Thirty Three

Our hike up the mountain takes an hour and a half, our pace is leisurely with frequent stops to enjoy the forest quiet. 
Elle, “If there wasn’t a breeze rustling trees we’d be in absolute silence.”
The mountain still has a cap of snow that provides a stream ending up feeding the lake. We come on a waterfall that we couldn’t see from the house. It’s made a pool with a half dozen boulders sprinkled around.
Natalie, “How lovely, what’s it, fifty or sixty feet up?”
“Looks right.”
Zelda and Cilia are staring into the pool, probably wondering where the fish are that seem so plentiful when we cruise in the houseboat. Mickey explains that there are no fish here, they sniff at the water but don’t drink.
“The water is clear and clean, I wonder what scent they catch that discourages a drink.”
McKenzie, “Snow melt from pure white snow is generally safe, but this water has picked up minerals as it makes its way down.”
“The water at both homes is filtered, they aren’t used to drinking water having much scent. At home they don’t drink water from our pool either.”
Mickey, “Probably because Zak pees in it.”
“I do NOT, never, not a squirt, big liar.”
Mickey giggles, “I know that, it’s gross.”
We decide to stop here, there’s less than another quarter mile to the top but we’d have to deal with snow and there’s no point. Instead Mack breaks out lunch, ham or turkey sandwiches with Dijon, and a bag of chips. The adults toted bottled water we’re glad to pass around, lightening our load for the descent. The kids take a bottle and give the dogs and Burma a drink.
Zak, “Burma shouldn’t be too thirsty, she rode Zelda all the way up,” the cat laps as he pours out the water, “so much for my guess.”
Akiko goes rock hopping across the pool, stops at the last one and sits. It’s hard to know what’s on her mind as she sits cross legged and contemplates the waterfall.
“What’s she thinking about McKenzie, any idea?”
“Nothing.”
“You have no idea or she’s not thinking about anything?”
“No thought, awareness only, choiceless awareness as Krishnamurti might say.”
Elle, “Who’s Krishna…what is it?”
“Krishnamurti, he lived in Ojai.”
“Get out, he’s like a guru or something?”
“He denied being anyone’s guru. The ones he saw in India were mostly fake and it put him off the term.”
“How did you hear of him?”
“Nisargadatta mentioned him in his book, I looked him up, there’s website.”
“Show me when we get back please.”
McKenzie nods, probably had enough conversation for one day.
After an hour we police the area, head down to the lake.
I don’t know what the others get up to, I get a hot shower and take a half snooze, or so I thought, but when my eyes open an hour has evaporated. The clock says five fifteen, I dress and go out, my room is on the first floor and opens to the right of the living area. Must be outside, the place is empty.
The adult girls are on the porch, a half empty bottle of white on the railing.
“Afternoon ladies, where are the kids?”
Zoe C, “Around back unless they’ve been abducted by a Yeti.”
I go through the house and out the back door, walk to the fence, fifty yards or so from the house. Zak, Mickey and the animals are there, the rear gate is open.
“Why’s the gate open, where are McKenzie and Akiko?”
Mickey, “The bear came, she did her follow me thing and Mac went with Akiko to see what she wanted.”
“How long have they been gone?”
“Half hour maybe.”
I peer into the trees, see the motion of two people, McKenzie and Akiko appear, look none the worse. At least the bear wasn’t looking for supper.
I close the gate and lock it, two gates actually, one for the smaller inward curved fence to prevent Burma from exploring, the other high fence to discourage unwanted visitors. The dogs surround Akiko and sniff.
I ask McKenzie, “What happened?”
“She wanted Akiko to see her cubs.”
Mickey, “She let you get close to her cubs?”
“Akiko sat between them, I watched. She petted them for a while then mother nudged them into their cave. We left.”
Mickey, “She got to pet the bear cubs? That’s so neat.”
“You guys shower yet?”
Zak, “No, we kind of napped, then came out here.”
“Time to concoct dinner, get a shower, shampoo and all.”
They go inside, I follow, they go to their rooms, I go to the kitchen and dig around for ideas. Ah, I’d forgotten, there are a dozen fish fillets wrapped in cling wrap in the refrigerator, one problem solved. Let’s see, Panko breadcrumbs, eggs, milk, I’ll cut them in chunks and fry them. Take out pasta and cheese. Fried fish and mac and cheese ought to do it, vegetable? I find frozen chopped spinach, excellent, creamed spinach is a family favorite.
McKenzie and Akiko come along, “I’ll do the messy fish frying outside on the grill, I have the pasta and cheese out, there’s a pot of water heating up, you guys make macaroni and cheese and creamed spinach.”
McKenzie, “Get the oil ready, we will batter the fish and pass the fillets through the window.”
“Thank you,” I make myself a vodka over crushed ice, add a garlic olive, heavenly,
Zoe C appears, “Cocktails?”
“Take this one, I’ll make another, fried fish, the girls may want beer, I opened a merlot anyway.”
She goes to the front door, leans out, “Beer or merlot?”
Elle wants a beer, Natalie wine, Zoe C brings them out, I join them on the porch.
Natalie, “What did the kids get up to?”
I tell them about Mac and Akiko and the bear family.
Natalie, “Jesus, glad I didn’t know beforehand, you’d have to give me CPR.”
“Mac went with her like I said, there was no danger, unless something provoked McKenzie, then the only danger would be to whoever provoked her.”
“The dogs didn’t make a thing?”
“Nope, Mickey and Zak hung around inside the fence, Burma paid no attention at all, she spent the time snooping around the underbrush. The dogs gave Akiko a good sniff when she returned, but they had the scent of the bear already. I presume that they knew it wasn’t dangerous, they are smart that way.”
Elle, “Those dogs are smart in every way, I swear McKenzie can talk to Zelda, I mean as in converse, even if we never hear Zelda do much but groan and huff. Zak is about as good with Cilia.”
McKenzie gives me a heads up, time for me to move around the corner to the grill. The oil is ready, got my tongs and slotted spoon and a big platter covered with paper towels for the fish.
Dinner is a bit too elaborate to eat outside, we’re around the dining table enjoying crunchy fried with creamy mac and cheese and silky creamed spinach.
“McKenzie, the macaroni is amazing, did you add something?”
“Mascarpone.”
“Ah, that’s it, just a hint of sweet underneath the regular cheese, good idea.”
“Akiko, she likes mascarpone on English muffins.”
“Then good idea Akiko.”
A hint of a smile from our white haired wonder girl.
Outside there’s a hoot, then another, Akiko gets up and goes to the porch, her owl is waiting. She leaves a hunk of raw fish on the rail and comes in to finish dinner.
The hike has everyone famished, fish gone, spinach gone, most of the macaroni.
Mickey, settles back and holds her tummy, “Wow, that was great, I’m stuffed..in a good way, is there dessert?”
Elle, “Only you would claim stuffed in the same breath as dessert.”
Mickey giggles, ‘We never have dessert until later, by them I could be starving again.”
Zak, “You want to be a fat ladyboy?”
We laugh, Mickey has the boy part but is a girl in every other way. Like Zak with his blindness, Mickey doesn’t take her situation seriously. It is how it is, we see a girl, we don’t treat girls and boys differently anyway. She’s happy, we’re happy with her.

Thirty Four

Elle, Zoe C and the kids are out on the lake fishing, or maybe just cruising the houseboat and taking in the majesty. Natalie is making phone calls, CEOs of the companies under her corporate umbrella checking in, or asking about funding for this or that project. She seldom fronts money from the accumulation of cash building up in the parent, Natalie named her company Hypatia, pronounced Hy-pay-sha after the Greek mathematician. Minor expansion, advertising or ‘research’ must be funded by the individual company, but major expansion or a particularly interesting product may merit more cash than available in the sub-corp. She’s capable of saying ‘no’ and the CEOs have learned no means no.
Of course, any money spent by the sub-corp is money that doesn’t get sent to Hypatia, so a decision to spend it internally, above a certain amount that is different for each company, has to be signed off on by Natalie. I don’t know how often she approves or disapproves a project, sometimes she runs it past me, I give her my opinion, what she does subsequently is another thing I don’t know. 
I hear the houseboat, dimly, it doesn’t make much noise, just a hum even on the boat. I go down to see if I can help with anything.
“Catch any fish?”
Zak, “Yes, until two dorks showed up.”
I wait for an explanation.
Zoe C, “Two men, twenties I’d guess, came roaring along in a speedboat, spotted us and pulled alongside. The usual bullshit, ‘hey ladies, how about a beer, mind if we come aboard?’ When I blew them off, politely, they persisted with no results which got them angry, insults, bitch came up, I was a minute from pulling out the Glock, scare them off.”
“But you didn’t.”
“No, I know to pull it out in extreme situations, this didn’t qualify, still, it was reassuring knowing it was there with the kids on the boat.”
“Good call, what happened?”
“I drove off, they zipped around the boat a few times, close enough to spray water on us when they turned. Then they made a fatal mistake.”
“Ah hah.”
Zak, “McKenzie put a hole in their hull, they had no idea what happened, the boat just started to sink. Zoe C called the rangers. A few minutes later their boat showed up, in time to pull the two dopes off their useless tub. When we left it was only the outline of the deck just below the surface, their crap floating around.”
Zoe C, “We should have taken the dogs, nobody is going to try and board with a Mastiff and a Great Dane staring them down. Next time out, every time out, they go with.”
“Good again, I didn’t think of it either, now we know.”
The dogs appear, McKenzie gives Zelda a hug and a scratch, Zak the same with Cilia. Akiko seems unaffected, I stroke her white hair, “You okay?”
I get a smile for an answer, if Akiko was a guest on a talk show they’d have to cut to a commercial.
When Natalie finds out she’s quiet. Nat doesn’t do ballistic, or even mildly aggravated, but I know her. Eyes give her away, she does not tolerate idiots.
“It’s good Nat, their stupidity cost them a boat and all the stuff in it. Zoe C said the rangers assumed they clipped something hard in the water. It’s not like they’re going to figure out that Mac has powerful Qi, they likely don’t know what Qi is.”
“McKenzie is my daughter, all the kids are my kids, like Mac is everyone’s kid, you included, after all, you’re the only dad. I worry like any mom.”
“Of course, so do I, but they are never without protectors, serious as death protectors when it comes to the dogs, when it comes to any of us for that matter. We have to restrain our initial impulses, when one of those asswipes hit Mickey with a rock from a sling shot, I was so pissed I could have Glocked them into punk hell. He could have blinded or even killed her. McKenzie made cosmetic alterations that they will not be able to have fixed by the best plastic surgeon in California, doomed to a life of ugly.”
Natalie nods, “I know…I’m gonna enjoy worrying anyway.”
“Yeah…me too.”
McKenzie and Akiko are on the back porch cleaning fish then cutting the fillets, there’s a stack of two dozen rainbow and brown trout.
“That’s fish waiting on meunière sauce.”
McKenzie, “Akiko and McKenzie will make meunière, you will grill fish.”
“Sides?”
“Creamed corn, mashed potato with garlic and butter.”
“It’s three, lazy time. If you guys are done, I’ll deal with the fillets, go someplace and relax until tea.”
In the newness of our Canadian home, we skipped tea, but now it’s starting to feel as if there’s a hole in the day. Tea is our chance to catch up, or just chin wag in a relaxed communion with each other. Sometimes there’s little talk, the communion is in togetherness.
McKenzie and Akiko are resting, I make tea, pot of green, one black, crackers and three cheeses. Girls wander in, select a preference, add preferred supplements.
“I’ll bring the cheese out, no reason to sit inside today, it’s perfect outside.”
Cloudless blue, crystal blue lake, sun just creeping toward the mountain. Sunset is technically six thirty, but the mountain cuts a half hour off that, it’s only five now. plenty of time to vegetate before dinner duties.
Zak and Mickey are on the dock with the animals, Burma curled up in Mickey’s lap, Zelda and Cilia walking the dock looking at the small fish and minnows.
Elle, “Those dogs never tire of examining the water.”
Natalie, “No water at home except the pool, no fish there, we don’t take them to the beach, dogs that size draw attention and we aren’t attention people.”
“I was so happy to find Zoe C, she’s a honey but has zero interest in strutting her stuff around campus, when we were on campus. When she goes shopping now, it’s jeans and a pullover, sneakers, no mini skirt and fuck me shoes.”
“You don’t hooch it up either, neither does Nat.”
“I can bare my bones at home, get attention from the girls and Chef, enough for me.”
I wink at Elle, she’s plain spoken, upfront…and infectiously happy. When she shows up for our occasional intimate moments, part of the fun is laying around after the sex and goofing, talking, sharing. The play gets her steamy again, lucky me, maybe she’ll come around soon. Since we’ve been in Canada she’s been with Zoe C, Natalie joined then a couple of times. When Nat wants hetero-sex, I’m the only option, she doesn’t complain so I suppose I do the job for her, she sure does it for me.
Natalie parks next to me, “I’m cornering Zoe C for myself tonight, take your vitamins, Elle is coming for you.”
I grin, “Should I sing Oh Canada during the performance?”
She laughs, “You’re an idiot, but a fun one, we’ll keep you around for the food…and the other bit.”
I kiss her, walk down to the dock, “Enjoying Canada?”
Zak, “This is amazing, Mik and I want to hike up to the falls tomorrow, I know we just went, think it’s okay?”
“Sure, dogs have to go, or one or more adults. The mountain is our property, but our fence isn’t but five hundred yards up. We left our part of the mountain open as a courtesy for the rangers who may need to cross, and to keep the land unobstructed for the animals that live here. That means anyone else can go through as well. The dogs will discourage unwanted visitors.”
“We thought it would be an adventure if we went alone, I mean people alone, not Zelda and Cilia. Burma can stay here, she’s not likely to run off, but I’d hate to have to looking for her up there.”
“Good, smart decision. Mac or I will make up a couple of sandwiches, water, a protein bar or two. Mickey, take a SAT phone, call if there is the slightest concern.”
“Promise.”
“Do, you know how Natalie is, call when you get to the falls and all when you leave to come down, got it?”
Mickey grins, “It’s good to be treasured.”
“And you are, so don’t screw it up, we don’t have many rules but I’ll make as many as necessary when it comes to you guys and the other kids. You have your GPS tags?”
Zak holds his up, he wears it on a chain around his neck, “Always, so does Mickey, so do the dogs and Burma. I don’t know what other kids want, but I want my family to know exactly where I am, I am disabled after all.”
Mickey giggles, “What a joke, disabled, you do more than ten nine year olds including Krav Maga and our stick fighting. Chef, he’s starting to get as many points as I get and he’s flipping blind as a bat.”
“You’re taking your sticks, yes?”
“You bet, good for the steep parts and good for keeping the blind boy in line.” 
While I prep the grill for fish, McKenzie is showing Akiko how to make meunière sauce. Mac doesn’t explain, she demonstrates.
Worcestershire, onions, bay leaves, and lemons on medium heat, mash the lemons to release the juice and bring it all to a boil, then lower heat until it thickens. Add heavy cream and whisk for a minute, then butter while whisking. 
Then add to taste, paprika, salt, garlic and onion powder, black pepper, oregano and thyme. Strain the mix through cheesecloth, sprinkle scallions over the top.
They move on to mashing potatoes, skin on, the creamed corn is ready. Girls take a seat, Zoe C pours Pinot Grigio, platters appear stacked with fillets, bowls for the mashed and corn. Mac decided to leave the meunière in a gravy boat, we can add a little or a more generous portion depending or preference.
Elle, “I love this sauce. McKenzie’s doing?”
“Emeril, we followed the recipe.”
“Well it’s a good one, fish is excellent Chef, thank you.”
“My pleasure, and it’s not a cliché, I like it. McKenzie has the hard part, thinking up the next meal.”
Zak, “And I won’t even ask what’s for breakfast.”
“Still planning to go up the mountain tomorrow?”
“Oh yeah, well, depends on the weather.”
“Clear and cool tomorrow, front moving in day after, thunderstorms if they got it right. Weather predictions a few days out in the mountains is even more guesswork than at home. A lot depends on which way the winds push through.”

Thirty Five

Mickey, Zackary and Zoe C go up the mountain after breakfast, Cilia too. Zelda stays with McKenzie and the rest of us. Zoe C took her Glock, no point in having a gun if it sits on a closet shelf locked up. The children have all fired it, we want them to know how and we want them to see firsthand what kind of damage it does, at least on cans, which is demonstration enough.
While they go up, the rest of us go out, may as well enjoy this day, it appears the weather people are going to be right about tomorrow’s thunderstorms. For now, it’s clear with wispy clouds and seventy degrees.
I thought of taking the houseboat for a ride, but with the hikers up the mountain, I don’t want to be too far from the house.
Fortunately, it’s a concern of no concern, we have a light lunch outside, then pure idleness. Even McKenzie is content to sit and let the day happen. It happens for another hour, then a gunshot, off to the west, not up the mountain as far as I can tell. Sounds can be tricky out here. My brain twitches, it’s Zoe C.
“Did you hear it?”
“Yes, get down here and don’t waste time doing it.”
“Already started, I’m armed, Cilia raised her head when the shot went off, but she’s not acting like there’s anyone around. We aren’t running, but our pace is double time.”
“Want me to meet you?”
“No, stay there with the others, we’re good.”

She’s right, I should stick around and if I send Elle or Nat, then they’re alone until they hook up with Zoe C. Better to wait, no, even better….
“McKenzie, launch a drone and see where Mickey and the others are.”
She does, ten minutes later we watch them coming down, Mickey waves at the drone, points it out to Zackary.
Zoe C, “Stroke of genius Chef.”
“Popped in my head, a chance for Mac to give Akiko drone lessons.”
Elle and Nat keep an eye on the screen, I get off it and circle the house with Zelda. If anyone is in the area besides us, Zelda will alert me, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary. When we return, I fetch the Ruger from my closet and load it. It’s a simple rifle, .223 rounds, folding stock, sturdy, uncomplicated, accurate. Back to the porch.
“Where are they?”
Elle, “Ten minutes out, maybe fifteen, there’s zip in the surrounding area, McKenzie has been around twice, none of us spotted trouble.”
“Good enough,” I don’t need to tell them to stay with it, they aren’t letting the kids out of their sight.”
I plop on a chair, rifle butt down next to me, I’m holding the barrel. It’s loaded but no shell is chambered, yet.
There’s noise in the air, like air escaping from a tire, then a bald eagle lands just in front of the porch, lands with a thud and lays there. One wing sticks out unnaturally. Fuck, some asshole shot an eagle, how fucking stupid….but there’s no time to contemplate human idiocy, the big bird is hurting. 
Akiko zips down the steps, sits next to the injured bird, his, heart must be going a million beats a minute. She caresses the head, the bird doesn’t resist, she folds the injured wing in place then, amazingly, eases one hand under the torso and lays the other on its back, picks it up and carries it to the porch.
“Elle, find something soft for the poor creature to lay on.”
McKenzie hands the tablet she’s using to follow the drone to Natalie and kneels next to Akiko. Elle brings a big towel, folded to bird size, they raise it enough to slip the towel under. While Mac strokes the eagle’s head, Akiko eases a hand under the injured wing, her other hand over the top. 
Cilia comes around the corner, I go to her and tell her to sit, then stay. The big girl is curious about the action on the porch, but she’s well trained, she stays put.
Burma creeps over next to the eagle. She lays flat, her nose almost touching the bird’s beak. One soft paw ever so lightly taps the eagle on the head. Then she’s still, watching, eyes never leave the bird.
Natalie, “That’s a big bird.”
“Likely a female, they’re bigger than males by a third, can have an eight foot wingspan. I wonder where the male is, they mate for life. Maybe at the nest.”
My question is answered with a whoosh, and a smaller eagle, not by much, lands on the railing, cautious but apparently not afraid.
The hikers arrive, stare at the scene.
Zoe C, “How bad?”
“Don’t know, sounds dumb as I say it but at least it was a wing, anyplace else and she’s dead.”
“If she can’t fly….”
“One crisis at a time. The drone likely needs a charge, get another one and see if you can spot the hunters.”
She brings two, “Cover more territory with two, we heard the shot from the west, maybe a bit south of west. Mickey, fly one due west then search towards the north, I’ll take the southwest.”
So much for a do nothing day.
“McKenzie, should I call the rangers, they’ll have more resources for an injured eagle.”
She doesn’t look up, focused on whatever she’s doing for the bird, “Maybe tomorrow.”
‘But’ is almost out of my mouth when I can it. If Mac thinks she can help, or Akiko, they should go for it. Bringing rangers is more disturbance, the eagle doesn’t need more disturbance.
The male hops down next to his mate, taps his beak on hers, she seems quiescent, calm. It’s hard to say how much pain she feels, I don’t know how sensitive a bird’s wing is. If I got shot in the arm, I don’t have to guess it would hurt like hell.
The male nestles next to her, bodies touch, her eyes closed, his alert, active.
 I make coffee, let the others know it’s available and park on a chair with the Ruger. I start to ask McKenzie if they want anything to drink, before I get it out of my mouth, she asks for a cup of water.
Natalie, “Stay put Chef, I’ll fetch.”
Both birds take a drink, the injured females can’t move much, the cup has to be held for her. Mac leaves the cup in reach of the male. 
McKenzie, “Strip of meat, there’s flank in the refrigerator.”
Natalie goes in and returns with two thin slices. Mac take one and pulls off a bit, gives it to the male. She takes the tiniest bit and holds it next to the female’s beak, no go, she ignores it. 
“Probably not much for food at the moment, try again later.”
Instead she offers the female more water, she drinks again, a good sign.
Mickey, “I’ve got ‘em, the dorks. Three men in camo, rifles of some sort. They’re sitting, eating something, drinking beer.”
“You have the audio on?”
“Yep.”
“GPS locate, then find out where to send the coordinates to the rangers, message, hunters active in no hunt area, wounded an eagle, include the video. See what happens.”
Zoe C gets the video and message sent, now we wait.
I assume McKenzie intends for us to grill the flank steak, I go inside to find sides, she’s made up three bean salad with beets and onion, there’s Goddess dressing in the refrigerator. In the pantry there are cans of baked beans, take out two and dump them in a pot, heat on low. Let’s see, any bread? No, I know, cornbread. Too late for scratch and that’s McKenzie’s thing anyway, I grab a box of Krusteaz, simple to make and pretty tasty. I get busy, my front line cooks are already busy saving an eagle..
Elle comes in, “You need help with dinner, what’s what?”
“I’ll grill the flanks, beans are in the pot on low and Mac has beet and three bean salad in the refrigerator, you have cornbread duty. Keep an eye on it, I find it takes less time to cook than the box indicates, stick a knife in it after ten and see if it’s done.”
“Got it.”
I crank up the grill, give it ten for blast furnace hot, the kitchen window opens. Lovely hand reaches out with a vodka rocks and a garlic olive resting on the bottom.
“Thank you.”
Elle, “Zoe C is passing around beverage of choice out front. Maybe wait before the steaks, the cornbread should rest before we cut it.”
“I’m going to check on the birds, give me a shout when you’re ready.”
Everyone is on the front porch, all focused on McKenzie and Akiko doing their thing. I’ve seen Mac heal injuries, mine included, never seen Akiko do it. Mac tries to feed the eagle again, this time she takes the piece of meat, another good sign.
Elle pops her head out, “Cornbread’s done,” she returns to the kitchen.
Natalie, “Guess I could rise up off my butt and set the table,” stands, takes a closer look at the eagle then goes inside.
I tell McKenzie, “If you can take a break to eat, food will be up in a few, if not I’ll hold a couple of plates for you.”
Slight nod indicating she heard me, I walk round to the side porch, Elle hands me the flanks through the window. I love that first sizzle when the meat hits the hot grill. My temp pals, Zelda and Cilia are on either side of me. I chop off two cuts of partially cooked steak, make sure it’s not hot, and give each of them a hunk.
“Now go away, that’s it for you guys.”
They lope around the corner and disappear for a bit, then I see them crossing the property on my side, going to inspect the fence line for anything that isn’t familiar.
Zak comes alongside, “Had to come around for a sniff, the fan works too good, no cooking scent in front, must drive the wildlife crazy.”
“Speaking of, has Akiko’s bear been around?”
“I don’t think so, but she’s been here tending to the eagle, her bear pal usually goes to the back gate. The owl hasn’t shown up either but I heard one in the trees, probably watching her care for the eagle and doesn’t want to distract.”
I smile, “You give the wildlife a lot of credit.”
He shrugs, “McKenzie told us the animals understand a lot more than we credit them for, she would know. Akiko would know too, but she doesn’t talk much, a word a week seems to be her limit.”
“McKenzie and Akiko are only partially on our wavelength, the rest of the time I doubt we’d understand where they are.”
He grins, Mr. Happy, “That’s the best part, Mickey calls them the Weird Sisters, affectionately of course.”
“Neither you nor Mickey are capable of mean.”

Thirty Six

Mac and Akiko get to bed around eleven thirty, the eagles stay parked on the porch. Zak and Mickey built a small tent of blankets draped over chairs and anchored it with rocks. Been a long day, everyone drops consciousness under cozy blankets and comforters.
Thunder wakes me around seven, I roll out, get morning ablutions out of the way, then check on the birds. McKenzie and Akiko are already up, they’ve taken down the makeshift tent, Akiko’s back is to me, can’t tell what she’s doing, perhaps simply comforting the creature. I retreat and make coffee.
Zoe C comes along, a little early for her, more of an eight o’clock girl.
“Sleep okay?”
Zoe C, “Might as well have been dead, curiosity about our guests got me moving after thunder woke me, how is the eagle?”
“Don’t know, Akiko was doing something, I didn’t ask, she and Mac seemed engrossed. Any breakfast preferences?”
“Just make biscuits, I’m going to check on them.”
She returns in five, I’m just sliding the biscuits in the oven, “Be ready is ten or so, anything to report?”
Zoe C, “Does a miracle count?”
I cock my head, she continues.
“The female is alert and moving, she took a cautious walk across the porch, then half hopped, half flew to the rail. Her mate joined her, then she flapped her wings, Probably my imagination but she seemed almost baffled that the broken wing works.”
“Damn.”
McKenzie and Akiko come in, Mac says, “Bird is well.”
“Think she can fly?”
“Already flown.”
She produces a phone, it’s a video of the two, the birds are on the railing. Burma is up there with them and does the funniest thing, she stands on her hind legs and raises both paws over her head, then down then up a half dozen times.
Zoe C gasps, “She’s telling them to fly,” and shortly after Burma’s performance the male takes off, the female tentatively flaps, then she’s up and gone as well.
“Close enough to call it miraculous, wonderful job girls.”
McKenzie ignores me and checks the oven, Akiko smiles.
The others come down, Mickey and Zak hustle outside, instantly back in, “The birds are gone!”
“Huddle around Mac’s phone, take a look.”
I play the video, silence descends, they play it again, Natalie weeps, Elle is close behind. Mickey screeches, runs to hug McKenzie, then Akiko.
“You guys are amazing,” she picks up Burma, “you are amazing too girl,” she kisses the cat on the snout, Burma taps her nose then curls up in her lap.
Natalie, “I feel like Alice in Wonderland.”
I know what she means, it is unique in anybody’s world.
The rain starts with a clap of thunder, I check the weather, not to confirm the obvious, to see how long we might be in for.
The tribe is cutting open biscuits, soft clarified butter, sugar free jam, coffee and tea.
“A day to be nothing, for me anyway. I’m gonna squat on the porch, enjoy the rain, maybe a book, or maybe just sit. The rain is beautiful over the lake.”
Restart the fireplace, in Malibu we use gas logs, here it’s real wood. Dried thoroughly, the two cords outside are covered with a waterproof tarp.
The kids opt for the fireplace, chess and Go. The animals prefer the less noisy inside as well, adults park on the porch. No we aren’t likely to get struck by lightning. First, there isn’t that much, what there is, is off in the distance, second, the porch isn’t narrow, it extends twelve feet and the roofline juts out four feet past that. The rain would have to fall sideways to reach us, and the roof to the rear of the place has a fully grounded lightening rod.
I’m halfway through a non-fiction called God’s Debris by the guy who writes the Dilbert cartoon, Scott Adams. This book isn’t comic, a delivery driver stops to talk to an old man about the Big Things and gets a completely different perspective, good so far. Time to put it down and prep tea, and ask McKenzie what dinner looks like.
Black and green on the table with shortbread, our crowd has been quiet all day in keeping with the steady rainfall, beginning to dissapate as evening closes in. When I went in earlier for more coffee, the kids were dead away in front of the fireplace. This time they’re in a circle talking.
Zak hears me, “Chef, McKenzie thinks the Absolute is gravity.”
I join the circle, despite my advanced thirty two years I can still sit cross-legged, “What does that mean?”
“The Absolute is described by the enlightened as everywhere, doing nothing itself but enabling everything that happens to…well, happen. She said that gravitation waves have been measured and they were around even before the big bang, before the thing that enabled the creation of…things, stars, planets, moons, humans, even Mickey, although I don’t know why she’s essential.”
Mickey clocks him with a pillow.
“Hey, no fair, I’m blind.” 
Mickey, “Baloney, you heard the pillow coming, don’t dance for sympathy here blind boy.”
Zak grins, “Mouthy little thing isn’t she? Where was I, oh, gravity is in everything and it’s everywhere in the universe, an atom has gravity, and its movement affects everything in the universe, even if so slightly as to be unmeasureable. So, like the sages say, everything is connected to everything, and it’s connected by gravity.”
Natalie, “What do regular kids talk about?”
“Video games and pop stars, I think, I don’t know any regular kids.”
Zoe C, “I need to process this. Last time it came up McKenzie said we are the Absolute, now she’s saying we’re gravity?”
“If the Absolute is gravity, then yes. Besides, every atom in every body and brain, in every rock, tree, animal, everything is originally from stars exploding, which happened due to extreme gravity. Gravity didn’t make the elements, it enabled the elements to be made. Gravity apparently enabled the big bang, although the proof is mathematical, it can hardly be tested.”
Elle, “I read someplace that researchers are attempting to simulate the big bang, no idea if they even got close.”
McKenzie, “They managed to produce quarks by smashing subatomic particles traveling at near the speed of light to break them down to their constituent parts. They found the Higgs boson, which only raised more questions, but it’s a start.”
“The little stuff in the universe, the teeny tiny stuff they call quantum, obeys no rules, things pop in and out of existence seemingly at random. Best I can tell, everyone is confused and unsure of what comes next, and nobody knows why the entire universe devolves into absurdly small bits of energy they call strings.”
Natalie, “Is it cocktails yet, my brain is twisting at the speed of light, I need to slow it down.”
Zoe C, “Wine? Red, white?”
“Whatever you pick…wait, is there Champagne?”
“There’s always Champagne, Gosset or Heidsieck?”
“Both superb, how about Charlie H?”
Zoe C goes to pop the cork, Akiko trails behind her and brings glasses for the kids. We let them drink wine and sparkling wine, a couple of tablespoons with cranberry or orange juice for the sparkling, seltzer for wine. This is Champagne, you don’t under any circumstances add anything to Champagne.
Zak, “This is so good, bubbles on my nose, energetic taste, just tart. I may start drinking it for breakfast.”
Mickey, “Hah! If you think I’m hanging with a breakfast drunk you need a brain adjustment. McKenzie can take care of it, a few energy zaps and you’ll be lobotomized, total compliant with my every wish.”
Zak, “As you wish Your Majesty.”
Mickey giggles, kisses his cheek.
Zoe C, ‘See a relationship building?’
‘Well, they both have boy parts, Zak is a boy by nature, Mickey is a girl, I suppose we can’t expect grandchildren.’
‘Why not? They could adopt, all our children are adopted, they are nonetheless our children.’
‘That’s a point…granny.’
‘Shut up.’

“McKenzie, do we have a dinner plan?”
“Fried fish and baked, spinach artichoke dip for the appetizer.”
Zak, “Yay! You are the total best McKenzie, you, Akiko and Chef, the Gods and Goddesses of Food.”

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