Cecil was not a year rounder. Of all the perils he’d faced as a demi-god, from invading Romans to monster attacks, this was what he hated the most. He’d rather face an army of attacking carnivorous centaurs, Hades, he’d rather face the entire Ares cabin bent on revenge after he and his half-sibling cabin mates had pulled off a particularly devastating prank (that time they’d replaced all the swords with squeaky hammers was a classic) rather than to go back to his family at the end of the summer.
It hadn’t always been like this. He remembered when it had been him and his mother. That had always been great. The two of them had been thick as thieves (hah!). Then came the job. She loved Cecil; of that he had no doubt, but she also loved her job. The trouble was, she could never tell anyone what it was. That wasn’t the worst of it for him, though. The worst was that this meant that he had to live with other relatives when he came back from camp, and those other relatives were her cousins.
Ugh! The Markowitz cousins. They didn’t get Cecil. They didn’t like Cecil. Hades, they barely tolerated Cecil. He knew that most demigods had problems with their mortal families, but this! No, he knew how many of his friends had suffered so much worse. On the other hand, he was probably the only one in his cabin who currently had family problems. (“Don’t think about Luke!” he told himself for the thousandth time.) Children of Hermes usually had mad skills when it came to charming people, especially family.
Not the Markowitz family. They were charm-proof. It seemed like they never got out of the shtetl [old world village]. They didn’t like anybody who was different, and Cecil was as different as could be. He didn’t do well in school so they called him narr [stupid]. The first time he’d come back from camp, Uncle Morris caught him trying to pocket a candy bar from the old man’s deli (just seeing how well those lessons Travis had been giving him all summer had taken, maybe he needed to work on his technique), so they referred to him as the gonif [thief] forever after, never mind that he’d never stolen from Morris again (or at least they’d never caught him again).
They flung the Yiddish around, and he knew that they didn’t think he understood a word of it. That was the biggest shpass [joke] of all. He didn’t have the math skills that the rest of the Markowitz family did, but languages came to him so easily. Certainly, that was a Hermes thing, but he also got that from his mother. In fact her language fluency was probably what got the attention of Hermes in the first place. Rachel Markowitz had been working as a translator at the UN when a very handsome courier with salt and pepper hair had shown up. Her family was not so pleased when, nine months later, she’d brought a baby and no chupah [wedding canopy] home, but the last straw was when she’d quit that job and then taken off, leaving Cecil to the tender mercies of the Markowitz clan. They’d kvetched [bitched] no end, but took him in (mishpochah [family] was mishpochah), grateful for the money she sent home, but, since she never told them what it was she was doing, the family assumed that it was at best shady, and at worst illegal.
Cecil knew what his mother’s job was. He also knew why she couldn’t tell anyone, even family what it was. Basically, she was a spy. She’d never told him, but the first time she came back (a hurried weekend visit), he’d done a quick hack on her phone. He knew. She knew he knew. The only words they exchanged on the subject were a whispered “Some secrets have to be kept” into his ear (in Etruscan) the night before she had to fly back to her mission. He’d drummed a quick “Don’t worry, mom” in Morse code on her back as they hugged at the airport, and the look they traded told both of them it was okay.
Cecil knew the value of keeping secrets. Aside from his own parentage, the day that Aunt Rose had grabbed him by the arm and said, “Herst, mumzer! Farshteystu nur ayn vort vun de mameloshen?” [Listen, bastard! Do you understand a single word of Yiddish?] He’d come back with “Wote.” She’d strode off smugly, thinking he’d said “What?” not “All of them” in Swahili.
This resulted in his hearing a lot of things that would have been kept from him otherwise. Mostly he learned that his family had no idea what his mother did, so they assumed that it was something awful. Of course it didn’t stop them from taking the money she sent them, but they referred to it as gelt vun di nafki vor ir narrishe mumzerishe kind [money from the slut for her stupid bastard child]. About Cecil himself, he’d hear “Zayn tate var, vu den, a shaygetz, un mistome a shikker.” [His father was, what else, a gentile and probably a drunk.] Yeah, life with his family sucked.
He didn’t tell his mother about this. Cecil was good at keeping secrets. He also didn’t tell his mother a few other things. Like how many little mechanical problems would occur in the Markowitz house when their insults got to be too much. Although he really didn’t mind it when they referred to him as mumzer or narr or akshen [clumsy], whenever he heard his mother referred to as nafki [slut], the refrigerator would break down, or the car would stop working, or the TV would only pick up the Christian Television Network, not that this had anything to do with the particular skills of a son of Hermes.