Chapter Nine

It’s a Friday, Nikko, Amaya and I are taking the subway back from the Murakami’s. Amaya worked with Ari, while Hanshi frowned on my kendo performance and silently admired Nishiko’s. I must be getting better, he didn’t grimace, and only growled a couple of times.
Amaya has a bag of rice flour makeup, she is to practice applying it and  demonstrate what she learned to Ari in next Friday’s session. She is maiko, an apprentice, and will remain maiko for a long while. The makeup is applied to the nape of her neck, then to her face, the familiar white seen in photographs and movies. Hairstyles take further training, and I learned from Ari what to do with Amaya’s hair, as it is near impossible to do oneself. At least Ari didn’t insist on the scalp and hair damaging tugging and pulling involved in traditional maiko hairstyles. Amaya is learning the arts of tea, dance and song to incorporate into her performances. She isn’t going to be a geisha in Japan, it’s an art form she’s learning to enhance her performance skills. I train her in calligraphy, Nikko in shamisen. Lacy studies the dances, then works with Amaya. Lacy is into it, learning the dances herself ahead of teaching them to Amaya. Her days are neither short nor simple. I admire her diligence.
“You must help me, Daphne. Do a stern look like Mrs. Murakami.”
“Not with you. Nikko will give you the look and I’ll show you how to make the strokes. Spend time every day, in several years, if you apply yourself, you may be decent.”
Amaya, “Decent will not do, particularly with Mrs. Murakami.”
Nikko, “Not a chance.”
Amaya sighs dramatically, “No rest for the gorgeous.”
I stroke her head, she is so like me it’s scary.
Nikko, “Her art will stimulate every sense. You are her high bar, although she won’t reach your skill in calligraphy, and she doesn’t do martial arts.”
“And she relies on her mom to press, and allow for no foolishness. She’s counting on you. I am play, you are anchor.”

Nikko says nothing, doesn’t have to, she takes her role of mom like she does everything else, deathly serious.
“Assholes entering from the rear car.”
Nikko blinks, stands behind Amaya, me in front. Amaya looks up at me, questioning eyes. She’s been with us long enough to gauge our atmospheric changes, she’s a sensitive artist after all. She knows to hold her place between us and ask no questions.
Three pukes come through the car, wagging change cups under passenger noses.
“Help out homeless veterans folks. We fought for you in Iraq, show your appreciation,” the cups rattle, a few coins inside.
They get annoyed, “No respect for war veterans, right here in New York, ground fuckin’ zero. Come on, it’s your chance to do something for the guys who stepped up.”
They surround us, “Got something for Clifton baby? Fought for your fine ass, my best friend died for it.”
Puke Two, “Whoa dudes, who’s the little missy? She’s a specialty item. Want to meet an I-rack war vet honey? A real man, who took out real terrorists?”
Puke Three, “Three babes, three war veterans. Sound just right. Step off next stop and buy us a beer babies. We tell you our war stories.”
Nikko is going to kill someone soon, I speak up, “Buzz off. The closest you got to Iraq was a video game, dweeb.”
Puke One, “Got a mouth on her. She just flirtin’, wants to see some special ops. You want to see my special ops honey?”
“I want to see you gone before you get hurt.”
Puke Two, “Hurt? Hurt? You fuckin’ kidding bitch. You ain’t seen hurt. You wanna see hurt?”
“I’m not going to see it from any of you dorks. No real solider is going to get on a train and rattle cans, you think we’re all as stupid as you? You see the Japanese girl?”
Puke Three, “What you say?”
“God, are you deaf and dumb? Do…you…see…the…Japanese….girl? This one, right here?”
Puke One, “Yeah, so what?”
“Here’s what. Move on, or she will assume you want to fight. Keep it up, your next stop is St. Vincent’s Emergency Room. You’ll be war veterans. The War of the N train. Am I talking too fast?”
Puke Two reaches for me, “You ain’t gonna do….”
Nikko clocks him in the throat and sticks her bony knee hard in his nuts. Then she whaps her elbow into Puke Three’s nose, followed by a sharp, hard sidekick to his knee. It’s permanently deformed, knees work back and forth, not side to side.
Puke One is forming a punch, then throwing it. Unfortunately for him, he’s throwing it at me. That means I see it coming in slo-mo, duck at the last millisecond, enabling his fist to connect with the metal support pole. It doesn’t give, his hand does.
“”Fuck!”
Puke One is clutching his mangled right with his left, Nikko takes the opportunity to introduce her foot to his jaw. Not a happy first date, his jaw breaks up with her foot almost immediately. Such is love.
The passengers are staring at the carnage on the floor, the subway screeches to a halt, doors open. We leave before the questions start, I’m not letting Amaya get caught up in a Transit Cop Q&A. Nobody died.
Up the steps and out on 4th Street to Perry, to the apartment.
Amaya flies in the door, straddles Janah’s lap, “Janah! Nikko massacred three jerks on the N train. God, it was so cool. Daphne tried to tell them, but when they refused to listen, mom left them for the EMTs. Dang, they were totally together the whole time. It was confrontation art, just amazing. Fearless mom fearless girlfriend. But I knew that, they rescued me right out of the air in Bermuda!”
Amaya jumps into Nikko’s arms, “You are incredible!”
Nikko would never do anything as corny as blush, she says simply, “Daphne got them distracted, and tried to give them a clue. They didn’t take it. Her message was for me as well. I was instructed by her first, what to do, second, when to do it.”
Amaya, “Ah, that is performance art in itself. Of course, mentaling makes it easier.”
Nikko, “There was no mentaling except when Daphne told me they were entering the car. You heard all our communication, just like the foolish men did.”
Amaya thinks this over, “I am recalling the conversation. Yes, the meanings were layered, one thing to the men, another to Nikko. I want to think about how I can use the idea in a performance. Daphne, that was smooth. Janah, we are so protected.”
Janah, “They aren’t here just because they’re hot. Although hotness is a prime ingredient.”
Amaya giggles, “They sizzled today.”
“And I trust you understand, aside from immediate family, you keep this story to yourself.”
Amaya, “Nikko has explained, whatever happens only happens in the family, no school friends, no friends in the shops or restaurants, nobody but us. I am clear on it and clear on the reason for it. Why do you think I jabber away about so much nothing? Double blind. Always talking about superficial silliness, hair, makeup, pop stars, TV shows I never watch. Outsiders assume I am another self absorbed adolescent. That is what I wish them to think. It is some of my best work.”
“Good enough. Now, since nothing interesting happened today, why don’t you get in a yoga workout or something?”
Amaya, “Sounds good after getting grilled by Nikko’s mom. Janah, do you have time?”
Janah, “Get out of the street clothes, we’ll get in an hour, then a snack and a nap before French lessons.”
Amaya teases, “I am beautiful, why do I need to be smart?”
Nikko swats her butt, “Get dressed for yoga or I’ll tell Ari you are not diligent.”
Amaya, “Yikes, she will kill me, pure blackmail.”
Nikko, “Hai.”
Nikko and I shower, then rest comfortably on the bed snuggling, just being together. Janah and Amaya twist into impossible positions for an hour. I bathe Amaya in one Jacuzzi, Nikko bathes Janah in the other. Girls love being attended to, brats. Nishiko and I like attending to them, we create our brats, what can I say?
I soaping her legs, she says, “Do the part in between.”
I soft soap her softness, she gasps, “I love that feeling do the other side.”
I slick soap her butt, slide a finger along her anus he likes that part too, “clean inside now, just a little, I want to see how it feels.”
I slip a soapy finger in a half inch, wiggle it just a bit, “Ahhhh, just a little more.”
Give it another half, she squirms and moans, I disengage.
I use the shower wand to rinse, then wrap her in a big towel and dry her hair.
“Daphne, get me one of those small toys, not a penis shape, just a bullet.”
“Expanding your horizons past your fingers?”
She smiles, “Yes.”
“I have one already, borrow mine, if you like it, keep it. You know where we keep the other stuff?”
“Yep, but I didn’t fool with any of them, I would have told you.”
I finish drying, take the towels to the laundry then fetch the silver bullet and take it to her.
“Here you go, battery is fresh, give it a go when you’re ready.”
“When I go to bed, come and show me,” she grins.
Amaya has a French lesson, we do dinner lite, fruit and cheese, wine, a half glass for Amaya, watch a movie huddled on the mat under a palatial king comforter Janah ordered from Downlite, nine feet by ten feet, it’s sooo cozy.
We make bedtime moves, I go to Amaya’s room, “Still want a demo?”
She smiles, flips open the covers, she’s nude. I click on the toy, apply just a sheen of lube, slide it over the crevice. It isn’t rocket science, she doesn’t need me to show her, she wants me to see.
“Now, take control.”
“You must stay…and watch, even better, stand next to the bed and do yourself.”
Girls grow up.

Chapter Ten

Two of my transit cop buds are having coffee at the Village Diner when the four of us show up for a Mini breakfast. He waves, I make eat motions, he nods. We don’t bother to order, he knows what to do and how to do it.
Before I can sit, I heard my name, “Seelk, got a minute to rap with the transit constabulary?”
I turn and smile, it’s Frankie DeSalvo and Dewan. I never caught Dewan’s last name, Frankie volunteered his, maybe Dewan is like Black, just Dewan.
“What’s up in the urban underground?”
Frankie, “You tell us. We heard about three punks busted up on the N train a coupla days ago. You wouldn’t know anything about that?”
“Nothing comes to mind. What happened?”
Dewan, “Old lady said two Asian looking babes took out three poor homeless veterans asking for spare change on our newly refurbished train. Had to take the car out of service to clean up blood. Shame, how we treat our veterans.”
“True, but what’s that got to do with the pukes on the N train?”
Dewan, “Nothin’, just an unrelated observation. None of the three had ever seen military service. How did you know they weren’t former military?”
“Soldiers don’t shake cans on the subway.”
Dewan, “No, they don’t. This crew did have uniforms on various occasions, orange jumpsuits.”
“They trying for the inmate fashion look so popular now?”
Frankie, “They personify inmate fashion. Selling dope, panhandling, selling girls, occasionally selling themselves, intimidating tourists. They won’t be missed. We tossed them off cars half a dozen times.”
“Should have called Nikko, she has a sideline in vermin removal. Works cheap. Cup of tea, no more subway rats.”
Dewan, “She be drowning in tea if that was true, and I wish to hell it was true, I buy her the tea myself. Dewan weary of tossing rats off the train, then tossing them off three days later.”
“Why don’t you escort them to the front of the train and show them the exit…..in between stations.”
Dewan, “That occurs to us daily. If the trains didn’t have other passengers…..”
“I know. And I don’t really want that kind of vigilante justice.”
Frankie, “Who you tryin’ to kid?”
“Let me rephrase. I don’t want my good friends in the Transit Authority to engage in that kind of vigilante justice. Stay good guys. Leave the dirty work to the experts.”
Dewan, “Seelk, don’t be jivin’.”
“Dewan, a number is in your phone. If there is trouble, and you aren’t equipped to handle it straight up, just put the bat signal in the sky, or better yet, call the vermin hotline. It’s coincidentally Nikko’s number.”
Frankie, “You could be hearing from someone, sooner rather than later. You got cred in the system. Our guys have families, need the pension and benefits, our hands are tied.”
“No need to risk careers. Our hands aren’t tied to anything….well, Nikko ties me up occasionally.”
Frankie laughs, Dewan says, “Geesh, now I’m gonna be visiting that image for the rest of the day, week, my life.”
They stand, Frankie says, “Thanks for the thing you didn’t do. We can’t prosecute them for getting beat up. But they were reminded that we know their names and if they’re ever seen on the subway again, even in Far Rockaway, certain people would be quietly informed. Bicycles were suggested as alternative transportation.”
“Good enough. Call if we can help. Only persistent pests, ones creating more than a minor nuisance, we don’t do the kids who try and entertain for money, or the mentally deranged that the TA needs to move out on their own. Pimps, pushers or punks terrorizing working people, women or kids, that would be our specialty.”
Frankie, “Clear. See you, Daph.”
I knuckle-to-knuckle Dewan, join my crew in the booth. Now, with four, we balance out nicely. Nikko and I take the outside seats, that’s the rule. Even though Janah could take down a charging bull with her brain, we don’t want any public displays of her abilities. It would lead to undue interest in the white haired girl.
Amaya, “The Transit Authority going bust my mother?”
Janah, “Not a chance. They were glad to have the punks dealt with. The city doesn’t condone panhandling, it’s just hard to police. We don’t make an issue of it ourselves. If the men had simply shaken their cans and moved on they would still be healthy and ripping off tourists. They let testosterone get in the way and it cost them.”
Amaya, “Big time. Mom says not to be vindictive, so I will not. It does not break my heart that they suffered pain at her hands.”
“They were suffering before they got to us. One who suffers is unbalanced and cannot help but create pain.”
Amaya is thoughtful, “You and Nikko cause others pain. Is that because you suffer?”
“Excellent question. We have wrestled with it ourselves. Does what we do add more suffering to a painful world?”
Amaya, “And?”
“First, we do not suffer from what we do. The cycle of pain is broken. Second, an abuser abuses due to his pain. The abused then suffers as a consequence and the abuser feels more pain, or perhaps gratification, which is only temporary pain relief. The end result is not one sufferer, but two or more, children, other family, friends or strangers. When we step in, the pain stops with the original sufferer, we do not take it on ourselves like his victims. In our world, one in pain is better than two in pain. Surely better than three. Do you see?”
Amaya sips her drink, “It is rather simple. In life, the pained spreads his or her pain, like a virus. You say, ‘no, the pain stops with the original host,’ it is not spread to others. Or at least, is not allowed to spread. You do not find out about these viruses until they have done damage someplace.”
“Very perceptive Night Rain, what’s your name in French?”
Amaya, “Pluie de la Nuit.”
I kiss her, “Genius. No, we only find out after the fact, can’t know what hasn’t happened. Not perfect, be nice to know in advance who is a wife beating asshole, life isn’t that cooperative.”
Mini appears, “Good job ladies. I feel better riding the trains now that I don’t have to give no money to homeless veterans.”
“Mini, you’d never give money to beggars on the trains.”
“No, but sometimes I felt a little guilty. Now, I don’t.”
Janah, “Your logic sounds like it came from Daphne.”
“Dat’s the best logic. Daph’s a very logical person. If it’s good enough for her, it’s poifect for me.”
“Mini, you are a gentleman and a rational philosopher. Which we knew, I just want to reiterate for Amaya’s benefit. She’s still learning.”
Mini frowns sarcastically, “That kid is already slicker than whale snot. After Nikko’s done, she could take Wall Street right from under the greedy bastards’ noses.”
Janah, “Amaya has a higher calling than mere money. One day, we will invite you to a front row seat at Lincoln Center. The girl you feed will dazzle you with her brilliance, and perhaps take a devastating poke at the same pezzonovante we’re discussing.”
Mini, “And I will lead the ovations and throw roses at her feet.”
Amaya, “Appears I better make it good.”
Mini, “Make it great, work like these three, you gonna get there. Anything else ladies?”
“Thank you, I think we’re well done.
We hug the big man, pay and leave.
Miyako wants to see Amaya, we walk back to the apartment, she goes to Ning’s, we lounge. Janah heads up the stairs to the loft to meditate, Nikko plays shamisen while I plot dinner.

Chapter Eleven

The school year zips by, Amaya hits fourteen, longer, leaner and leggier than ever. She is pure elegance and style, refuses to speak anything but the King’s English unless she’s performing. I don’t mean she sounds British, although she can do a stunning British accent, royal or cockney. What I mean is, she doesn’t use what I just did, contractions. She speaks in complete sentences, would never adopt Idiot Girl dialect, “you know,’ ‘she goes,’ ‘like,’ no street slang, and chooses an interesting word over a common one when it fits, not to show off, to elevate. Her poise has poise, she cannot be embarrassed or flummoxed, a gift from observing Nikko.
Mrs. Epstein calls, it isn’t a social ding-a-ling. Janah says we’d be there in the morning, Amaya is working with Nikko on a Japanese song for an end of term performance. There is a play, Amaya declined the lead role, she doesn’t care for Shakespeare. In lieu of the play, she offered to do a performance piece of ten or fifteen minutes in between musical sets. There will be classical piano, a jazz trio and two bands, one rock, one pop.
She also declined to have the drama coach involved in her preparation. Amaya doesn’t care for someone else’s input into her work. It seems not fully hers. I agree, you don’t tell Picasso to change the angle of the line or the color of the eye. She also told me she doesn’t want a crutch. She explained that, if the performance didn’t work, she would not have a coach or director to blame, and if it did work, she would take full credit, not have someone say, ‘oh, well, she studied with X or Y,’ as if they had created her like a clay pot. She will do snippets from movies in character for entertainment, or sing like Cocker or the smoky raw Janis Joplin. Current pop, like Taylor Swift she finds all the same, not that they aren’t talented, but there’s nothing interesting in the vocals.
The evening progresses, it’s eleven, Mother Nikko says only, “Bed.”
Amaya doesn’t argue. Arguing with Nikko is about as fruitful as a conversation with a stone. It neither replies nor changes position. However, we do not monitor what Amaya does when alone in her room. For all we know, she stays up all night. Although I go in every night before I go to bed. Mostly she’s asleep when I kiss her, sometimes she’s reading. If she’s missing sleep, it’s hard to tell, she’s always up, active, sparkling like a precious gem. Yes, I’m excessively prejudiced. Sue me.
Growing girl off to school, other girls off to the Epsteins.
“And how is Amaya? Still keeper of her mother’s heart, I presume?”
“She obeys Nikko instantly, and is a little in awe of Janah. I’m the slave.”
Mrs. Epstein, “She doesn’t take advantage I hope?”
Nikko, “She can’t. Daphne pours things on her she hasn’t thought to ask for.”
“I like to stay ahead of the curve. Amaya doesn’t object.”
Janah, “You don’t object to being worshipped, she caught on to your game early.”
Mrs. Epstein, “They are the Red and White Queens, after all.”
“I knew Mrs. E would understand. Thank you for clarifying.”
Janah, “Sheesh. It’ll take days to bring her down now.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Then I’ve done my good deed for the day. Please Daphne, call anytime you feel misunderstood.”
I kiss her cheek, “Duly note the Queen Mother’s wishes, my others.”
Nikko, “The job?”
Mrs. Epstein laughs, “It appears Nishiko would like to move along.”
“If she insists. I was enjoying the unqualified support. But I defer to the samurai.”
Mrs. Epstein, “This is an interesting one. It involves a topic much written about today, student behavior in school. We don’t want you to refocus children. Still, there is something curious going on at a private school in Virginia. The difficulty is, we don’t know if there’s a crime.”
Janah, “I’d say it qualifies as interesting if the problem is not obvious.”
Mrs. Epstein, “I need Bernie to describe the situation. This kind of psychology is not in my purview.”
Dr. Epstein, “What we know is that we have normal kids doing unusual things, unlike Chapmans, where unusual girls do unusual things. The school, Anderson Preparatory Academy, is a K-12 boarding school near Blacksburg and the Allegheny Mountains. Blacksburg, coincidentally, is the home of Virginia Tech. The shootings there have no relation to our current interest.”
Janah, “And the problem…?”
Dr. Epstein, “Things going too well.”
“Sounds like Chapmans.”
Dr. Epstein, “No, not in that way. I should say, too placidly. The kids are not exactly zombie-like, but there is limited affect, fake smiles, nodding agreement, never argument. Debate is polite to excess, which has merit, but there’s no life, no passion.”
Janah, “There is something else.”
Dr. Epstein, “We think so. There may be inappropriate sexual contact. I say may, because it’s a one off instance that could be nothing more than a child’s fantasy.”
Janah, “I assume there has been no reason for outside authorities to look deeper? No outsized number of STDs, pregnancies, that sort of thing?”
Dr. Epstein, “Almost none, just the opposite. Let me be clear on what we know. First, no one has complained about anything. Not a parent, no one in authority at the school, no authority outside, no social service agency in any official way. We were contacted by a clinic twenty miles from the school. A few kids were referred there. A particularly observant nurse reported that the kids from Anderson seemed detached, flat. They answered questions, raised no objections to treatment, they were simply too docile for the nurse, a mother with two teenagers and a pre-teen of her own. For instance, a nine year old came to the clinic. When the nurse put her in the examining room, she said only the doctor will be a minute. The child said nothing. When the doctor and nurse returned, the child was entirely nude on the examining table. The doctor asked the nurse why she was undressed, the nurse didn’t know, hadn’t told the child to do anything. The doc asked why she undressed, and the girl said, ‘aren’t you going to play with me?’”
Janah, “That didn’t raise any suspicions?”
Dr. Epstein, “Sure, one reason it came to us. The doc asked why she thought he would want to play with her. The girl clammed up, then only said she’d had a dream of a doctor playing with her. The doc let it go, she didn’t appear stressed or otherwise traumatized. It just stuck with the nurse, who had seen other Anderson students over time.”
Mrs. Epstein, “She told our contact that at first she thought the kids were too good to be true. Then she said she’d decided they were too good to be real.”
“Sounds like the Stepford kids.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Yes, I remember that movie, The Stepford Wives. Men's idea of perfect wives, obedient, docile as lambs.”
“Yes, in the movie scientists created android wives to replace the real ones, so they would be completely submissive. Sort of Bambi-bimbo do anything to please her man.”
Dr. Epstein, “Except here, two of the kids at the clinic were boys, one a junior high student, another a Junior. Three others were girls, two teenagers and the nine year old.”
“Shoots down the Stepford wife theory. The Stepford Students?”
Dr. Epstein, “We’re looking at that. So far, no evidence that the administration is complicit.”
Janah, “No, you said the administration has turned a blind eye. I wonder if it’s intentional? Or are they are under some similar influence?”
Dr. Epstein, “Good question.”
Janah, “Sounds like we need more to go on. I suppose that’s why we’re here. To come up with avenues of inquiry before anyone is sent in.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Exactly. Normally we come to you complete. Just go in and refocus. We aren’t clear on this. We’re looking for our resident brain to tell us what else she wants to know.”
Janah, “I’ll have a list later today, need to think this over.”
Mr. Epstein, “Soon enough. We don’t see anyone being beaten, nobody has died.”
Janah, “I’ll pass along avenues of inquiry later today, tomorrow morning latest.”
That was that, nothing to do until the brain trust came up with questions. We leave and return to the apartment.
Janah, “You and Nikko find something to do. I have to go to the meditation loft and let the questions surface.”
I ask Nikko a redundant question, “Dearest, would you like to take our your aggression on me for a couple of hours?”
We go to the dojang, school is in session, so the gym is out for the kind of work we’re going to do.
I let her wail on me. It accomplishes two things, she gets to go hard, I get desensitized. Of course, I’d had lots of fights over the years, and taken lots of punishment. If I didn’t have Janah and qi, I might be broken by now. Instead, I’m unfazed by almost any combination of blows. I’m not impervious, a bullet hits, I have a serious problem like anyone else. But you aren’t going to take me out with a punch to the jaw or the gut, you aren’t going to get to a vulnerable joint.
When she finally tires, my mouth bleeding, we shower. Nikko’s wrath sated, she is attentive and loving. She bathes me, then herself, dries my hair, interspersed with tender kisses. There is no apology, she’d done exactly what I wanted. We dress and walk, slowly, to the apartment. Janah is tuned in, the mat is out, gel packs stacked up, a quart of liniment on the small table. I’m soon covered in woodsy liniment, then ice and Janah’s hands.
Janah, “She did a job on you.”
“She was perfect. My masochist to her sadist.”
Janah, ‘Good thing I don’t have to explain us.”
Nikko, “Nishiko is tired from delivering punishment. Daphne gets tougher every time I go at her.”
Nikko has gel packs on her feet and across her knuckles, both are swollen. Further evidence, if anyone needs any, that her blows are full force. When I want pain, I want pain, not half pain, not pretend pain. Nikko delivers, at no small consequence to herself.
Janah, “Tomorrow the swelling will be gone, day after the cuts invisible. Tomorrow is a rest day, better not to go out with the evidence still visible. Too many questions from well meaning friends.
“Don’t worry. I’m happy to stay locked up. I have calligraphy to do, I want Nishiko to model for me while I let the inspiration for my hànzi unfold. If she is agreeable, I am curious to see what pops into my head to draw.”
Nikko, “As you wish.”

Chapter Twelve

Amaya comes in from school, “Yeowch, what did Nikko do to you?”
“How do you know it was Nikko?”
“Nobody else could make such a mess. You’ve been receiving instruction again.”
“In a manner of speaking. I haven’t had a good pummeling in a while. I want to be able to stay with pain. It may be the difference between keeping my others safe and letting them down. You, for instance.”
Amaya, “You take Nikko’s pain to keep me safe. You are the best possible guardian,” she kisses me, makes it worth it.
She lifts the gel packs off, they’d done their duty. She scoots in next to me and strokes my hair, kisses my forehead, nose and tenderly kisses the bruised cheek. She lays her head on my chest, one arm across me protectively. We nap.
Nikko and Janah are in the bathroom, I hear the shower. Amaya is still asleep, I fall back into not quite sleep, a reverie of contentment that happens when I’m with Amaya. My hormones are being very pleasantly massaged, Night Rain raises my oxytocin levels.
I’m in silly grin mode, then realize Amaya is staring at me.
“Guess what I’m thinking about?”
Amaya doesn’t miss a beat, “Me, of course.”
“And how do you know that?”
She pulls up very close to my face and whispers, “I feel it, your eyes, your look, all speak of me. I do not even have to manipulate you, regardless of the kidding you take. Their assumptions are wrong.”
“J and N get it. Nikko likes to poke me about being your sucker, but she understands it arises from something deeper than wanting to please you, or be a pal.”
Amaya lays her head on my chest, “You please me by your existence in my life.”
I kiss the top of her head and think, ‘My feeling exactly.’
Nikko comes out of the bedroom, hair still wet, “If you’re finished buttering up Night Rain, perhaps you can dry my hair.”
Amaya, “She sounds like Mrs. Murakami, I shall do it, mom.”
Nikko on a chair, Amaya facing her while the dryer screams. I make tea, pour everyone a cup just as Janah emerges. My other leans over and kisses my neck, takes a look at my face, stands behind me with her hands along my jaws. I felt the vibe running through my face, at first a little pain, then it subsides and a feeling of extreme cold numbs everything.
“You’re going to freeze my tongue to the roof of my mouth.”
“Drink your tea and be still.”
Nikko’s done, I take the dryer and return it to the bathroom. She picks up a kitchen utensil and Amaya has to name it in Japanese, then draw the kanji. I peer over her shoulder and make corrections in the symbols, she gets most of the vocabulary right. We press on for three quarters of an hour, then I begin to concoct dinner.
Nikko, “Amaya, if you are going to do yoga, do it, then get showered. What time are we eating, Daphne?”
“Seven thirty.”
“Good, plenty of time.”
Amaya disappears and reappears in her yoga togs. I’d gotten her the top of the line, very chic. She improves it. She annoyingly made my stuff look better, and has taken to shopping in our closet, dredging out silk pullovers and miniskirts from days gone by. Amaya is near eye level with me when she puts on three inch espadrilles.
Janah, “Is there enough for Lacy?”
“No problem.”
Janah calls, Lacy appears a half hour later. She dressed sensibly, a boy’s dress shirt and barefoot.
She does the round of kisses, watches Amaya and Janah finish up their routine.
Amaya leaves to shower, Janah changes from workout clothes to a white linen robe.
Amaya comes out in a shift, her tall shoes on.
Lacy stands to hug her, Amaya’s arms drape over her shoulders, Lacy laughs, “I feel like a dwarf around you guys.”
“I was thinking more of an adorable pixie.”
Lacy gets her cutest silly grin on.
Nikko, “Children are present.”
“Fourteen is not exactly child.”
Amaya, “Sheesh, all the women are in heat, I need to turn down the AC.”
Janah, “Or maybe she can.”
“She’s an incredibly sensitive artist. A Zen Master who reads us like open books. Being trained by Ari is just making her more capable.”

Janah, “Wonder what’s next.”
Nikko, “You don’t think…..?”
Janah, “Daphne feels the stirrings, so do I, she’s growing up, girl hormones are busy.”
Nikko, “What about the Stepford students?”
Janah, “I don’t know what the source is, the source of their emotional neutrality. I also don’t know how the sex question fits. If they aren’t passionate, energized, why sex? The sample is one, can’t leap to a conclusion from one question, particularly one bluntly blurted out by a nine year old who said she dreamed it. Emotion cuts both ways, they would have no sense of decorum or propriety.”
“Sounds like Daphne.”

Janah laughs out loud, Lacy asks, “What’s so hilarious?”
Amaya, “They are mentaling, Nikko took a crack at Daphne.”
Janah, “Nikko commented on Daphne’s lack of inhibition.”
Lacy, “How would Amaya know that?”
Amaya, “I live here. I can read the signs.”
Lacy, “I’ve known them forever, I can’t.”
Janah, “I’m afraid we’ve adopted an emotional synesthete. Usually synesthete means someone who sees colors in numbers or years or months in three dimensions. It’s not an emotional thing, rather a cross wiring of the brain. I think Amaya’s brain is cross wired, or perhaps more finely wired. She collects inferences from our behavior and they appear to her as feelings.
Lacy, “You mean she is feeling other people’s feelings?”
Amaya, “Not like that. I know what other people are feeling versus what their mouths are saying, I don’t feel their feelings.”
Lacy, “Where’s the cross wiring come in?”
Janah, “It skips her personal interpretation. The sensory input, people’s expressions, eye movements, body language, even facial coloring are processed directly, not through a veil of subjectives.”
Amaya, “A picture comes into my mind, sometimes fuzzy, sometimes clear as day. From the picture, I grasp the gist of the conversation. With my mom and Janah, it has gotten clearer. With Daphne, it is almost always clear.”
 “What can I say, I’m an open book, Nikko a closed one, Janah’s in between. Even though we are one, we are one in total, each of us contributes a piece of the personality. It’s why we don’t become each others’ personalities to the outside world, which would be confusing to people.”
Lacy, “But among yourselves….”
Janah, “There is only one.”
 “Good gravy, is there wine? I need to settle my buzzing brain.”
“Geez, where are my manners? We got caught up in conversation, offering refreshment slipped by me.”
Amaya, “I will get it.”
She opens and pours a light Graves, chilled to cold. She gives me Coke Zero, the others wine and a glass for herself. They sit at the table sipping, absorbing the nuances of the conversation. I’m pan frying brook trout. Ten minutes later, I serve. Alongside the trout is crunchy broccoli in garlic sauce, brown rice and a mixed green salad with vinaigrette.
Lacy, “Yum. Daphne, you never lose the touch. This is perfection.”
“I thought I’d keep it simple. Amaya has so much going on, we don’t have the time for me to go elaborate as often. She’s like Nikko anyway, very careful with her diet. Elaborate is only for Janah and me.”
Lacy, “Call me for simple or elaborate. I promise to show up and indulge myself.”
“Thank you. I never duck appreciation.”
Nikko, “We’ve noticed.”
 Amaya laughs, looks at Lacy, “Do you not just love them?”
Lacy smiles gently, “Only since I’ve known them.”
They finish off the wine, conversation turns from heavy to light, it’s going on ten thirty.
Nikko, “Time for young lady to retire.”
Amaya, “Yes mother.”
Nikko tucks her in, when she returns, Lacy has gone home, Janah’s in bed with a book, I’m finishing up dishes. It occurs to Nikko that she has me alone. I’m still a mite busted up, but not in the area she’s interested in. Soon, I’m not only deflowered, I’m defoliated. Yeooow, she makes me quiver and moan. My mouth isn’t up to close work, but I reciprocate by strapping up and drilling Nishiko’s mind to mush.
Nikko goes to the bedroom, Janah’s nodded off, I check on my angel.
Amaya is asleep, but she stirs as I approach, “I thought you might not come until I fell asleep. Nikko had that hungry look.”
“She got fed, it was lovely. I always come to you at night. Most nights you’ve already gone off.”
Amaya, “In the morning, I can tell that you have been in to kiss me. Sometimes my cheek, my forehead, or my neck.”
“You can tell that?”
Amaya, “Yes. The best nights are when you do three or four kisses. I know because my whole face and neck feel beautifully warm when I wake up. Can you hold me for a while?”
“Of course,” I slip under the covers with her, she squeezes close, my arms around her; she scrunches into me.
 I kiss her neck, her cheeks, her forehead, her nose and her neck again. I feel her smile. In a few more minutes, she goes slack. I stay another fifteen, until she seems soundly out. I stand over her, can’t resist one more gentle kiss on the soft cheek.
One eye pops open, she grins, “I am irresistible, yes?”

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