Chapter One Hundred One

Movie girls return, yay! Got in late this afternoon, it’s cocktails by the time I get them back from the airport. Undress, refresh, gather by the pool for drinks.
Cassandra does an interesting bit, kisses each of our returnees, a peck on the lips, Dasha, Daria, Eloise, Chloe then plops into Amaya’s lap.
“Where’s mine weirdo?”
Cassie kisses her.
“Better,” Amaya hugs her close, kisses her neck and shoulders, Cassie smiles.
“Does that count as a decision?”
Janah, “Why not? Five girls, let’s be generous and credit her five decision points.”
Nikko, “Maybe not amazing, but interesting, good for Cassandra.”
“She see us hugging and kissing, and she learns by observation, likely just following suit.”
Nikko, “Still, she initiated, like when she flies Oceane’s pencils.”
Janah, “True. I’m sticking with my view that there is a developing sense of agency, not just a doll to be placed in this spot or that.”
“You’ve stumbled on what the Shadow was doing.”
Janah, “Eek! Duh, of course. He thought of her as a doll, or was training her to behave like one. A doll has no sense of itself, it adopts the position it’s placed in, doesn’t think, it is thought for, spoken for, entirely dependent on the owner.”
Nikko, “It never occurred, makes perfect sense. A Shadow wants total control, hard to do in a fully formed adult. They can only do it using enormous energy and it only lasts a short while. But if he trains one from infancy….”
“Well, well, well.”
I’ll explain to the others when Cassie is elsewhere, she isn’t capable of grasping the why of what he did.
Dinner is pizza, homemade this time, I’ve played around with pizza dough and I make them square, a little novelty.
Oceane lines up two pieces on her plate, she likes the squares from the center, no crust. And they have to be geometrically placed, one piece top left, the other bottom right, barely touching at the two corners. Then she cuts the squares into nine squares each, like a tic-tac-toe frame. She eats the diagonals first, lower to upper. The rest appear to be random selections.
Amaya, “Good gravy. If you were not so beautiful Daphne should have you committed.”
Sloane, “She’d have to commit me too, I go with Oceane.”
Amaya, “Not the worst idea.”
Sloane laughs, “Then you give up sneaking into Ocean’s room at night.”
“And I better not find you there when I do tyranny.”
“Oceane likes me this way. You’re safe to creep around though, we don’t sleep together, not to sleep anyway.”
“I do not creep, or sneak. Chloe is frequently requested by the double Communists, or Janah, I am left to fend for myself. May as well fend with the other perfect creature in our midst. We are les deux perfections.”
Oceane, “Je suis parfait, comme Amaya.”
Amaya, “See?”
Sloane rolls her eyes, “Yeah, yeah.”
Dasha, “Chloe makes peerfect acting een movie. Director calls her alien person.”
Amaya, “He did not call her an alien, he said otherworldly. I make her so because she must know every line and deliver it with precision, right down to the arch of her brow. Chloe is the living expression of my genius.”
“We know Chloe delivered, how’d the rest of it go?”
Chloe, “Great, it was just a few scenes and another take of some priors.”
Nikko, “I thought you didn’t do second takes.”
Chloe, “So far I haven’t, it was other stuff, but I was in some of the scenes. Sometimes he wants to change the furniture, or move it from one side of the set to the other. We filmed most of it in an actual mental hospital, the patients were interesting.”
Eloise, “They thought the drone was an alien invasion.”
“They used actual patients?”
“For extras, just walking zombies in the background.”
Su, “Zombies?”
Amaya, “On drugs, just shuffle around aimlessly or sit and stare. Some are conversant, if they do not act out or disrupt, they get reduced dosages.”
Zi, “Chloe plays an analyst sent to the hospital to act mentally ill in order to get information from another patient, right?”
Amaya, “Yes, government secrets. She is supposed to make him think they are lies implanted by the institution. But what he knows is the truth about bad actors in the NSA. In the end, she exposes the bad guys and gets the man released.”
Zi, “How did you get Chloe to act insane?”
“I told her to think about Oceane with a dash of Dasha.”
We laugh, Nikko says, “That would do it.”
Dasha, “Vesnushki says I am her amusement.”
“What does that mean?”
Chloe giggles, “I said she is my muse.”
Amaya, “Amusement will do just peachy. Daria and Dasha were splendid throughout. Stayed out of the way but right on top of things. Sometimes the patients would get too close, Daria’s stare was enough to get them moving along.
Dasha was naturally more verbal, ‘Meesus Patterson, you will not wander around in scene, directing person ees no anyway want you in moofie right now. Sit and be still.’ And they would. The staff thought she was some sort of crazy person whisperer.”
“Mentally ill.”
“What I said, and the director was so impressed by Dasha’s technique, she got a part. She plays one of the staff, one the patients trust for her complete lack of duplicity. She calls the fat ones fat, the lazy ones lazy, she came up with zombie ward and when someone complained about being locked up she told the whole group, ‘Uf course, you are crazy peersons, we cannot haf you walking around street talking to voice in head, do not make ridiculous.’ That got them laughing and they decided to call themselves the Crazy Peersons, which amazed the staff after they got over being shocked.”
Danika, “What fun. When’s it coming out?”
“Shooting for summer release. I predict the next Gone Girl…box office, plot’s not similar.”
We wind down, Cassie yawning sets off the rest of us. Sloane and I clean up, dishwasher washing, she goes to her room.
I pop into Janah’s head, she’s in our bedroom, Chloe’s in with her. I see lesbian activity, hmmm, means Amaya’s alone.
“Busy?”
“No, Chloe was seduced by Janah, I figured you would be seducing me shortly.”
I appear at her door, “Your personal vibratory device is here. Where would you like me to start?”
She rolls to her tummy, scoots knees under her and turns to me, eyes sparkle, “Get busy.”
Lose my t-shirt, assume the position and take my sweet time with her sweet tush.
After a lusty warm-up, I strap-up for deep tush, Amaya is all into analstim. She’s been done by everyone, must have some kind of world record by now. Maybe not, some poor schmuck in prison likely holds the title. Perhaps the record for taking toys in the tush, would that be its own, or a subcategory?
Amaya, “God I am an analslut. Keep after it, that’s it, slooowww…oooohhhh,” earn a nice shudder for my trouble.
She’s had enough, de-strap, toy cleanse and back to bed.
“Ready for a full frontal attack?”
“Lay down, I want you first.”
Ahhh, Amaya’s gorgeous face in between my gorgeous legs, an abundance of gorgeosity, if Oceane was here we’d outshine the Northern lights.
Magical thinking, Oceane appears bedside and straddles my face…I engage my best tongue. While Amaya fuses my neurons, I blow a few of Oceane’s fuses, we short out together.
“That was over the top of the top, sheesh, good thing I’m a thoroughly trained monk, that much desirability has to be handled by an expert.”
Amaya, “Shut up, both of you do me, doubly devoured by the two luckiest women on the planet.”
She has a point.
Oceane and I break to make out, she tastes divine, hint of Amaya mixed in.
Amaya, “Kiss her later, I am the primary mission.”
We obey, take our revenge by going to tai chi tongue, so slow as to barely move. It lifts to new highs, she trembles and shakes, cries for more, we finish her off with joint clit circling. She’s babbling as she lifts off, our lips still against her softness, booster rockets sending her to deep space.
Amaya, “That was…I am unable to arrange a coherent thought at the moment, I shall send a text later.”
“I think we got the idea.”
We entangle, then go semi-conscious, then un. Next thing I know, there’s sunshine.
Dasha is next to the bed, “You will get up now Dahfoney, I haf coffee and tea, we are to make breakfast for all lazebian girls.”
“You find something to do last night?”
“Daria went to Janah and Chloe, Elise and I made Danika feel good. Then she must make us both feel good. She ees good lazebian monk girl, does everything.”
I crawl over Amaya, sheer willpower keeps me from jumping her again. Do bathroom things and meet up with Dasha in the kitchen.
“What’s the plan?”
“Everyone luf pahncake, I will make. You must do bacon, maybe scrahmbulled aig also too.”
I got my mission, two packs of bacon, I’ve learned a new trick, oven bake it. Four hundred degrees, ten minutes, flip and drain grease, then keep an eye on it until you have desired crisp. No splattering, our stoves are commercial and we have a short order style grill for eggs, pancakes, burgers, all the grill stuff. Too many bodies to use skillets.
Let’s see, bacon working, we can keep the pancakes in the second oven on warm. I won’t do eggs until our tribe shows up. I chop tomato, yellow and orange pepper, onion, that’ll go in the scramble along with cream cheese.
Sloane is up naturally, Oceane is having an early swim, I see her walking to the outdoor shower. Maybe she’ll have breakfast nude. Cassie walks in, nothing on, I put tea in front of her.
“It’s hot, let it cool a bit.”
In the next fifteen the rest show up, girl radar for food.
Amaya, “Glad we have the video feed, it is simple to tell the precise moment to appear and be fed. I am feeling absolutely splendid, and I am, of course, absolutely splendid. I see Cassandra is making a non-fashion statement.”
Oceane comes in, “Oceane also states.”
Amaya turns, “Le perfection, sit next to me.”
Oceane slides into place, Amaya’s hand trails an elegantly proportioned thigh.
“God she us silken.”
I reply, “True that.”
Oceane, “Amaya thinks I am silky sensuous, and I am Sylk,” she takes a bite of fruit.
Amaya, “How do you know I said such a thing strange-o?”
Oceane, “Thoughts float all around, sometimes I pick them out of the air, some I let float away.”
Nikko, “Is she saying she reads our thoughts?”
Janah, “I have no idea. If she’s reading Daphne’s, she’ll be insane soon enough.”
Amaya, “Hah!”
Chloe, “Fascinating, I don’t notice any changes in her aura, whatever she’s doing isn’t affecting her temperamentally, or am I missing something Zi?”
“Nothing, she’s sea blue green serene almost all the time, when she dives, it’s more dark blue with sparkles. Cassandra has a similar aura, sharper than Oceane, until she’s on the dirt bike or in the kart. Then she’s no color, just light, focused light, a laser beam.”
Janah, “That makes sense, she’s all focus, Oceane is more opaque, except when she paints.”
Zi, “Yes, when she paints, there is no aura. She is entirely outside herself.”
Danika, “Are you saying her painting is a kind of self abandonment, like enlightenment?”
Janah, “Dang, of course. That’s why it’s so spectacular, she’s gone, it’s all from the zone. Like Daphne gets in heighted martial arts. When I look into her head, she’s not there.”
Amaya, “Because it is empty.”
They laugh, me too, Amaya takes no prisoners when it comes to poking ego.
Somewhere along the way, pancakes are pretty much gone, bacon has disappeared and everyone had eggs.
Nikko, “Eggs were good, extra veg today, and creamy.”
“Cream cheese and whipping cream.”
Nikko shakes her head, “We should all be morbidly obese by now.”
“We’ll have a simple lunch, there will be cold cuts and condiments out at noon, which will be available until one or so. Then you’ll have to dig around the refrigerator yourself.”
Amaya, “I am pool lounging, it’s not cold and the sun is out. I shall store up a bit of vitamin D while I let the rest of you enjoy me. Come along Oceane, we can provide délices doubles.”
Outside, Amaya frees herself of the only thing she’s wearing, a t-shirt. They park in side by side recliners. In a burst of group intelligence, the rest of the girls find their own spots. Dasha and I return the kitchen to its pristine state and go out to join them. It feels splendid to have everyone here.

Chapter One Hundred Two

Time slithers along, we are flying to Canada, two planes as per family policy. Planes crash, not often, but they do. There are fourteen this time, Danika and Su are with us.
Charles beams, “Daphne, wow, what a crowd, we’re going to have to issue name tags. And who is this lovely young lady?”
“My daughter Cassandra,” Cass stares up at him, “she’s not chatty, just go with it.”
Charles, “Enchanté Cassandra,” he turns to Janah, “Abbess J,” he greets the others, “welcome all.”
Su Lin, “Sloane! How wonderful to see you, gosh, growing, she’s up a foot!”
“They have a way of doing that.”
Su, “Su Lin. my sister Shaolin and namesake. Master J is building her own cadre of monks outside the temple.”
Janah, “Where else could I find such trustworthy associates?”
Francois and Jan, appear, more greetings and hugs, Jan says, “Everything is in order. Your houseboat has the supplies Dasha sent, the frozen things are at the house already. I have fresh Walleye and Crappie filets on ice, the big chest on the boat.”
“Thank you, no problems at the house?”
Francois, “Everything cranked up right away, we visit once a month, and since Eloise installed monitors, we can check all the appliances at a glance from this side.”
“Good, nothing to deal with then. You are booked?”
Jan, “There are a few weekdays with three or four people, maybe ten days total, the rest of the season is packed. If guest don’t reserve by year end, there’s little chance of getting a room for the next season.”
Nikko, “Raise rates.”
Francois smiles, “We did last year, didn’t matter, no drop off in demand. We’ll talk it over at the end of this season, maybe another bump. But we make good money on the rooms, and more on guided trips. Most guests want a guide, good money in that. Then we get half the year off.”
“I don’t call repair and maintenance in freezing snow ‘off’.”
Charles, “Daphne, we are monks, work is life. And we get lots of time for reading, study, discuss the sutras, meditation. During the fishing season, there is hardly time for those luxuries.”
Janah, “Do you want more help? We can build more apartments. Lots of monks would want to come, live this life.”
Charles, “I think yes, but we should talk it over first. You will be here, what, six weeks? We can look at it, by the time you leave we’ll make a decision.”
Nikko, “A couple more monks means the money is spread thinner.”
Jan, “We don’t really take salaries, the money piles up in the company account, we take what we need from that. There’s over a million dollars now, even after last year’s repair and a couple of room upgrades.”
Nikko, “Because you do all the work yourselves.”
Francois, “We have the time, the internet for things we didn’t know how to do. Now, we all know how everything works, it is just simpler to do it ourselves. Can’t get people up here in the dead of winter anyway unless they come by snowmobile. Besides, we had no expense to buy this place, your family bought it and built the apartments and added guestrooms at no cost to us. The money in the accounts is your money really.”
Nikko, “We’ll never touch that cash, it’s for the business and the four of you that run it.”
“We are grateful, this is home for us, even when we are frozen solid.
“Thank you again for opening the house, we’ll see you soon, be over in a couple weeks to resupply.”
We haul a few suitcases to the boat, most of our clothes stay at the house all year, but Danika and Su brought things, and Cassie has never been. Amaya loaded her up with jackets, jeans, boots and caps. It’s warm enough during the day, but it’s the Canadian Rockies and gets chilly cold at night.
Dasha and I put things away, Sloane and Daria lug the big cooler up the slope to the back porch.
Sloane, “Bunch of fish filets in there.”
“There’s a bunch of us, I bet we go through them tonight and tomorrow. Check the grill outside please, if it’s working take the cooler around there.”
A few minutes later I see them setting it down. The giant grill is on the side porch next to the kitchen window. When things are done, I can hand them to Dasha through the window.
I slide the window open, Sloane says, “Working fine, leave it on?”
“No, don’t need it for another couple of hours. Take a walk around the perimeter, I know the monks were up, but do a visual anyway. Maybe the wolf will catch your scent.”
A snowy owl flaps down on the open window ledge, yellow eyes blink at me,
“Welcome to our home, which is a small part of your home.”
“My mother told me of your family, I came to see for myself.”
“She lives still?”
“No, gone last snow.”
“Sorry to hear it.”
“We live, then we die, how it is.”
“An old friend told me the same thing many snows ago.”
“She was wise.”
“Yes,” my heart flutters bit, remembrance of Ms. Alva.
“You use our gift still?”
“Often, your gift has saved lives, and taken some.”
“The way of it. Time to feed, the eagle will be around eventually,”
she raises her wings, then is up and out.
Like Dasha, she has no use for greetings or goodbyes, efficient killers both.
Sloane, “Cool, you talked to her?”
“Yes, daughter of one who worked with me a few years ago. We keep meeting new generations.”
I look around for Cassie, she’s on the big rock outside with Janah. The squirrels haven’t appeared yet. The sun is sinking, they get up and start towards the house.
Janah, “Getting chilly now, something to warm me up, glass of red.”
“Chianti is open on the table.”
“You anticipate me.”
“Love to take credit, but Amaya anticipated,” I set out a tray of nuts and cheese.
Janah, “I love this cheese, bites like a snake.”
I’d found a New York state cheese company called Wicked River, they make an extra sharp cheddar that gives new meaning to sharp.
Cassie has a dozen pecans lined up on her plate, she feeds one to Oceane, then one for her. She does it telekinetically, pecan floats up and over, into mouth.
Amaya, “Weirdo feeds Alien,” neither pays Amaya any attention, sometimes I think we’re just white noise to them.
Danika, “That’s amazing. You and the twins do it too don’t you?”
“Dasha and I can push stuff , like our tennis ball game, Daria can float one thing. Cassie can float a bunch of things, like all of Oceane’s drawing pencils at the same time.”
Su, “With all we know, there always seems to be even more we don’t.”
Oceane, “She knows which pencil I need.”
Amaya, “What does that mean?”
Oceane, “The one I need floats to me and stops in the air while the others circle.”
Amaya, “As if that is an explanation, Janah doesn’t need to go outside to visit squirrels, she lives with them.”
Chloe, “Zi, do you see?”
Zi, “Yes.”
Amaya, “Now what?”
Zi, “Their auras merge, sparkly blue green, serenity and energy, like low level electricity. A vibe, not a shock.”
Amaya, “If I wrote a novel about this family it would get as far as the science fiction section.

Chapter One Hundred Three

Cassandra is slowly making connections. Demonstrated by signs she missed the movie making girls and growing synchronicity with Oceane. Still minimally verbal, primarily absorbed with whatever is in front of her. She makes no plans, doesn’t ask about yesterday or tomorrow. If she knows the day of the week, or the month, or the year, it never comes up.
She has no concept of exercise, but she swims when she sees Oceane in the pool in New York or Arizona. Sloane says ‘let’s run’ and Cassie runs with her. Right this moment they’re out someplace in the forest doing just that. I GPS Cassie, then Sloane, cripes they’re two miles northeast. Cassie’s going to be a tired puppy.
“My daughter is out in the woods killing my daughter.”
Amaya, “Definitely your daughters, Tranny and Weirdo. Some role model you turned out to be.”
“They grow by overcoming my insufficiencies.”
Nikko, “Interesting approach to motherhood.”
“Children must be challenged, otherwise parents have nothing to do and that’s when the trouble starts.”
Dasha, “Dasha used to be Dahfoney’s leetle anjul, now ees for Sloane and Cassandra.”
“You are still my angel, just not little anymore. You and my other angel are precisely five eight and a hundred thirty pounds of solid muscle.”
Amaya, “Psychopathic angels of death.”
Dasha, “Eemaya drive SUV into Shadow and smush him against concrete wall.”
Amaya smiles, “I had forgotten that little incident. He was creating havoc and had to be stopped. Tea time is approaching, I shall take mine on the porch thank you. Come along Chloe, we shall enjoy the sunset together.”
I have tea brewing, usual mix of black and green, “What’s for nibbles Dasha?”
“Today, sweet, flourless chocolate cookie wiz toast walnut.”
“When did you do that?”
“After breakfast, you were sparring wiz Nishiko and Zi.”
“And my ribs are proof of it, Nikko is wicked vicious with those kicks.”
I hear Sloane and Cassie on the porch, “We’re starved, is it tea yet? What’s for dinner?”
Amaya, “Eeew, filthy sweaty urchins do not get tea, clean urchins do. Out of those rags and into the shower.”
I go to the door, “Leave the sneakers out here, no shoes in the house applies to this house as well. The rest of your stuff is just sweaty, dump it on your bathroom floor, after you shower Sloane, take the stuff to the laundry room. And get Cassie’s, she’ll just leave it on the floor.”
Sloane, “Come on Cass.”
They’re down in twenty, hair still wet. Sloane dutifully has the clothes, Cassie has neglected to dress. My fault, I didn’t lay clothes out and tell her to get into them.
I give her a blanket, “Here, wrap up, it will be chilly as the sun sets.”
She pulls it around her shoulders, goes outside, I bring them tea, the cookies are already out.
Sloane, “Perfect, these are Dasha’s cookies, so good. We went for miles, Cassie was right with me, well, at human speed. We ran the whole way up, sat and took in the view, then hiked down. My friend came along at the top and followed us back.”
Cassie, “He has teeth like Sloane.”
“He bared his teeth?”
Sloane, “No, he came over for a pat, I said I have teeth like the wolf and pushed his skin back so she could see. He licked Cassie’s cheek, he thought she was my cub, but I told him she is my sister, our mother is at home with our pack.”
Cassie, “You talk to the eagle and the owl.”
“How do you know that?”
“The wolf told me. He said it is always safe for us in the forest because we understand.”
Amaya, “Sheesh, weirdoes abound.”
Cassie stares off into the distance, she’s changed channels, we aren’t on it.
Janah, “Wonder where she goes when she goes?”
Chloe, “It isn’t a problem, she’s calm as the lake.”
The water is still, silent, not a ripple, not even an insect alights, the fish are in deep. A huge moon reflects on the mirror surface, so clear it’s like two moons. We are quiet, the sun is no more, only an orange glow traces the mountains, no clouds tonight. Stars start their show.
Sloane, “What’s dinner?”
Dasha, “Burghur wiz chizz, ohnyon, peekel, everything. Toast bun, fries. Eemaya will make vodka and Dasha will make best fries. Dahfoney ees to make burghur on greel. Garden burghur for Janah and Oceane.”
Amaya, “We must dine out here, I will cocktail us.”
Zi, “Perfect, we can catch the sky show, I’ll turn on the heaters.”
Danika and Su, come to the kitchen with us, “We must help, burgers for fourteen need more than four hands.”
Dasha, “You can cut tomato, ohnyon, put out condiment, everything ees in refrigerator. I cut potato for fries earlier, they must soak in cold water two hours at least. Maybe heat oil in beeg pot now, three hundred degrees oil, no more.”
We set to our tasks, the garden burgers are pre made, the beef I’d made into patties earlier today. They’ve been gathering flavor from the dark soy, Worcestershire, black pepper, chopped garlic and onion bits I’d mushed into the ground chuck.
When I see Amaya making a second round of drinks, I start grilling. Danika is out with me.
“I use a test burger, when I think they’re medium rare, can usually tell by how the juices flow, I cut open the test. If it’s right, so are the rest. I haven’t crisped any yet.”
Danika, “While we have a moment alone, may I join you and Janah later?”
“Only if you mean in bed.”
Danika grins, “Didn’t know if you’d made other plans.”
“Sometimes plans are laid earlier in the day, mostly we sort things out around bedtime. So many years together, we vibe who wants to play and who wants to sleep. We still surprise each other though, makes it fun. I’ll get no vibe from Chloe and she shows up ready to go. The others say the same thing. Nikko almost never mentions it, but she’s a prime target. Zi likes to roam occasionally.”
Danika, “Yes, she roamed my way the other evening. I think Janah was in with Nishiko and you were elsewhere.”
“Two nights ago, yes, I needed an Amaya and Chloe fix, in the middle Eloise showed up.”
“She’s been quiet this trip.”
“She’s got a new project, spends hours on the laptop. At least she can sit outside and work.”
“You don’t know what it is.”
“No, she starts lots of things that don’t pan out. She only talks about them when they look workable. The drone business is a money factory, she works for improvements in those all the time. She could be doing that now, or it could be something completely unrelated.”
Basic dining and a star show, Dasha’s crispy fries disappear, Sloane drags the last through ketchup and feeds it to Cassie. Sweet.
Amaya, “Amazing fries Dasha, nice crunch on the outside, fluffy inside.”
“Spasibo.”
“You are welcome, and deserving. Daphne fed us well, then you came along and learned, now we’re twice as spoiled.”
Su, “She fries them twice, I didn’t understand the technique, the first fry is to soften them up, then out of the oil and drained. Then she raises the oil temp to around four hundred and refries for a couple of minutes, that’s when the crispy part happens.”
Sloane, “Look Cass, shooting star, over there,” she points up left.
Oceane, “The sky dances.”
Oceane strikes a chord, we are quiet for a time.
Girls stack their plates while I rinse and load the dishwasher. Danika cleaned the fry pot and grill utensils. The drinkers are winding down with wine. Nikko has the fireplace going, half are still outside, the rest enjoy the fire.
Oceane comes through, her steps lighter than air, says to no one, “Draw dancing sky,” keeps going to her room, Cass trailing behind her.
Amaya, “Assume we will see her vision of dancing sky.”
Danika, “It will be beautiful, her art is stunning. All those tiny dots, when she’s done it looks like a photograph.”

Chapter One Hundred Four

This is our second trip to the falls, Sloane’s wolf pal alongside her, she’s up in half the time and sitting on a rock waiting when we show up. The wolf is lying next to her, head in her lap.
Su, “A wolf in the wild, trusting her so naturally. What a wonder.”
Cassie joins them, lays next to Sloane, her head on the wolf’s chest.
Su, “More wonder, I will be still and meditate on wonder.”
A good idea, the hike up is about an hour for us, steep in parts and on the edge of steep drops in others. We’re all ready for a bottle of water and a chill.
The falls are maybe a hundred feet, to get to the top is not exactly a rock climb, but it isn’t just a steep hike either. Over the years I’ve banged in pitons in spots, an extra hand hold or foot support. After a half hour rest, I decide to climb to the top and check them.
“Going to the top of the falls, I think I should check the pitons. I have a handful in the backpack, may need replacements.”
Janah, “I’m coming.”
Amaya, “I shall remain by the pool, actually stick my feet in, they could use a good freezing.”
Janah and I start up, I’m leading. It’s pretty simple for thirty feet, after that it’s hold on, one step up, grab something else, another step. I hear a voice.
“You have company.”
Janah and I look down, Cassie is a few yards behind Janah. Somebody put a helmet on her.
“Let her get between me and you.”
I wait until she’s right behind me, tie a rope around her waist and mine.
“It’s about ten feet long now, stay close enough, but not right behind me. If you miss a step, better to only fall a couple of feet than ten, understand?”
“Yes mom.”
Sigh, there’s a person in there, not just a robot doll.
We go slowly enough for her to keep up. She’s agile as all get out, just doesn’t have legs as long as an adult, she has to find different hand holds and make shorter advances. I add pitons in places she can more easily reach.
At the top, we sit on an outcrop looking down on the others. They wave up at us. The view from here is spectacular, can see the lake shimmer blue, mountain range still holding snow at elevation. The lake is maybe thirty five hundred feet, up here is another thousand, top of this mountain is sixty five hundred. There’s snow up there as well.
Janah, “We need to get down, get fed, the hike down isn’t much easier than up.”
She starts down, then Cass, then me.
“Cass, the same distance between us, okay?”
“Okay.”
A minor slip midway, but she catches herself, don’t have to see her swinging in midair. Janah got pelted by a few small rocks, but we have helmets, no damage done.
At the bottom, Janah opens a bottle of water, “Whew, it’s always harder than I recall. We’ve gone up it, what, twenty times?”
“I’d blame it on age, but we don’t. I think it’s because we don’t do this sort of exercise anyplace else. It’s different muscles, or a different use of them.”
Janah, “Must be it. We all exercise, my yoga is great, but it isn’t rock climbing.”
“Neither is gung fu, or diving. Cassie, how do you feel?”
“My hands are sore.”
I look at them, red, small scrape, sore from holding on and pulling.
“Sit here,” I take a hand and massage, push gentle qi.
“It’s buzzing.”
“Good, it’s supposed to,” while we nibble crunchy granola, I work on her hand, it’s nice and warm, “you can do it to yourself if you need more.”
She squeezes it a few times, smiles up at me. I kiss her cheek.
Amaya, “Shall we proceed? We should be just in time for tea.”
I mental Dasha, “Heading down, forty minutes.”
“Da, I will start tea when you return, hikers will want shower first.”

The twins, Nikko, Oceane and Eloise opted to hang at the house. Daria and Eloise wanted to work on something, Dasha likely started dinner prep after she got them lunched. Oceane didn’t show for breakfast, no idea what she got up to, the drawing maybe. If I know Nikko, and I do, she spent time on the business numbers.
After a long hot shower and a serious hair wash, Cassie and I go downstairs. The stay at homes are there, others are filtering in.
Nikko, “Daria and I tweaked the final version of our business and investment spreadsheets. Now we get numbers as they happen. If the management company has an expense, it shows up as pending until it’s paid, then the numbers change. Same for the drone company, the film company, real estate we own, restaurants, our stocks and bonds are marked to market already. Every penny in or out makes an instantaneous adjustment to the income statements.”
Janah, “What about the balance sheet?”
“Property is still a bit of guesswork, there’s no instant price quote. We use monthly comps and an algorithm that measures value by rents per square foot, tax benefits, and expense estimates. There is always variation between comparables and cash flow. We take cash flow as more accurate. Comparables are fuzzy, frequently people overpay for property and underestimate costs. New York has gotten preposterously expensive, Manhattan even worse. Property we own has tripled in value since we acquired it years ago. Based on rental income, most have paid us more than their original valuation. Remember, we didn’t pay anything for a lot of it, it was inherited. We only have mortgages in San Francisco and those prices have skyrocketed from Silicon Valley excesses. I’m not in a hurry to pay off the mortgages because interest rates are insanely cheap. There’s no place to go anymore. The stock market is too rich for me to plow more in, we have more than enough there, in fact I lightened up. Emerging markets are taking a hit, I may add to our portfolio in that segment. I never do Russia, or China, sorry Su, Chinese markets are…difficult.”
Su, “Chinese markets are corrupt, I do not trust them either.”
Dasha, “Sister and I would never trust Russia, except vodka. Vodka ees deeferent, Russian pride requires best product.”
Nikko, “As I sold off some of the stock funds, I bought a boatload of municipal bonds, the interest rate isn’t spectacular but we don’t pay tax on it.”
Amaya, “What’s the net worth guesstimate?”
“Just under four.”
Danika, “Am I..no, none of my business.”
Nikko, “What? Ask, we aren’t worried about what you and Su know.”
“Money is not my area, I know it is more than four million, do you mean as much as four hundred million?”
Amaya, “Oh dear one, how sweet.”
Nikko, “Four billion.”
Danika’s mouth opens, closes, opens, nothing comes out, instead her hand covers it, then, “I had no idea…”
Janah, “Why would you? It’s not like we ran an ad in the Shaolin Times. We have been extraordinarly lucky on the one hand, inherited a huge amount of money and property. Then blessed by the extraordinary talents of Amaya, Chloe, Eloise and Daria. Nikko, Zi and Daria, run our businesses with decisiveness and precision. Dasha has contributed great revenue from the restaurants. We are able to buy property for cash, not be subjected to the whims of banks or landlords. We self finance films for scripts Amaya polishes to perfection. The original stake was a few hundred million, with diligence and attention, it’s hard not to make money.”
Su, “One is pressed to even imagine so much money. You do so much, the ranches, schools, it must cost.”
“Ranches are financed with money we get from Society work and the temple. We pay for the schools, but we also own the property outright. The money comes from the Sylk Trust, which got it’s money from us, but we got a tax deduction for contributing it.”
Danika, “Moves into areas beyond my expertise. I used to worry about flying on private jets.”
“Well don’t. We have the money, those pilots, attendants and maintenance crews need salaries too. They can’t all work for Virgin or Jet Blue.”

Chapter One Hundred Five

Geez, where does the time go? In Canada, a week seems like a day, our month is shot and Chloe’s movie, The Analyst, is due to open. That means she has to make the rounds of morning and late night shows to plug the film and charm the hosts. Amaya has been coaching her on ways to say the same thing differently. She doesn’t want her to come off like a politician giving the same speech over and over. And there are idiosyncrasies to shows and hosts, she drills Chloe on tidbits she can drop in to play to huge TV egos. One likes guests to tell a funny story, another wants something touching, others like her to banter back and forth, one likes her to surprise him.
The process is worth it, millions of people watch those shows. When a guest is on the host clearly likes, the audience automatically likes them too. The idea that they’re being pitched a movie doesn’t matter. She’s entertained them before they can even buy a ticket, all they know is they want to see her again. And here she is, right on a big screen in a new movie.
It isn’t work for Chloe, Amaya does the work and worry. Chloe is an eternal sunbeam of joy, making a film, being interviewed, getting photographed with fans or slicing off a Shadow’s head. Beaten, kicked, fed like a dog from a bowl on the floor by a psychotic Shadow sister until we rescued her. She was maybe eight then, not exactly sure, there was no record of her birth. We killed her Shadow father and sister before there was a chance to reminisce about family history.
She handled the abuse by accepting it. In her young mind, that was how it was. She was never allowed to go anyplace to see it wasn’t how it had to be. When she discovered that, something flooded her brain. She could eat nourishing food, sleep in a warm bed, not have to clean a house or a barn. Nobody would raise a voice to her, much less strike her. She got to learn, wear beautiful clothes and shiny accessories, to be a girl. From her first tour of our Greenwich Village condo years ago, she’s never stopped smiling, life remains an amazing wonder to her.
I like to think Chloe’s smiles make up for the twins, I’ve never seen so much as a grin from either of them, Amaya’s sociability coaching excepted. They have a sense of humor, dry, sarcastic as a razor blade, but it’s there. There are no two more serious people on the planet, including Nikko, and it’s a stretch to get more serious than our samurai.
Normally, we’d return to Prescott at this point in late summer, but Chloe needs to be in Manhattan. Danika and Su return to Arizona, the rest of us are in the Village condo.
“Hey Sis, back from Canada, no, at the condo, Chloe has TV appearances, the movie is out soon.”
Susan, “I better get an e-mail with the schedule, we break out the wine over here and have a little party to watch the shows. Chloe is such an artist, charming everyone’s ass off.”
“Amaya drills Chloe on every appearance, no different than when she’s preparing for a role. Fusses with her wardrobe until Chloe walks on the set.”
“We figured, she always looks fabulous, and Chloe doesn’t care about fabulous.”
“No, left to her devices, she’d show up in sweatpants and sneakers.”
Sis laughs, “Fat chance of that. Your fashion cop doesn’t let any of you leave home in disarray.”
“Chloe really can’t, she’s the face of Chloe Couture, like the Olsen twins she has a brand to measure up to. Amaya has everyone else trained. Dasha tries to go out sloppy casual, but it’s because she knows Amaya will make a big production and take her upstairs to dress her, comb her hair and apply makeup. It’s their game. Oceane is easy, she has the same five dresses. Sloane is too girly to go out like a slob, Cassie has to be told what to wear anyway. Eloise gets to do her combat boots and jeans, she’s somehow gotten a pass from Amaya. She calls Eloise the in house maintenance mouse. Amaya did get her contact lenses but she usually wears her glasses. She’s kind of cute with her glasses actually.”
”Oceane really has only five dresses?”
“Only a slight exaggeration, she prefers nothing, but will wear light clothing. Amaya got her chemises, all white, slightly different design. There are coats for winter of course, and she will wear our silk pants and blouses. Around the house, she’s always barefoot, but has a few pairs of wedges and platforms, all basic, nothing remotely Jimmy Choo.”
“Your collection of strangeos is a source of endless fascination around here. James tried for the longest to figure out a pattern, he came up empty.”
“We practice diversity, except men, Sloane is our token man and she’s as girly as Amaya.”
“Does Sloane know you talk about her like that?”
I laugh, “Sloane created that designation, not any of us. She tells everyone she’s the man of the house.”
Sis’ turn to laugh, “I can’t wait to pass that along. James has talked to Sloane on and off, and to her transition doc. She says Sloane is the best adjusted transgender she’s ever worked with. If she decides to complete the transition, the doc will sign off with no reservations.”
“That decision is on hold, for reasons you already know. Oceane likes her just like she is, but if she wants the operation, Oceane will like her the new way too. It’s Oceane, she may not notice the part is missing.”
Sis, “You’re joking of course.”
“Only partially, if Sloane showed up without the boy part, Oceane would likely think she was always that way. Oceane is similar to Cassie. There is now. Yesterday doesn’t exist, tomorrow only a vague concept.”
Sis, “Good thing your family scooped them up. Nobody else could deal with them, James says they would be in a home loaded up on meds to keep them from annoying the staff.”
“And think of the wonders they would have missed, incredible art, skilled swimmer and diver, and with Cassie, I defy anyone to handle a kart or dirt bike like she does. Her focus would embarrass a laser beam.”
“James was saying the same thing, that so much creative potential evaporates because people who see the world differently are labeled mentally ill. Of course there are many with severe problems, not all of them are Leonardo or Einstein. But some might be, if we put enough resources into better and more progressive care.”
“See, that’s us, we are a progressive mental institution, an ongoing experiment in weirdness. And you and Kara are the mothers of the original weirdoes and grandmothers of the additional ones, Matriarchs of Strange, how ‘bout that?”
Sis laughs again, “I’ll tell Kara we’ve been promoted.”
“And Lacy, she ran a whole school for different girls.”
“That is certainly true, still is, even though she’s retired. I think Chapmans was more high achievers than just strange though. There was Joan Wayne and Zipper in your day, there were more after, but by and large they are geeks, in the sense their real focus is on one thing. The other academic requirements are just annoyances to be dealt with.”
“Come over when you can, you traveling soon?”
“The photos you sent convinced us to replace you in Canada for a month. Chloe fishing got my fishing jones kick started and the falls are as lovely as ever. I called Francois and asked him to leave things open, we will deal with any leftovers in the freezer and fridge.”
“Good, but we didn’t leave much in the refrigerator, be sure to have them stock staples. And there are a few steaks and burgers in the freezer, but assume you’ll need almost everything.”
“Good, I’ll handle it, I have all the places Dasha orders from. It’s all of us plus Black, Sonia, Chan and Ning are coming for a week. Looking forward to eating fish I caught the same day. James is handy with the grill, Kara and Lacy do most of the inside cooking. Talk soon, bye.”
I tell Janah,  “We need to get Black and Chan families to Prescott. It will be a welcome winter trip for them, get out of frozen New York.”
“When they return from Canada we can see what winter dates work for them, be fun to see if a go kart can actually move with Chan in it, Black will never fit. Neither can be stuffed into the Formula Ones”

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