Twenty Nine

I message Darla Jacobs, ‘Problem found and corrected. Find a different piano teacher, do not, under any circumstances, attempt to contact her or go to the house.
Kayla was under the influence of the woman, she appeared sane, she wasn’t. If you are contacted by any authorities, you know nothing, which is the truth. The messages between us will be deleted permanently and cannot be traced to any person or location. You need not reply, get on with life. Your daughter doesn’t remember anything, leave it that way, kids always move on.’
Zoe C, “We cleaned this up more quickly than I anticipated. Do you think we should get a late flight home? If the airline can accommodate, we could be in by seven thirty or eight.”
“In the morning, after such ugliness, I think a night for Mac and Zelda to decompress is better, us too for that matter.”
“Good point, okay we’ll take off at nine tomorrow, be home in an hour and a half.”
We never checked in anyplace, we need more of a motel than hotel, something where we can get Zelda from SUV to room without passing through a lobby or running into other guests.
After a ride around and a stop at a vacant park for Zelda to take care of business, she finds Garden Inn, a one off, not a chain. She takes two rooms on the first floor, and a pleasant surprise, connecting rooms.
“You guys get showered and settled, I’ll find us dinner, any preferences?”
“Takeout Chinese holds up well, there are microwaves in the rooms if we need to reheat.”
Check the phone, find a well rated Chinese restaurant. First, a bottle of vodka and a red. Mac might need a little wine, she’s done the most work today, using Qi to control gets exhausting, using it to blast a Shadow is more exhausting.
When I return, my mini-tribe is on the couch, Zoe C starts to get up, I wave her back down. She’s sitting sideways and McKenzie is resting against her chest, Zelda on the floor right in front. Zoe C laid one of the spare blankets down, folded to give her a bit of cushion.
“I’ll bring a drink, then arrange the food. Just stay there, Mac needs to chill.”
Wine for Mac, I figure Zoe C and I need a large vodka over crushed ice, I poke a stuffed olive in ours then bring the drinks to the girls.
“Zelda have water?”
Zoe C, “Yes, in our room, McKenzie isn’t about to forget to feed and water her big girl.”
Zelda’s nose is in the air, she’s eyeballing the boxes I hauled in. 
“Here you go Zelda, I got you an order of chicken in garlic sauce without the sauce,” I test it, lukewarm, I put a big spoonful on a paper plate and set it on the floor, you can guess how long it stays there.
Zelda returns to her spot, before she flops down, she gives McKenzie a once over with her snout, her way of verifying that her charge is okay. Satisfied that Mac is good, she stretches out on her tummy, nearly the length of the couch. 
McKenzie falls asleep at nine, I carry her to bed and return to have a nightcap with Zoe C.
“You don’t have a bruise, feel okay?”
“Fine, surprised I didn’t loosen a tooth but I didn’t. McKenzie froze the bruise away, then warmed me. The heat felt delicious and when she was done there was not so much as a tender spot.”
We give up the ghost at ten, sleep as if mummified, wake refreshed. Time to get to the airport and gone.
Elle is waiting at the exec terminal, “Quick trips are the best, Cilia misses Zelda, she must have searched the house and the grounds a dozen times.”
“Our family prefers to be together, includes the animals, the dogs anyway, Burma is a bit more independent.”
“It was a Shadow then.”
“Two in fact. After Mac dispensed with one, Zelda got the other.”
No further details, Elle won’t ask, I don’t know what Zoe C tells her. McKenzie won’t say anything to Zak or Mickey, no point in dwelling on or reliving the ugly.
After hugs, Mickey says, “Zackary is getting infuriating, he beat me at Go and he can’t even see the board.”
Zak, “I can see it through your eyes, thank you. I can remember the chessboard but too many squares on the Go board and there’s no location description, like queen to knight four.”
Mickey, “Bad enough getting pasted by McKenzie all the time. Now you.”
“Your fault, you let me watch when you play her, I learn from that.”
“I am generous and compassionate, probably a Buddha.”
McKenzie, “Everyone is Buddha.”
“Well, yeah, but most of them don’t know it.”
Mac goes off to the office, she didn’t get to trade yesterday, but she can’t trade on weekends either, so maybe it’s not attachment, to her it’s a video game. Or is she attached to the game? Why in hell am I asking myself these questions, and in McKenzie-speak, who is asking and who answers?
Zoe C, ‘You’re going in circles Chef. We can’t think our way to realization.
She’s right, better for me to have a swim than ask myself unanswerable questions.
Zoe C, Ellen and Natalie join me, it’s a big pool with lanes. Three luscious women in nothing, I’m in a common swimsuit. We motor until boredom or exhaustion sets in then it’s up and out to rinse under the pool shower, park around the patio table. A banquet of babes, my good fortune amazes me.
McKenzie brings a platter of finger sandwiches, I fetch sodas and iced tea. Mickey, Zack and Akiko come out, space themselves around the table. We enjoy turkey, ham and egg salad in the mild Malibu weather.
I ask Mickey, “Besides board games, what have you and Zak been up to?”
“Natalie set us up with an online course in statistics, after which is probability. We’re grazing slowly, but persistently, Natalie helps us over the potholes.”
Natalie, “They’re doing well, they like to challenge each other, mostly they work together. If Zak gets a point Mickey doesn’t, he explains it to her and vice versa. I know I’m sentimental, but it’s heartwarming to see how they cooperate, laugh at their mistakes. They come find me if neither can figure out what the formula is looking for.”
Elle, “I have them writing code, or I should say I found them a course for beginners, as with Natalie they ask for clarification but primarily figure out what to do together.”
“Anything I can do?”
Natalie, “You do more than, we’ll take care of education, you oversee nutrition and your extracurricular work with Zoe C and McKenzie. We know you can handle yourselves, but it’s dangerous, injuries happen and the possibility of injuries that could have been far worse.”
“We have the advantage going in, we know who we’re after, they have no idea of us. Zoe C and I can talk mentally, see and hear what the other does. McKenzie is her own weapon and I swear, she and Zelda have a brain to brain connection. Point is, we catch them off guard and we act quickly.”
Elle, “Do Shadows know other Shadows. I mean, there were two this time, but do they know other Shadows across the country?”
“Don’t know, McKenzie, any idea?”
“A network is forming, there are other Shadow killers too.”
“Wait, we aren’t the only people aware of these people?”
She shakes her head no.
“You can’t tell where they are, or how the network is forming?”
Another no.
“Can you stay tuned in, report anything else that comes to your attention?”
This time a yes.
“You have a lot to do, don’t turn Shadow sensing into a full time job…wait…, when you see bits of the future you said the visions come to you, you don’t go in search of them, is it the same for Shadows?”
Yes again.
“Good, your brain can be better occupied with other things.”
Zak, “Yeah! Like great food and plowing through Mickey when you play Go.”
“Thanks a lot Your Sightlessness.”
Zak laughs, “McKenzie says it’s all illusion anyway, nothing to see.”
“So you won’t look through my eyes when the girls are nude?”
Zak, “A little illusion never hurt anyone.”


I’d say the kids are excited, but the adults are equally excited, time for us to visit our second home in the Canadian Rockies. Zoe C and Elle had flown up a few times to check first hand and were delighted to find the contractor was as good as his reputation. She took photos and videos, in part to keep everyone on their toes and in part to show the progress.
She bought a 2018 GMC Yukon SLT with four wheel drive. It’s waiting for us at the airport, Zoe C hops in to fiddle with the features while we situate the animals and kids. Four adults, four kids, two giant dogs and a cat, keep it up and we may need a tractor trailer.
The girls stocked non-perishables on prior trips, we make a grocery run for basics, milk, butter, eggs, a bit of produce.
Then, we’re here….Wow. We’d all seen pictures, they didn’t do it justice. Perfectly placed, it doesn’t face the lake, the front door faces the woods to the right, and the side facing the lake is behind a stand of trees and shrubbery. 
A huge porch runs from one side of the house to the other, then along the lake side of the place. That’s where our propane grill is located, just away from the kitchen window. We can pass through things to be grilled and back when they’re finished without traipsing through the house. A fan pushes the smoke and scents away from the house out to the woods. We can see the lake, of course, people going by on the lake can see the porch and part of the second floor. Zoe C said she saw a very few fishing boats in the early morning, one or two the rest of the day, skiffs with small outboards and little noise.
Mickey, “What a fireplace, Zak will have to chop wood all summer.”
Zoe C, “We had enough cut wood laid in to last a year, particularly since we’re here part of the year. The plan is to leave before the snow starts to accumulate and arrive when the roads are all open. If you learn to ski or board, we can hang in for part of the ski season.”
She and I had discussed snowmobiles, the kids will learn to snowboard, not sure about McKenzie and Akiko, but Mickey and Zak for sure. We didn’t bring up snowmobiles yet, first things first, it’s summertime and we need to learn the property. Zak because he’s blind and the dogs will want to range to and around the fence line. It’s near wilderness, would be if we hadn’t cut back underbrush, hauled out dead trees and made paths which the dogs and the kids will keep open by traveling them.
“There’s roasted chicken for lunch, tonight I break in the grill if a couple of you will go to the lake and land a few fish. There’s crappie and walleye, trout too.”
Zak, “Fishing! Let’s go Mickey, where’s the stuff?”
The blind kid never lacks for enthusiasm. 
“Go to the tool shed in back. There are plain poles, we have more elaborate rod and reels if you prefer. If the fishing’s no good, we have veg lasagna thawing. It will be ready for dinner either as a side for fish or on its own. Which reminds me, I need to take steaks out to thaw for tomorrow.”
Elle, “I’m fishing too, let’s get the stuff kiddos.”
They go off to try their luck, Zoe C and Natalie decide to try their luck on the porch with a glass of sauvignon blanc. We have an extensive wine cellar they stocked on their last visit.
I join them on the porch, “I didn’t realize how much work you and Elle had to do to get this place ready.”
Natalie, “Neither did I, thank you both, you must have gone fourteen hours a day.”
Zoe C, “We managed a few laughs, lovely intimacies, but yes, at night we didn’t have to worry about getting to sleep, we died in ten or less.”
“You checked the fence?”
“Yes, I went left, Elle went right, we scanned every foot. It’s the same as we have at home, the animals can’t get in, our animals can get out, even Burma can have the run of the place.”
“Oh, no, she can’t. There are hawks, owls and eagles here in abundance, the fence means nothing to them. Burma will have to be with the dogs at the least, they’ll discourage the raptors. Even better if the kids go.”
Natalie, “Hadn’t thought of that, Mickey would be devastated if anything happened to her cat.”
Zoe C, “I’d be devastated, Burma is a marvelous companion.”
Speaking of which, Burma and the dogs followed the fishergirls out to the dock. Zoe C bought a houseboat, it’s being delivered tomorrow. Down from the dock is a boathouse, dock and boathouse were already here and not in need of any major overhaul. I recall Zoe C telling me the contractor spruced up the boathouse and replaced the power winch and straps that we can use to dry dock the houseboat when we aren’t here.
McKenzie and Akiko come out, walk down to the dock to see what the others are up to.
Natalie, “Our two unearthly girls, an auburn beauty with the cutest freckles and a six year old with pure white hair and violet eyes.”
Zoe C, “I may never get my mind around either of them.”
“Join the club, you have the Bloomberg setup?”
“In the office.”
The office faces the mountain behind us. Down a hallway from the one downstairs bedroom, mine. Zoe C expanded the living area by knocking out a wall that was a second bedroom. Upstairs are six bedrooms, all with full baths. That change and those additions were the bulk of the contractor and architect’s work. We think the kids should have private space and private baths, showers actually, no tubs. Akiko tends to sleep with McKenzie, but she’s the youngest. Eventually she’ll gravitate to her own room.
We hear Mickey screech, “Zak caught a giant fish!”
I walk down to the dock for a look, “A walleye, must go twelve, maybe fifteen pounds. Nice job Zak.”
He’s all grins, I unhook the fish and toss it in the bucket, “Keep after it, any fish we don’t eat today will keep until tomorrow,” I sit cross legged on the dock, Cilia sticks her head on my leg, I scratch and pet, she goes to sleep.
Zelda is more engaged, walks up and down the dock looking in the water where the lines have been dropped. Elle uses a spinning reel and appears to have done this before.
“Who taught you?”
Elle, “Grandfather, we used to fish the ocean and lakes around California. Always caught something in the ocean, some days nothing in the lakes, we liked it, fish or not.”
Her rod bends, she hauls in a crappie, a smaller fish than a walleye, this one appears to be two or three pounds. 
Elle, “Black Crappie, never caught one before, they say it is delicious, we’ll find out tonight.”
Mickey lands a second crappie, Zak another walleye, by the time they quit we have six crappie and the two walleye, enough for a grilling party.
“Take them to the back porch, there’s a filleting table. Put the guts in the bucket and dump it in the lake, use the hose to wash the rest away.”
McKenzie goes with them, she and Elle have experience cleaning and filleting fish. Mickey won’t be left out, I see Elle showing her what to do.
Mickey, “You seeing this Zak? You get the next one.”
When it’s his turn, Mickey stares at the fish, Zak sees it, the angle is off because he’s seeing through Mickey’s eyes. He’s learned to coordinate what he sees with her position relative to him. He cleans and fillets the thing like any sighted person.
Natalie is next to me, “There he goes again, or they, with Mickey there’s nothing Zak can’t do, even without her he learned to navigate the Malibu property.”
Fillets wrapped and set in the refrigerator, the kids decide to walk the property before the sun disappears behind the mountains. Zak follows Mickey the first round, then alongside her the second, which is nearly as successful. There are a lot of trees and roots and rocks, boulders, to navigate and he won’t be satisfied until he knows every one of them.

Thirty One

McKenzie seasoned the fillets, salt, pepper, paprika, they sit wrapped in the refrigerator until grill time. The lasagna is in the oven, a commercial brand we wouldn’t normally use but we have to make adjustments. The nearest grocery is twelve miles away, we’ll make the trip when we need more basics.
“I found a recipe for jumbo pasta shells, not one we’d be crazy about, but it brought the shells to my attention. We can stuff them with anything that sounds appealing and have them for finger food, or an entrée for that matter.”
Mac looks over at my tablet, she nods, “Ground anything, beef, pork or even turkey. Add cheese or one of the sauces.”
She means the oriental sauces, sesame, General Tso, Tonkatsu, there are a half dozen decent selections. Add it sparingly to the meat after we brown it, then stuff the cooked shells and put them in the oven to heat. A variety of cheeses sounds tasty too, something with a bit of bite, jalapeno or habanero for instance, or something creamy like havarti.
Mickey comes racing in, “Chef! We saw a black bear! She came right up to the fence, Zelda and Cilia were fascinated, sat on their haunches with heads twisting left and right. Burma climbed on Zelda’s back and peered at the bear over her shoulder, it was so cool.”
“The dogs didn’t go ballistic?”
“Not a bit, neither did the bear, she was only curious I guess. Akiko nearly gave us a heart attack. She walked to the fence and scratched the bear’s snout and the top of her head. The bear huffed and snorted like Zelda, then licked Akiko’s hand. I thought ‘there goes a finger’ but nothing happened.”
McKenzie, “She was not hostile, only curious.”
Natalie, “Petting a black bear, it makes my stomach shiver,” she hugs Akiko, who smiles but says nothing.
Our little white angel knows nothing of fear, she’s like McKenzie that way. I can only assume the bear sensed neither hostility nor fear, thus no reason to get defensive.
McKenzie, “Akiko does not see any living thing as a danger, she is one with all. The animals know she has nothing to protect, there is nothing for them to attack.”
Dang, almost a speech from Mac, an interesting and welcome development.
Dear Natalie swipes a tear, “Why do the children know so much more than we do?”
I give it a shot, “They are the world, as are we, but they have an unvarnished perspective, clarity. We are filled with prejudices and opinions, ego talk. The good news is, they teach us and we are learning, one day we may see as they do.”
Dinner is delightful, Mac and Akiko grilled the fish with a tiny bit of oversight by me. The lasagna turns out to be good, no shortage of vegetables in layers of lasagna and a decent tomato sauce. There’s Tabasco and Tabasco Habanero to spice up the dish, lemon butter sauce to add to the fish. I have mine as it came off the grill, lightly crisped outside, flaky and tender inside. Zoe C has a tangy sauvignon blanc to accompany.
“Tomorrow evening, fat filet mignon, Champagne to celebrate this wonderful second home Zoe C and Elle created. Thank you both.”
A chorus from the kids, “Thank you Zoe C and Elle.”
Zoe C isn’t a teary type, but her grin is electric, Elle sniffles through a smile.
Real gratitude is in short supply with most people, our kids came from difficult, even ugly, backgrounds. They know to be thankful, more than that, they like to be thankful, it isn’t a fake layer of appreciation, they don’t know how to be fake.
Zoe C, “McKenzie hasn’t had time to concoct a dessert, there are a variety of ice creams in the freezer, chocolate, vanilla, rocky road, orange sherbet. After Elle and I clean up, we’ll have Cognac and whatever flavor you want. Oh, I have waffle cones if you prefer.”
No kid in the known universe wants a dish when they can have a cone, I take the containers from the freezer, they need to soften a bit to slide into a brittle cone without making a crumbled wreck.
We have a satellite dish for TV, computers for Netflix and Amazon. Tonight nobody wants to watch them, the show is outside.
Natalie, “So many stars, almost as if there were no sky, no space, in between them. Look! A meteor shower!”
The kids are fascinated, heck, I’m fascinated. I love Malibu, but it’s in a densely populated part of the world, too many lights to get this kind of starry night. Our porch has railings, unlike Malibu the porch is elevated with a half dozen steps to ground level. The railing is a thick square of waterproofed wood offering the added benefit of a place to park a drink. Burma finds a personal benefit, she can hop up, walk back and forth, or lay down and keep an eye on the kids. 
“If she’s out here, make sure she has company. On the railing she’s an open target for raptors.”
Just as I get the words out, an owl lands on the railing about two feet from Burma.
Elle, “Will you look at that. Bird isn’t afraid of us.”
McKenzie, “Great Horned Owl can fly up to forty miles an hour and might live almost thirty years.”
Natalie, “What’s Burma doing, should we take her off the railing?”
Akiko steps over, directly in front of the bird. The owl twists her head left and right, then a head bob like she’s dancing. Akiko strokes her wings, the bird sinks to the railing, clearly relaxing at her touch.
Burma stands, creeps over next to the owl who turns her head and scans the cat. Then Burma does her thing, lifts a paw ever so gently, taps the owl’s head, then again. A scary moment as the owl leans over and opens her beak, but it’s only to gently nibble behind Burma’s ears. Burma rolls to her back, the owl tickles her tummy while Burma’s paws rest alongside the bird’s head. Zelda and Cilia are side by side, just to the left of Akiko, closely attending to the show.
Zoe C, “Damn, would you look at that? Like old pals reconnecting.”
Zak, “McKenzie says everything is connected, the moon to the earth, the earth to the sun, our solar system to its galaxy and the Milky Way to all other galaxies. All of it alive and conscious.”
Elle, “How are rocks connected, or conscious?”
McKenzie, “The rock is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, which contain electrons, protons and a nucleus. Those particles are filled with energy, quarks, which are thought to be strings. All are in constant motion, some even popping in and out of existence. The rock has as much enerchi as anything else.”
In case you missed it, what the sages have referred to as the Absolute Mac calls enerchi, chi being the life force that pervades all the universe. In her mind, the energy is chi, thus enerchi.
When we separate the states of enerchi into words and definitions, it causes us to think there is a this and a that, and that consciousness is only for the sentient. That is a mistake, consciousness is not a product of our brain, our brain, and the rest of everything, is a product of consciousness. In reality, there is no this or that, there is only enerchi.
The owl hops from the railing to Akiko’s shoulder, she smiles as the bird’s beak tickles her cheek, poetically speaking.
Natalie, “Now I’ve seen everything and the everything underneath everything. We surely are connected, as McKenzie instructs and Akiko and the owl demonstrate.”
First day in Canada, Akiko pets a black bear, now this. One wonders at the wonders, and wonders what could be next, but only briefly, in reality there is this moment and nothing.
Zoe C, ‘We are privileged beyond words.’
‘Exactly so.’

Thirty Two

The houseboat arrived as promised. They gave us an orientation, the thing is simple to operate, it’s the add-ons that needed explaining along with care and maintenance. Everyone including the animals navigated around the lake for at least two hours a day. Mickey and Zak catch so many fish they quit, kick back and enjoy the ride. Zelda, Burma and Cilia sit side by side at the rail and stare into the water, then move to the other side to stare into the water again. It’s the fish, they’ve never seen fish swimming.
Every evening the owl comes and parks on Akiko’s shoulder, they act as if it’s perfectly natural, even when she goes inside the bird stays in her spot. Maybe she likes Netflix, the kids have been watching Wynonna Earp. I keep an eye on it, not for the plot, Wynonna is attractive, her sister Waverly is hot…a few scenes of lesbian light spices things up.
Elle, “McKenzie, how does Akiko make friends with wild animals?”
“No fear and an aura of calm acceptance.”
“What does and aura of calm acceptance look like?”
“Creamy violet.”
“Ah, her violet eyes, yours are violet, maybe more lavender with a slight hint of grey. Both of you have delicious eyes, perfectly lovely.”
Zoe C, “You with the irritatingly gorgeous ice blues. Chef and I are plain jane hazel, Natalie blue, darker than yours, Mickey leans to green, Zak’s black.”
Mickey, “And it’s not because he’s blind, his irises are so dark you can’t distinguish the lens, totally cool, he looks dangerous.”
McKenzie, “Feed Zelda and Cilia.”
She goes off, I hear the clink of the food hitting the bowls, then the faucet rinsing and refilling the water bowls. Mickey saved a nice chunk of grilled walleye and crumbles it in Burma’s much smaller bowl. The dogs finish in under a minute, Burma is too dainty to gobble and swallow. They wait patiently at the back door for Burma to finish, then all head outside for post-feeding necessities. 
Zak, “Let’s go with them Mik, and you too Akiko, maybe the bear is looking for you.”
Just then a roar of sorts, I can tell it isn’t Zelda, Cilia seldom makes a sound.
Zak, “I told you, that’s her!”
Zak and Mickey race out, Akiko follows but Akiko doesn’t race anywhere. Her primary exercise is swimming, she’ll can’t swim here, the water is cold even in summer. Tomorrow we’re going up the mountain, and it’s steep in parts. Mac and Akiko will make lunch, we can go up at a leisurely pace and eat when we’re hungry.
“What’s for dinner?”
McKenzie, “Burgers are in the refrigerator, made with chopped mushrooms and blue cheese. Akiko and I will grill, you make fries, shred cabbage, maybe grill onions too.”
“I’m on it,” I collect the Idahos and slice them into fat fries, then into a bowl of ice water and back in the fridge.
The rest of the family is on the front porch, can’t get enough of the crystal blue lake, the sun is halfway over the mountain to the west and sinking fast.
I go to the door and ask, “Ready for”
Vodka for Zoe C and me, red for Natalie and Elle. I make the drinks and take them to the girls.
Elle, “Where are the kids?”
“Other side of the property, I wonder if the bear showed up again.”
From the right side of the house, Zelda and Cilia round the corner, Burma riding Zelda’s back, then Zak and Mickey.
“You lose Akiko?”
Mickey, “She went in the back door to help McKenzie, what’s for dinner?”
Our favorite question, followed by what’s for lunch and what’s for breakfast. 
“Blue cheese burgers with mushrooms, fries, the usual burger additives.”
I go around the corner to light the grill, peer in the kitchen window. McKenzie is loading the burgers on a platter Akiko is holding.
I raise the window, “Grill will be ready in five.”
Mac nods, Akiko puts the platter on the dining table, this place doesn’t have an island in the kitchen. The appliances line one wall, with a break for the sinks, then the dining table big enough for twelve. Past that is the living area, two long couches, four cushy lounge chairs, then the twelve foot square of martial arts mats like we have in Malibu. Past that is the stone fireplace flanked by two flat screen TV’s. Two is for visual convenience, and we could hardly put a flat screen directly over the fireplace.
Zackary, “The bear came back for a visit with Akiko. Her owl pal hasn’t shown up yet.”
Zoe C, “She’s a night owl, probably keeping an eye out from one of the trees. What did the bear do?”
Mickey, “I think she wants Akiko to follow her, she came to the fence, then back up to the edge of the forest, then back to the fence.”
“You might be right.”
Elle, “You don’t plan to let her go into the woods with a black bear?”
“McKenzie can go with, if there’s a problem, Mac can deal.”
Natalie, “Tomorrow we hike up the mountain, we’ll be gone the bulk of the day.”
Zackary, “I can’t wait to not see the view.”
They laugh, Zak refuses to take blindness seriously.
Mickey, “You can see it through my eyes, I’m sure the view will be even better that way.”
Elle, “Akiko is only six, she can make that hike?”
“Chef will carry her if she gets pooped, maybe we’ll all get pooped and have lunch halfway up. It isn’t a test or a quest.”
I go out with a bottle of red, “Refills?”
I pour, make spritzers for Zak and Mickey, McKenzie comes out and heads to the grill. I made the fries, now resting comfortably in a warm oven, sliced onions to grill at the last minute and shredded purple cabbage to supply the crunchy part.
They want to eat on the porch, I get the folding picnic table and set it up, soon after we’re deep into savory blue cheese burgers and toasty fries.
Woosh! The owl does a two point landing on the railing, stares at us, head going in the U bob it does when she’s studying something, in this case us. Akiko gets up, gets a chunk of burger and lays it on the railing. It takes the owl about as long as it takes Zelda to wipe out the treat. And damned if she doesn’t wait for Akiko to finish her sandwich before hopping on her shoulder.
Zoe C, “She’s quite well mannered. Maybe she took her cue from the dogs, they don’t hang around the table for handouts when we’re eating.”
Burma hops on the rail and creeps over to the owl, repeats her slow touch then lays down with one paw dangling off the railing. The owl nibbles her ears. 
Natalie, “I wouldn’t have guessed in a thousand years, those two are supposed to be mortal enemies.”
Mickey, “Burma doesn’t have enemies, she’s too busy being happy.”

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