Some of us can talk mind to mind, we call it mentaling. I can mental with any of the others who can, but they can only mental with me or one or two others. It's screwy, but that's how it works. Mental talk is in italics.

Things you should know:
Some of our family can speak to each other mentally, not just telepathy, we can see what the other sees, hear what they hear, not so much in touch, taste or scent. I can mental Janah and Nikko, they can mental me. Dasha and Daria and I can mental each other. Amaya can mental only me. Chloe and Zi do not mental. It's not for everyone, you have to be willing to have your thoughts read at any time. We don't stay in each other's mind all the time, it would be confusing and pointless. When you see italics, that's when we are mentaling.
Ange Blanc is a nickname for Janah, she has pure white hair, not blond, white, like an albino. Ange Blanc is French for white angel.

Chapter One

Fresh back from our August retreat to the Canadian Rockies. My mom, Susan and her companion Taylor were up for a week, Susan had pressing commitments and needed to get back to Manhattan. Part of her pressing commitment is winding down her business. She’d made a bundle over the years in systems security consulting, and there is no financial reason to continue. She has taken over Society work, Spider, the paraplegic hacker extraordinaire carried the ball alone until Eloise came along a few years ago. His health is deteriorating and he’s going to need full time care going forward. Eloise, the silent mouse who handled his extensive hardware, now runs it for Susan.
The Society is arranging long term care for Spider. Long term is a misnomer. He’s not ready for a hospice, but there’s nothing to do for him at the hospital either. Years of cigarettes, coffee, high octane energy drinks and a diet of Snickers with almonds have consequences. It’s time for Spider to pay them.
Eloise dismantled the system in his apartment, expanded Susan’s at the condo, there are three bedrooms, plus Susan’s office. Susan and Taylor only use one. Eloise needs a place to live, she’s moving into my old bedroom. I was thinking how to describe her, best I can say is, think of Lizbeth Salander, the Swedish version with Noomi Rapace. Skip the spiked hair, just short black, same ninety pounds, barely shading five feet. Long skinny fingers, great for poking around in hardware, rectangular black frame glasses to see across the room, doesn’t need them for close work. Skin like gloss alabaster, she doesn’t go out much, we only know her vocal cords work because she mumbles to the equipment. Her limited wardrobe is black t-shirts, black jeans, and we think she has shoes, but we’ve never actually seen them. In the house, she wears black socks. If she goes out, she has black slip-on boots of pre-millennium vintage.
Since she lived with Spider, and he wasn’t sexually available, the most we know is that she’s not a dater, men or women. I don’t know her, not even sort of, Susan said she was always there when she visited Spider, had never spoken to her, a nod of hello doesn’t count as conversation. She materialized five years ago, Spider found her through his network. She came to him when she was sixteen and homeless. Sixteen is vague, could have been a year either way.
“Taylor going to adjust okay, a mini ghost-tech around all the time?”
Susan, “Guess so. Taylor and I are pretty easy going, Eloise is around, but either in her room on in with her servers and wires. My office resembles a server farm. I’m going to invite her to dinner with us when we go out, and over to your place, I have no idea if she will go. I’ll make it clear to her that yes or no is good either way. She has the run of the kitchen, she can let me or Taylor know her food preferences, or she’s free to shop for herself.”
“She continues on her Society salary?”
“Yes, the Society pays in cash, she’s good with that, no tax, no social security, no workman’s comp. She has health insurance we pay for, she’s never paid rent, won’t pay now. Since her living quarters are substantially upgraded, and she has all the tech she wants, I haven’t decided whether to raise her compensation. She hasn’t said anything.”
“She must have said something when you offered her room and board.”
“Does a nod count as saying something?”
“Sure, non-verbal communication, we do it all the time. When’s she coming?”
“Today in fact. She declined moving help, considering her wardrobe, it’s probably a suitcase, maybe a duffle bag. We ran duplicate Society files since I got involved a couple of years ago, I don’t need anything from Spider. She has personal equipment, that’s all she’s moving, we don’t need his hardware. She’s dismantling it and it’s going to junk status.”
“I assume she was vetted, I never did ask Janah.”
“Oh yeah. The Society knows her history, so Janah knows, she’s been the Society since Mrs. Epstein turned over the reins. Surprised you don’t know much.”
“We have so many activities, details I don’t need I don’t go looking for. I never thought much about the tech side. Maybe I’ll Google Ange and get up to speed on Eloise. I only want to be sure she’s fail safe. We have a lot of data that people even more dangerous than us would like to get their mitts on.”
“True, and I can’t say I can account for every minute of her time with the Society. Might not hurt for you to talk to Janah and make sure she simply hasn’t been overlooked.”
“I will. If there’s anything you need to know, I’ll get back to you. Probably nothing, Janah’s met her more than once, if there was something off, it would have shown up on her radar.”
“Duh, I didn’t think about that. I need to get moving, our little hardware mouse should be showing up soon.”
We click off, I check in with Ange Blanc, Just talked to Sis. Since Eloise is moving in, it came up that we don’t know squat about her. I’m assuming you’ve checked her out.
Janah, Spider did. He sent over bank records, phone logs, she understands that her online activity is recorded. Of course, she can hack, not like Spider or Sis, but she could theoretically have jumped the system. What she might do outside on another wifi is of course unknown. To the best of our knowledge, and my reading of her when I’ve seen her, she is what she appears to be.
Which is?

Extreme introvert, prefers machines over people, has no motivations or goal other than to play with the hardware. She also likes to make electronic toys, I guess you’d say toys. She made a flying remote controlled robot that can land upside down on the ceiling, just like a fly. It transmits video back to her screen and it adjusts the picture whether it’s right side up, sideways or upside down. She installed all of Spider’s video security, and it can tell her the height and weight of anyone in its vision, it also has a metal detector and it sweeps for bugs. I don’t know what other stuff she’s developed. Her room looks like an electronics warehouse. I hope Susan doesn’t mind a certain amount of clutter.
She’d mind if it was all over the house. If it’s in Eloise’s room, that’s her business. Susan’s been to Spider’s, she knows about that already.
In the time she’s been with Spider, there’s never been a hint of Society matters leaking anyplace. For now, I’m going with history, their activities on our stuff has been pristine.
I’ll pass it along to Sis, what do you want for dinner, any requests?
Nope, I’m leaving the temple now, Amaya is outside with the car, see you in a few.

I call Sis and pass along my conversation, when I hang up, Dasha is next to me, “We will make tea now, Dahfoney.”
If you’ve come this far, you must have read prior books, I’ll reintroduce characters as they come along.
Dasha is half of Dasha and Daria, our twins. We pulled them from Russian child sellers in Houston when they were eight or nine. They are so identical as to be clones, at least physically. Daria is more to herself, Dasha more conversational, neither is outgoing. They have learned to fake social skills for our resident performance artist and author Amaya, another earlier rescue from parents who decided a child modeling site wasn’t enough. They had just begun renting the gorgeous young girl out to pervs when we stumbled on the situation in St. Martins in the Caribbean.
That, among other things, is what we do, find abusers. When we do, there are consequences, consequences free of annoying interference by the justice system.

Chapter Two

Time does what time does, Eloise gets settled, I’ve talked to Susan and Taylor several times, they seem satisfied.
Our house is stirring, it’s early December, the weather’s cold, not frigid yet, a few chilly rains, no snow. Dasha and I are making breakfast, the smell of coffee and bacon frying has our women wandering in. They pour their preferences, coffee for most, green tea for Janah, black for Daria and Dasha.
Soon, across the table are blini, caviar, sour cream, smoked salmon, poached eggs, crispy bacon, cut strawberries, blueberries, and cantaloupe.
Amaya, “I am feeling weightless this morning, my latest novel in stores, a splendid breakfast. Vesnushki and I are off to Christmas shop, it’s time for spring wardrobes for the twins. I took the liberty of snooping through everyone’s closets, I do not see the need for more wearables, unless anyone has special requests.”
Nikko, “I have stuff I haven’t put on yet.”
Zi, “I could use a new suit jacket, black or grey please.”
Amaya, “Done, Janah, Daphne?”
No and no, she brings home odds and ends all year long when she finds things she likes. It’s not that she knows our tastes, her attitude is she knows what our tastes ought to be, we are never disappointed. Janah and I are good about donating our stuff when we’ve tired of it. I keep our closet organized, my fetish, and I don’t collect shoes, we have enough, Janah doesn’t care about clothes. We aren’t jewelry people, I’ve worn the same simple platinum bracelets, rings and necklaces for years. They’re part of me, I keep them clean and in good repair, I like them. Janah seldom wears jewelry.
“As far as presents, keep it simple for Janah and me,” Zi adds, “and for us as well.”
Amaya, “Will do. Jacket for Zi is the only other apparel besides the twins. I have no idea what to get Chloe, perhaps something for spring and summer. Daria and Dasha have snuck on another inch, I thought they would peak at five-six, but they fooled me.”
Dasha, “Jeans same waist, longer. Dresses are gud.”
Amaya, “Your short skirts are an inch more revealing.”
Dasha, “No mahter, not so short.”
Amaya, “No, they are still acceptable. We will not be all day, lunch out, back for tea I am certain.”
Zi, “Nishiko and I are going to the temple with Janah. We want to train with the monks.”
Dasha, “Dahfoney, sister and I will work on chee, and dummies, you will come. After lunch, we must go to Veelege Diner and make eenveentory.”
“Sounds like a plan. Everyone back for tea, four thirty?”
Zi, “After lunch at the temple we’re coming home, two thirty latest.”
Girls go to get bundled up, a car for nine thirty, it will drop the three at the temple, then take Amaya and Chloe to midtown. Good to have a car and driver waiting, don’t have to tote purchases from one store to the next, particularly in the cold. Considering Amaya is shopping for the twins, the boxes could multiply quickly.
After Dasha and I clear breakfast dishes, we get dishwashers started. We have two, eight women living here, things stack up quickly.
Daria is already in the workout room, we sit in a circle and sink into no mind. This is a qi meditation. What that means is we are absorbing energy from the field that surrounds us. It surrounds everything, but few people notice it. They sure don’t know it can be used, for healing, for creating heat or cold, for moving physical or mental matter.
There is a thread that runs through mystical literature and legend, no matter what culture. Shamans in South American talk of seeing, they mean seeing energy fields around living things, and lines of energy emanating from themselves, connecting them to people and objects. Buddhists talk of being one with everything, religions and mystic philosophies all refer to connectedness, nothing exists separately. Native American cultures speak of spirit guides in the form of animals. Some of it, of course, gets morphed into a formal structure, a system, where the priest or guru knows and you don’t. Then you must pay in coin or belief to receive his wisdom. Suppose I can’t blame them for trying to make a buck, but none of it is necessary.
You can find this energy, it’s free, there for the taking. Perhaps not exactly free, there are a few minor requirements.
First, let go of what you believe is you, your history, past memories. Then drop your routines, your daily grind, your perpetual to-do list. Finally, understand that you are not important, it’s not about you, at the same moment realize you are important, it’s all about you. If you don’t understand, you’re on your way.
For ninety nine point nine, nine, nine percent of the population, these simple requirements are beyond comprehension. You believe you are your memories, it scares the crap out of you to let them go. Your routines are comforting, you don’t have to meet a challenge face to face, you create a system to avoid the very challenges that will free you. Lastly, in all Western cultures, the idea that it isn’t about you is diametrically opposed to everything you are told. Indoctrinated in self reliance and self absorption, there’s no chance of tapping into anything external for help, believe not only that you can do it all by yourself, but that you should do it all by yourself. Drive right past Bliss, next stop, Anxiety.
The first thirty minutes is spent absorbing energy silently, then we spread out, about ten feet apart, still in a circle. We spend a half hour playing a game of push the tennis ball, with our minds. Every few minutes we add another ball. The idea is to keep the balls from shooting out of the circle. It’s quick and focused, one of us sends a ball rolling, another sends one rolling and at the same time we have to stop the ones getting close to our edge of the circle. We’re up to five balls, our record so far. If we throw in a sixth, one always escapes.
At the end of the half hour, our brains are buzzing, we’re dizzy. We sit until the tingle dissipates, then on to the qi dummies.
An hour of whacking those, with breaks to tumble, Dasha’s ahead of Daria and me. I can do back flips in succession, and a front handspring flip, Dasha can do repeated front flips across the mat.  Finally, huffing and sweaty, we guzzle water and wind down. I collect the clothes, take them to the laundry, strip off mine. The girls are upstairs for a Jacuzzi, I go to the shower. After my hair is dry, I tap into Dasha’s head, they’re still bubbling.
Time to go, lunch at the diner and get the inventory straight.

Dasha started cooking Friday specials at the Village Diner. Down home food, unlike typical NY diner fare. Chuck and Mini, the owners, got behind on the business side when Chuck’s wife had to retire early. Daria is good with numbers, she works with Nikko and Zi in our property management business. She helps out with the diner’s ledgers and inventories, cashiers on the insanely busy Friday’s when Dasha’s specials are on the menu.

Chapter Three

It’s twelve thirty when we walk in, a wave to Mini, Chuck comes over, “Hey girls, where’s the posse?”
“Temple and shopping, we opted to stay home, Daria is taking inventory after we eat. Ask Mini to do something light, sandwiches, one order of fries only.”
Chuck, “Got it, black tea for Daria, Coke Zero for you and Dasha.”
Chuck goes off to tell Mini, brings our drinks. It’s lunchtime, the place is busy, no chit chat today.
Our food arrives, turkey with cranberry, tuna, grilled chicken breast on a bun, we’re about half done when one of the assistant DAs I’ve known for years, shows up, “Daph, got a minute?”
“Sure, slide in,” he waves to the folks he came in with, “Just be a minute,” the three of them find a booth, he parks next to me.
Dave Cameron has been in the DA’s office twenty years, we’d swapped jokes and lies since he was a green prosecutor assigned to cut plea bargains for the less important cases. Now he’s the lead in court for the most important ones. He goes by his last name, I recall him being military before he got on with the DA. He’s a hunk, and asks me to marry him once in a while, which I would, except I have no idea why anyone wants to be married, and he’s not a girl. Other than that, he’s in my top three or four.
Cameron looks at the twins, “How do you tell ‘em apart?”
“They don’t dress alike, never did, other than that, Dasha is the one who talks.”
Cameron, “I’ve seen Daria chatting with people at the register.”
“And she has to take a nap when the shift is over. Talking drains her. She wants to be nice to Chuck’s customers though, so she does the right thing.”
“Sorry to interrupt lunch, I have something on my mind, I don’t know if I should…” he glances at the twins.
They’re paying attention to their sandwiches, he didn’t interrupt jack for them.
“They know what I know, and you’d have more luck interrogating a stone Buddha.”
Cameron looks back at the girls, it’s like he’s not even there, “See what you mean. Okay, we’ve been following financial transactions the auditors for the city don’t understand. I know your mom is a computer security consultant, maybe she can help, if she’s willing.”
“Sure, she likes that kind of thing, I mean, not that someone is playing around with the taxpayer’s money, but digging into security breaches.”
“It has our people baffled. Money in various city accounts is siphoned off via wire transfer. We follow the transfer, but there is nothing on the other end. Obviously there’s an account, there are numbers, but they reference nothing. No bank, no financial institution, no corporation in or out of the country.”
“Hmmm, a dummy address, and there’s no name of the institution attached, even a fake one?”
“Nothing but numbers.”
“But they can hack your system at will?”
Cameron nods, “We don’t show a blip in any firewall, so they say, tech isn’t my area.”
“Any specific department? How much money?”
“That’s part of the confusion. It bounces around, you can imagine the number of accounts for a city like New York. And the hacker does it in drips, three hundred, two fifty, a big number would be five hundred. Never an even amount, always two hundred forty seven and twenty six cents, like that.”
“Does the system require an entry for the purpose before it will send money?”
“Yep, and the name of the vendor.”
“Don’t the vendors have to be approved first? You can’t just send money to XYZ company if it isn’t on a list someplace, can you?”
“That depends on the level of the transaction, wired funds always require an approved vendor.”
“Then your hacker is changing the vendor’s code as well, the name is attached to a number, the number would route the money to the vendor’s bank then to his account. Of course, vendor’s change banks like anyone else, can they change the numbers on their end? Or does someone in accounting have to do it internally?”
“You’re asking the right questions, must have learned something from mom over the years. No, they can’t just change bank routing and account numbers, they have to send updated documentation, signed by the authorized person listed on the account. The city sends a reply e-mail that has to be responded to or nothing changes.”
“And no such documentation exists for the funds wired to nowhere, but your e-mails are replied to.”
“No and yes, the numbers get changed just the same.”
“Well, I’m telling you what you already know, somebody is deep into the guts of your system. And you can’t just shut down the payment streams, vendors get testy when they don’t get paid. What’s the total so far?”
“Two hundred twelve thousand and change.”
“You boy’s been busy at a few hundred a crack.”
“Very. It’s happened over the course of six months, with an average transfer of two hundred fifty, that’s a thousand transactions.”
“Five or six a day then.”
“Yep. Think Susan will look into it?”
“Has to, some of it’s her tax money.”
“Some is from fines, some from confiscations, most of it is general departmental funds, so, yes, tax money, city, state or federal.”
“Does it ever occur to politicians how many levels people are taxed on? Income for the city, state and feds, property, sales tax, gas tax, employment, not to mention fees for this and that? It’s a wonder people have money for rent.”
Cameron shrugs, “I’m a taxpaying slob like everyone, Daph. People want services, somebody has to cough up the money.”
“Give me a contact number, I’ll get it to her today.”
He stands, “Thanks, I hope she can get to the bottom of it, or at least do something to find the hole in the wall and patch it up. By the way, how come I’m twenty years older since we met and you aren’t?”
“Cosmetics and lotions, try Bliss or Kiehl’s.”
He frowns, looks at the twins, “Nice not talking to you girls.”
Daria is looking out the window, Dasha says, “Haf a nice day, thank you for coming, we appreciate beezness, gud for seeing you, bye now,” she offers her idiot girl grin.
Cameron is still laughing when he gets to his seat.

Chapter Four

We’re sitting around the low table, it’s tea time, our everyday afternoon ritual somewhere between four and five. When we can carve out more time, it’s more formal, with thick tea, sweets, then thin tea, entertainment by our geishas, Chloe and Amaya.
I’d called Sis, she’ll alert me when she has something for the city. Nothing to do but let her work the city’s system and see what pops up.
I recount the story to my housemates, finish with Dasha’s parting shot, they think it hilarious.
Nikko, “They learn social niceties only to turn it into sarcasm.”
Dasha, “Sarkazm ees how we, um… Daria, what ees obrabatyvatʹ ?”
Daria, “Handle.”
“Da, how we handle social necessary, no so boring.”
Amaya, “They are sarcastic as a straight razor. Be glad you do not have to teach then conversational niceties. I finally got Dasha to quit asking why they had to say this or that in complete sentences, not just ok, thanks, see you later.”
“Eemaya always say same thing, because I say so, because I say so, because I say so, broken recording.”
Amaya laughs, “I say it so much that one session Dasha asked ‘what ees time?’ and I said, ‘because I say so.’ She looked at me like I had lost my mind.”
We laugh, “Guess you weren’t in the moment, still in the moment before.”
Chloe, “Shopping was fun, Amaya got the girls wonderful things, going to be the style girls of spring and summer.”
Zi, “They have been the style girls for six years now, or is it seven?”
Janah, “Seven, they were nine we think, now sixteen. Although we don’t do birthdays around here.”
Zi, “No point, nobody gets any older, it’s like reverse dog years, it takes seven years to age one.”
“Even seven seems to be too short, I haven’t been able to correlate it. Daphne’s been on Earth thirty seven years, but she’s biologically twenty five.”
Amaya, “And mentally twelve.”
“Maybe that keeps me young.”
Amaya, “Nikko is totally mature, she isn’t aging either.”
“I’m keeping all of us young then.”
Chloe, “Works for me, be as immature as you like.”
“I think we’re vampires. A variety that doesn’t drink blood, just spills it, I’ve never had the urge to drink any. Perhaps we’re fine dining vampires, or caviar vampires, it isn’t red wine, I don’t drink, neither does Zi.”
It’s all joking, we know what keeps us young, and it is blood, or what’s in blood. Janah and I have weird DNA and a few other enzymatic anomalies. We passed those along to our extended family via transfusion. Nikko, Janah, Zi and I are around twenty five, forever, Amaya and Chloe fifteen and sixteen along with the twins. Our parents are all forty-ish, Taylor is twenty nine although they should all be ten years older.
Tea over, my girls move off to various late day things, baths and showers, Dasha and I clear up, Daria up to her room.
Dasha says, Daria will make sex with me now. We will feex dinner after, turns, heads up the stairs, I hear Janah in my head, And Janah wants to make sex with Dahfoney now.
Oooh, lovely thought. I do my part, lay on the bed and get explored, violated and reviolated, she does me orally, then pulls out the strap on. Yay!
“I’m not sensing you want me to reciprocate?”
Janah, “I’m building anticipation, Nikko has requested my presence with her and Zi tonight. I think Zi is feeling particularly frisky, she had her dom look on after tea. I may get toyed to death.”
“She still into getting her tush tongued?”
“That’s usually first on the agenda. When she gets like this, it’s that, then she does Nikko and I with a strap on, when she’s good and worked up, she likes to straddle my head and I do my thing. Nikko calls me names in Japanese, Zi fires off nasty Chinese epithets, it gets me squirmy. Nikko toys me while I’m under Zi.”
“Such a nice Buddhist girl, too. I don’t recall any of it in the dharma, maybe I missed some chapters.”
Janah, “I’m pretty sure we corrupted her, or at the least, tapped into her hormones. Once in a while she likes to play dominant. Then she’s satisfied for a couple of months, back to catering to Nishiko.”
“You did a superb job on me, Ange, my hormones are dancing gangnam style.”
Janah giggles, “The kids seem to have fun dancing it, the fad will run its course, probably has, once the over thirty crowd takes a dance up, the kids move on.”
“Once the over thirty crowd takes up anything, kids move on. Soon gangnam will be playing in supermarkets and elevators, the arid wasteland of pop culture.”
Dahfoney, Daria ees finish making sex, we will feex dinner now.
“Just got a message from Her Worship, I’m instructed to feex dinner now.”
“I’m done with you, best get to it, I’ve worked up an appetite working you over and I’m in for an aerobic mauling tonight.”
I find Dasha already in the kitchen, Daria still upstairs, “What’s Daria doing?”
Dasha, “She ees go to see Vesnushki and Eemaya. Vesnushki brushes hair, talking, Eemaya does toe painting.”
“On Daria or herself?”
“Both, and Vesnushki.”
“We have fresh fish, trout, what do you want to make with it?”
“How to cook feesh?”
“I’m thinking breaded, baked in the oven.”
“Gud, Janah will haf creamy speenach, maybe stuffing bake potato, garlic, ohnyon, chizz, bacon creesp, shallot and chive. Janah wiz maybe yellow pepper too.”
“Perfect, I’ll bread fish if you will get the spinach going.”
Janah comes in and sits at the table, “What’s the menu?”
“Baked fish, creamed spinach, stuffed baked potato, do you want a salad?”
Janah, “Chunk of iceberg or romaine, whichever you have, with bleu cheese.”
“I have a couple of heads of iceberg, I’ll make one for everyone, couple of dressings on the side, nice and simple.”
Janah, “Dessert?”
“Let’s see, I bought a new thing, Pepperidge Farm Milano Melts, crisp cookie with  vanilla crème inside. Maybe two in a sundae glass, scoop of vanilla bean and hot fudge, how’s that sound?’
“Can I have dessert first?”
“I’ll take that as a yes, but no, everything in proper order. We aren’t European, no salad at the end, salad at the beginning.”
Janah, “I’ll open wine and anticipate. Dasha, can I get you something?”
“Vodka, shake over ice, beeters, only a drop.”
Somewhere along the way, she’d discovered bitters and liked the bite it adds to her vodka. Janah opens a cabernet, makes Dasha’s martini, earns a ‘spasibo,’ then moves to the couch with her glass of red and clicks on the TV to surf movie options. There’s a laptop with an HDMI connection to the TV, we can watch Netflix, Hulu or Amazon programs on regular TV.
Amaya, Daria and Chloe appear, Amaya makes drinks for them, Daria and Chloe look over the dinner preparations.
Chloe, “Yummy, fish, creamed spinach and baked potatoes, can I do anything?”
“Thank you, yes, we’re having a wedge of lettuce for salad, it would be great if you’d cut the wedges, then back into the refrigerator to keep chilled.”
Daria helps Chloe, Amaya joins Janah on the couch to discuss movie options. Then Nikko comes in, Zi is still in their room, probably lining up the toys for use later. Or maybe she’s meditating for an end to hunger, world peace, and the enlightenment of all mankind.
Amaya, “Do I have time for another cocktail?”
“Yes, the fish needs to bake ten more minutes, I just flipped the pieces.”
She reloads cocktails, makes Dasha another, who’s occupied opening potatoes, mush up the inside, adds the seasonings and stuffs the potato back in the skins, then into the second oven to keep warm. Spinach is ready. I take out the lettuce wedges and put them on salad plates with two bowls of dressing, chunky blue cheese and vinaigrette.
The family surrounds the table, starts working on salads, Dasha and I put out two bowls of creamed spinach, a platter of stuffed potatoes and a second of crispy fish, catsup, horseradish, tartar sauce, lemon wedges and Okonomi sauce. Wine is poured, I think we have it covered.
Dasha and I are rewarded by healthy appetites and enthusiastic compliments, including Daria, who actually speaks, “Dasha and Daphne are better than fancy restaurant, food always perfect.”
“Our family has good appetites.”
“Appetit prikhodit vo vremya yedy.” ( the appetite comes with eating)
Janah, “You have been highly complimented,” she translates the proverb.
“Thank you, Daria.”
“Dobro pozhalovat.” (you are welcome)
I am a bit overwhelmed, Daria is not loose with her words, I see Dasha looking at me, with something like pride, satisfaction at the least. It is no natural act for Daria to offer a compliment, her sister knows Daria inside and deeper inside; for Dasha, this is no small miracle. The dear darling actually squeezes my hand under the table. I know it sounds like a simple thing, but it isn’t simple for Daria. It’s all I can do to remain composed.
Janah, Your care for her sister, the joy she sees in Dasha, cooking, playing around with you, how Chloe looks after her, has changed Daria, softened her edges. Good job, Shaolin, good job Chloe.
I manage, barely, to keep from tears, Daria no doubt has read my aura, she already knows my heart. I glance at Chloe, see her gentle knowing smile.
“If you will gather round the TV, we will move from much appreciated compliments, to Quentin Tarantino as a sexual psychopath. While Janah and Amaya surfed earlier, Janah and I realized we are the only people in this family who have seen From Dusk ‘til Dawn. Enjoy George Clooney, Juliette Lewis and Quentin Tarantino while they create murder and mayhem in the desert.”
Nikko, “I vaguely recall this flick, it’s the one where Cheech Martin does the thing outside a bar in the desert.”
“Yes, one of the nastiest, funniest monologues in movie history.”

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