nowhere and set it at the center of the blanket. “Care to join me?” Caisey asked as he stepped gingerly onto the blanket, unconsciously afraid that it might not hold his weight.

Lost for words, Rina took his outstretched hand and met Caisey on the golden blanket. They sat together, Caisey offering Rina grape after grape. All the while, she chewed in silence, fed Caisey in return—in silence—and had an overall look of having been deeply emotionally moved.

She was quiet for a long time before saying, almost as quiet as a hum, “This was where I waited for you every night for seven months. For this Caisey that could reach me in dreams nightly without fail.” Rina’s lower lip started trembling, and Caisey smiled softly, waiting. “But you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting. On this blanket, with this basket of boring fruit.

“Your spirit has reached me for hundreds of years, unstable dreams pulling me to you and then losing me. Missing me for days and sometimes weeks or months. And I was always here. Right here, waiting. Waiting for this, Caisey. A real date in the sky… This is a surreal gift for me.”

Rina dabbed at her eyes, having spilled her guts to Caisey—and he felt so at ease, so thankful. Listening to her offer her vulnerability that way was like a cool salve to him.

He was thinking, Ah, yeah. I know. I’ve been waiting for you, too.

Caisey picked up a pineapple slice and fed it to Rina while saying, “I was lonely, too. My whole life, and I never knew why until now, I guess.” He chuckled but it wasn’t real laughter. Rina’s swimming blue eyes watched him with compassion. However, she still bit a strawberry and chucked the remains over the side of the blanket. Caisey widened his eyes, real laughter escaping him now, and chided her before continuing.

“It’s not like I had no one. My parents and two sisters were always there with me, but we never felt close. Like we were a family for show, When Lisa took my life by the horns and forced me into a friendship during a partner project in fifth grade, it made me curious for the first time about relationships.

“It made me dream of someone who was just right for me.”

The setting sun cast a beautiful silhouette around Rina’s body, and she glowed for all she was worth right then. Caisey was happy. So happy. He knew he’d probably never need to dream again.