Vesnushki is Russian for freckles. Chloe, our resident fashion model, has a small spray of freckles and Amaya called her freckles teasingly. Chloe didn’t mind, she’s perpetually happy and imperturbable. Daria translated freckles to Russian and everyone liked Vesnushki, especially Chloe.
Nikko is Nishiko Murakami, she’s been with Janah and I for years, then the others came along, Amaya, Zi, Chloe then the twins. All were rescues from one sort of abuse or another except Zi, she’s a Shaolin priest like me. They all got the DNA transfusions, Nikko is twenty five forever, like Janah and me, Zi is perpetually twenty four, Amaya, Chloe and the twins fifteen or sixteen instead of the twenty one years since birth. They decided when to take the treatment, we didn’t impose a time.
The twins and I are over at the condo, Sis has been digging into the city’s systems.
“You found the hole?”
Susan, “Wish it was just one, the place is a sieve. I got into six departments in two days, in only a couple of hours a day. When I gave a demo to the DA’s people and an IT crew, it got really quiet for a few minutes, then the shouting started. One engineer accused the DA of providing access, claimed I couldn’t have hacked them so easily.”
“What did you do?”
Susan, “Asked him to name a department at random, then I busted the firewall, and went through various records. Then for the fun of it, I accessed his e-mail. I didn’t think a face could get so red.”
“What are they going to do about it?”
Susan, “I really don’t want more work, but it’s our city, so I’m going to plug the holes for them. I took a walk through administrative offices, people do what people do, they have passwords on post-its right on the wall. The flipping cleaning people could access their stuff. The DA was pissed, at least until I hacked his department and brought up memos and e-mails on current cases. It wasn’t pretty. Then the Mayor showed up. I’d already been inside his files. The accusations started flying again, budgets, old technology, loose supervision, the usual.”
“Geez, sounds nasty.”
Susan, “I let them vent for a while, it happens with every consult. Corporations think they’re all buttoned up until I show them they aren’t. I let them huff and puff, then offer a solution, they are so relieved I get the price I want with no negotiation.”
I smile, “Hack them in a corner. Is it going to be expensive for the city?”
Susan, “They need a lot of new hardware, some of their stuff is too antiquated for a proper software fix. I said I would provide the software free if they upgrade. I thought they would faint.”
“You’re going to be on the front page of the Times.”
Susan, “Oh no I’m not. That’s part of the free. My contract will read that I am to remain invisible, they pay the cost of bonding my work, I’ll do the job as quickly as is possible but with no deadline. I also agreed to ongoing monitoring, if my name is kept out of it. I told them my reasoning was that I could be susceptible to coercion by people who wanted to tap my expertise. They saw the logic. My real reason is I want to avoid the inevitable influx of new business. I don’t like turning people down, I have to do enough of that already. A newspaper or TV story will generate way too many calls.”
“You are keeping your current clients, though, just not accepting new ones.”
Susan, “I farmed out half, after the city is done, my workload will be much lighter. Taylor and I are going traveling. All these years, I’ve never been to Europe or the East, barely out of the country. Taylor did some European work but it was a long time ago and it wasn’t much sightseeing. I can do my remaining jobs and Society work anyplace, I don’t need to be here.”
“Eloise is going to have the place to herself.”
Susan, “James and Kara may travel some with us, but they’ll be around. Lacy may join us for summer trips, be nice to get out of the city during the hot summers. We'll also go to
your Canadian place more often, a perfect summer hideout.”
“Glad to hear it. You’ve slogged away like a coal miner for thirty years.”
Susan, “The time just disappeared, good lord, I’m fifty years on Earth, under forty biologically thanks to you and J.”
The ghost of Eloise wafts through the kitchen, pours herself coffee, dematerializes to her servers.
“And good morning to you, Eloise.”
Sis laughs, “Room and board doesn’t include much board, coffee, Monster and Red Bull, protein bars. Actually, she does take vitamins, some other supplements, and goes though a fair amount of fruit for a ninety pound waif. I also discovered she goes to the roof and does tai chi, and I hear her on the treadmill. She smokes, but uses electronic cigarettes, so it’s okay for her to smoke in here. It’s just water vapor, propylene glycol and nicotine.”
“What’s propylene glycol?”
“It’s used in a number of products, inhalers for asthma, for instance. It helps make the vapor, and allows it to be made with lower temperatures. There’s no evidence it’s harmful. It has a chemical sounding name, some people react to anything that sounds chemical.”
“Everything is chemical, including people.”
Susan, “You know how folks are, some dopes think vaccines cause autism, ignorance is the national sport.”
Daria goes off to Susan’s office where Eloise is occupied sniffing silicon chips. Spider swore she could detect imminent failures with her nose, and she does actually sniff the equipment, maybe the heat causes otherwise undetectable chemical reactions, like the first hint of burning. Beats me, I have a uniquely talented nose, I’ve never noticed anything amiss in our electronics unless something actually fried.
Dasha and I have a second cup of coffee, Sis asks her, “Enjoying the diner?”
Dasha, “Yayus, Meeny make a fuss about this and that, cooks ignore, Meeny ignore ignoring. I ignore everyone.”
Sis laughs, “Sounds like business as usual. The place would lose its ambiance if Mini thunder didn’t roll through once in a while.”
Dasha, “Sister ees learn to make chitting chatting from Eemaya.”
Susan looks puzzled, “Must be a language gap.”
“You need to learn twinspeak, we have the benefit of total immersion. What she’s telling you is that Amaya decided Daria could learn to chat with people, even though she finds it tedious. They treat it like acting, Daria plays a role of friendly checkout girl, makes small talk with the diner customers. They like that, a nice social warmth after a good meal. A smile from a pretty girl is gold. They tell her things, about their jobs, family, just volunteer stuff they may never say to coworkers or friends. It’s weird.”
Susan, “Like what?”
“Men tell her about problems at work, personal failures, embarrassments. Little short bursts of frustration, they’re just paying the bill, it’s not like they stand around and bat the breeze. Sometimes they do, if there’s a lull, but mostly a guy will say, ‘My boss is on my ass about this or that, or my wife wants to redo the kitchen, like there’s money magically stuffed in boxes in the closet.’”
Sis, “And what does Daria say?”
“Tell boss, ‘work goes faster if he does not complain all the time,’ or, ‘open closet, ask wife if she sees box of money.’ I don’t know if they do it, but it gives them a laugh and they get to vent a little.”
Dasha, “One man say boss ees asshole, sister says, ‘So what? Everybody in line say boss ees asshole, one day you will be boss, then you can be asshole.’ He laugh, give Daria teep, five buck.”
Susan laughs, “She should charge for the therapy.”
Dasha, “Sister ees learn talking to people. Vesnushki smile at story, Daria ees happy for Vesnushki to smile.”
Sis sighs, her eyes are moist, she brushes away a tear, “That’s so beautiful, Dasha, thank you for explaining.”
Dasha, “Dahfoney, we go for walking now, then for Mr. Vitali dog.”
Susan, “I got that one, Mr. Vitali is still going strong, he must be sixty or more.”
“Sixty four. He talks about retiring, isn’t going to happen, we made him swear. If it gets to be too much, he has to train a replacement, he’s a reassuring fixture on that corner, his first customers’ children come, some with their children. And newbies to the neighborhood make friends there. A hot dog social center, everybody in deep discussion about the relative merits of toppings.”
Daria wanders back, Dasha must have reached out to her.
Daria, “She will come for tea.”
Susan, “What? Did I hear correctly? She’s going out, like socially?”
“We study machines, I tell her she will come, Vesnushki will make tea, play music.”
Susan, “And she said okay?”
“No talk, aura.”
Susan looks at me, “Ever since Janah…”
“Yep, stuff happens, does no good to try and guess what new rabbit will pop out the hat.”
Susan stands, “I’m sufficiently caffeinated and amazed, need to get busy plugging the city’s leaks.”
“You coming with Eloise?”
“I think not. She’s apparently made a decision to go on her own, let it play out. The city project will keep me locked down anyway and I want to get it done so Taylor and I can vacate.”
We say our goodbyes, get our dogs from Vitali’s, spend two hours meandering aimlessly across town to the East Village, down through Soho circle back in the direction of the apartment.
Amaya, Daria invited Eloise to tea and she’s coming. It would be nice if you guys provided a small entertainment, not a full ceremony, I’ll do the tea and snacks. We have the mother of all introverts as a guest, something soothing.
Amaya, How very sweet of Daria, was Susan surprised?
Could have blown her over, she got misty.
I’ll pass the message along, Chloe’s talking to Phrenetic Fashion, at the moment, new assignment.
Dasha, “Dahfoney, we will go to Three Life now.”
She’s referring to the Three Lives bookstore on the corner of 10th and Waverly, a stone’s throw from Chapman's and our apartment. The owner, Toby, and one of his knowledgeable staffers is around to help and talk books; they have readings occasionally, and will make a special gift wrap just for you. Think of a library you would like in your home, then go to Three Lives and see it. No, I don’t get a discount for the mention, I like the place. If you’re a bibliophile, major or minor, you will too.
Daria spends thirty minutes looking through the shelves, she has four books stacked on the counter, Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, a beautifully bound and color plated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Incognito, the Secret Lives of the Brain, and Free Will and the Science of the Brain. I imagine Janah will find her selections interesting.
We make our way all of a block and a half to Chapman's and our apartment.
Chloe, “What did you get, Daria?”
Daria lays the books out, Chloe says, “I don’t know Auster, I do know Alice,” she pages through the book, “you like the colors in the drawings, yes?”
“Da. I like story, already read, I got this one for the pictures. New York Trilogy recommend by Toby.”
“And the brain books are your science interest, of course.”
“I am going to read now,” she collects her books and heads up the stairs.
Chloe looks after her, turns to me, “I don’t want to grill her, I’m curious as to why she asked Eloise over, did she say?”
“Not to me, she tell you Dasha?”
“Nyet, but I know she ees eenterest, so she tell Eloise to come for tea.”
“She’s interested in Eloise?”
“Da, not to make friendly, een what Eloise know about machines.”
“Ah, makes sense.”
Daria watched Eloise work and found something interesting in what the girl could do.
Chloe, “But why is Eloise interested?”
“Sister tells her how to make machine better.”
“I didn’t know Daria had an interest in computers, other than to use them for research.”
Chloe, “Daria is always interested in why and how. She asks me about photo shoots, details I frequently have to ask the photographer about. I have no idea how the camera records the image, or what he’s trying to accomplish with lighting. She won’t ask him directly, she asks me, I ask him. She listens to his explanations.”
“I don’t see her taking things apart, like a girl interested in the guts of machines.”
Chloe, “No, with the web it’s not necessary anymore. She goes on the internet, gets the diagrams, figures it out from those. Good thing, all our appliances would be in pieces.”
Amaya comes out of her room, she’s beaming, “Book is selling briskly, my publisher is happy, and Childers is asking about the movie rights.”
“Congratulations, you going to give it to him?”
“Another studio made casual inquiries, they are always casual, pretend they are doing me a favor instead of the other way round. Our lawyer will deal with it and get back to me with something. I am favoring Childers, he knows the drill, he did a great job on the last adaptation and I do not want major studio hassles. We do not need the money. I am going to make a half million on this book, I get royalty checks regularly from the last film and my other books. Childers will hire relative unknowns, I like that, and he will keep the story line intact, I will not have to deal with a studio wanting to slot me into a genre they think is hot. I do not write Hunger Games fluff to appeal to an audience of teenage girls, or any other audience.”
“Didn’t care for Hunger Games myself, but teen girls love the idea of two cute boys competing over them, even if it’s a fantasy channeled through Jennifer Lawrence.”
Amaya, “She was splendid in Silver Linings Playbook, even if it was smarmy sentimentality, it worked.”
Dasha, “What ees Hungry Game?”
“Wow, we missed running that one past you? You and Daria watch a fair number of movies, obviously you didn’t see it. It’s on Amazon or Netflix, I’ll be curious to see what you make of it.”
“We will have hungry games tonight, Dahfoney.”
Chloe, “Goody, I’ve never seen it either, Amaya did you watch it?”
Amaya, “Yes, it has its moments. I will withhold my expanded opinion until everyone has a chance to see it.”
Nikko and Zi arrive.
Nikko, “Chloe, I’ve been sitting in meetings all day, any chance of a kendo session after tea?”
Chloe, “Great, speaking of tea, it’s about that time.”
Janah, Almost done in here, one more call, fifteen minutes?
“Janah asks if we can do it in fifteen, she’s on the phone. Daria did you give Eloise a time?”
“Da, she will be soon here.”
“Then I need to get busy, Dasha, will you please handle snacks? Just cookies and crackers, there are Chinese and Japanese cookies in the pantry.”
She goes off to arrange plates and platters, I decide on black and green, set the kettle, put cups and napkins on the low table. I have no idea if Eloise even likes tea.
Security calls, Eloise is here, Daria goes down to fetch her. There’s a gaggle of Chapman's girls in the hall, ‘Hi Daria, how’s it going Daria,’ they expect Daria to ignore them as usual. They aren’t insulted, they’re Chapman's girls and have their own individualized weirdness.
Today, Daria throws them a curve, “Hello, thank you for coming, have a nice day, we appreciate your business, come back soon, bye now.”
The girls giggle, Daria is one of them, strange.
In the apartment, Eloise looks around, pushes her black frame glasses back in place, only to have them slide back down her nose as her gaze shifts to the floor.
Daria, “We will sit here,” she points to a spot alongside the low table, “no chair, cushion, cross legs or sit on knee. Vesnushki will sit on other side, we will have tea now.”
No wasting time with introductions, the family takes the other spots, Dasha has the snacks on the table, I bring the tea.
“Today, we have black and green, our black is called Jiu Qu Hong Mei, Nine Winding Red Plum, from Hangzhou in the Zhejiang Province in China, our green is Gyokuro, Jade Dew, from Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan.
There are almond biscuits, mooncake, both Chinese, then Ring Biscuit, Almond Chocolate Leaf, and Honey Caramel cookies, which are Japanese. Enjoy.”
Amaya brings the rest of the family up to date on her book and potential movie offer.
Zi, “Are you going to be in the next film?”
Amaya, “Nope, I wrote it as a vehicle for Chloe. A famous model is killed, not Chloe, she has worked with my fictional dead girl, who is bitchy and a pain, and doesn’t like Chloe because everyone else does. Chloe is suspected and is pestered by the cops, particularly by a nasty female detective, a butch dyke with issues. Chloe is in character, sweet, polite, takes the bad cop’s grief in stride. She quietly charms her way through a list of suspects and, in the end, unravels the mystery. Along the way, various not so sweet people help her out of dicey and dangerous situations. Near the climax, she dispatches bad cop with her katana, thoroughly justified, the woman is shooting at her.”
Zi, “Wow. Chloe, you don’t mind decapitating someone on screen?”
Chloe, “It’s a movie, my fans all know I study kendo, it sort of folds in, I am who I am, but in a fictional setting.”
I wonder what Eloise thinks of this?
Amaya checks in with Chloe, then replies, She is a neutral color, there is a hint of interest in there, a light green curiosity, something else…the color of knowledge is gold, and her aura is outlined with a thin band of gold.
You think she knows what we do. I suppose being inside Spider’s hardware for six years, she must.
Amaya, Chloe’s not certain, the aura doesn’t tell her what she knows.
Eloise has a cup of tea, and three cookies, I ask if she would like more tea, she shakes her head no. She drank all of the cup she had, guess she liked it okay.
Chloe and Amaya play shamisen and flute, as requested, the music is calming, played softly, Eloise studies them intently, at least she’s looking at something besides the teacup in front of her.
Dasha, what does Eloise know of us, our work, about us specifically?
Dasha has the ‘mentaling Daria look’ then, Sister says much.
And she can be trusted?
After a second, Dasha mentals, Da.
I pass along the conversation to Janah, Good to know, and good to know we don’t have to dance around the topic when she’s here. My reading of her lines up with Daria’s, there’s nothing obvious that says lie.
Dasha, “Daria will go to room with Eloise now, Dahfoney.”
Daria and Eloise stand, go around the corner up the stairs, vanish in silence.
“Well, it’s nice to finally chat with her.”
The others laugh….well, not Dasha, like Apocalypse Now, Charlie don’t surf, Dasha don’t laugh. Our family wanders off to various rooms, Dasha and I clear the table, wash cups and plates, put things away.
“Do you think we should ask Eloise to have dinner with us?”
Dasha, “Daria will say later. They think of machines now.”
Chloe and Nikko pass, headed to the workout room for kendo, Nikko asks if I’m coming.
“Dasha wants to go to the roof before it gets dark, I’m going to bounce around a bit on the parkour course. We have an hour, then clean up and start in on dinner.”
Nikko, “Chill on the cooking, call for pizza and we can enjoy the hungry game.”
I grin, Nikko’s taking a poke at Dasha’s language jumble.
Dasha went to the roof directly from her room after a change into a leotard and gym shoes, Dahfoney, I am on roof now.
I’m in jeans and sneakers, good enough for leaping around our obstacle course. I climb to our room, Janah’s hunched over the computer, lose my shirt and pull on a sweat shirt, “See you in a bit, Nikko suggested pizza, I’m going with that.”
“Good, think I’ll come out and watch you guys. I can spot Dasha.”
We do our thing, not aggressive, enough to get our hearts beating, stay loose and balanced. We keep after it for an hour, then to our room, Dasha showers with me, Daria and Eloise are engrossed in something in the twins’ room.
It’s closing in on six thirty, cocktail hour; when we get downstairs, Amaya has favored drinks prepared and we spread around the living area.
“Do we want pizza first, then Hunger Games, or pizza with Hunger Games?
The consensus is eat and watch, Dasha has prepared light hor dourves, water crackers with sour cream and caviar, others with mascarpone, bowls of mixed nuts. It’s not like we’re going to be shy of food. I ask Dominic for our usual combinations, thin crust, one with pepperoni, one with anchovy, one veggie extravaganza, a white pizza of mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, thin coat of olive oil on the crust, no tomato sauce, Dasha likes to add caviar to that one.
Eloise stays, has a glass of red wine, we are spread across the big room, some on couches, chairs, four on the mat covered with fat throw pillows. The movie starts, it’s showing on three screens around the room and one in the kitchen.
We pause when the pizza is delivered, Dasha and I haul it up, warm it. It’s nice with all the screens, we can refill drinks, graze at our own pace, watch Katniss dither about her boyfriends.
“What did you think?”
Amaya, “Puzzling, the colors and city scenery were nice, and the action sequences were good.”
“And what puzzled?”
“How does a girl who lives off the land, hunts in the woods for game, and otherwise has little to eat, get so fat?”
Chloe laughs, “She wasn’t fat, but I agree, she should have been skinnier.”
Dasha, “Katnees ees hunter, stalk prey, kill, live hard life. Then all…Daria, what ees nebezopasnyy?”
“Da, eesecure. What for?”
Janah, “She’s supposed to be a teenage girl, that’s what people expect from teenage girls, insecurity.”
Amaya, “From an author’s standpoint, it makes the character endearing. She is brave on the one hand, full of doubts on the other. It is not so unrealistic. And to attract the young male audience, they need a girl who is more, um, filled out. They go with breasts and butt, not sinew and muscle. She doesn’t even look like a teen.”
“Amaya’s right of course. If you want fantasy movies to make sense, the fantasy disappears.”
Dasha, “Better to haf Katnees kill Peeta, win big prize, reech. Go home and make sex with other boy.”
We laugh, Dasha has no grasp of either dissonance or sentiment.
I call Sis, “Eloise may be a while, she’s up in the twins room doing who knows what with Daria. Or she might be getting ready to leave and I just don’t know it yet. I should have called earlier, we got wrapped up in a movie and pizza.”
Susan, “I figured things went well enough that she felt comfortable hanging. When she decides to come home, she has keys and she knows the alarm code. No problems then?”
“She and Daria connected, not so’s you’d notice, probably formed the introvert club but didn’t join it. They spent quality time not talking. Dasha says they have machines in common. Eloise likes to pull them apart, improve and reassemble, Daria likes to know how things work..”
Susan, “As long as they aren’t building a nuclear device or death ray.”
“Beats me, we’re letting it slide along. Chloe will find out more over the next few days, Dasha will tell me what’s up if I ask her, but I have to ask her, she won’t volunteer much.”
Susan, “Okay then, it’s okay if she stays over?”
“Sure, we’ve got couches, mats, the twins have an oversize king, Eloise takes zero space, I may have an empty pencil box around.”
Susan, “Good enough, need to run, Taylor is strolling around fabric free, I think she has needs she wants met.”
“You’ve seen your duty, do it.”
We click off, I hear my Lord and Master, Dahfoney, you will come here now.
Up the stairs, the twins and Eloise are lined up under the covers, looks like we have an overnight guest.
Dasha, “Dahfoney, Eloise will stay here.”
She is, in her way, asking permission, I know it sounds like telling, but if I said it would be best for Eloise to go home, that would be okay too. They don’t sulk, they don’t know how to sulk. I have no reason to send the girl home, I’m glad she’s connected to someone.
I have twins and a waif blinking at me, not a readable expression on any of them.
“Good with me, have a good night, girls.”
“Dahfoney, you will kiss me now.”
Goody, I sit next to her, lean in, I kiss her cheeks and forehead. Eloise is on the other side, Daria in the middle, I stroke Daria’s brow, short kiss, Chloe comes in to say goodnight. I’m up and through the door to our room. Janah is downstairs playing with Nikko and Zi, I undress, do bedtime things, then enjoy me with a toy. Janah comes along shortly after I’ve self stimulated.
Janah, “I’ve done and been done every way one can do or get done.”
“I did me while I watched you, felt you actually, I couldn’t see much, your face was covered by Nikko.”
Janah, “How could you tell it was….duh, they scent and taste differently, Nikko likes Zi lavender, Zi likes Nikko sugary.”
“Yes, I felt the sweet on your tongue, so it had to be Nikko. I had a vibrator induced sweetgasm .”
Janah, “We have a sleepover visitor, interesting.”
“She didn’t say jack, seemed to be content to be there. I don’t get the impression she gets talked into things.”
Janah, “No, wonder if Daria said, ‘You will stay here,’ as a form of invitation.”
I smile, “I can’t imagine her saying anything else. Maybe the girl has figured out their communication system. She figures out machines, the twins have a certain machine-like personality.”
Janah, “Good point. Your other is ultra relaxed. In Dasha-speak, we will slip now, Dahfoney.”
She slips in next to me, we drift into unconsciousness.
It’s morning, down in the kitchen I find my co-worker has the coffee on and tea made, I pour a cup of coffee and sit at the table. Dasha is cutting fruit, cantaloupe, strawberries, she adds blueberries and raspberries to the mix and puts the bowl in the refrigerator.
“What do you want to have with the fruit?”
Dasha, “We make pahncake, poach aig, greets wiz mascarpone chizz, bacon.”
“I’ll get to the bacon then.”
We changed our bacon cooking from fry to bake. Lay the strips on a rack over a pan, bake at four hundred until crisp. Tastes the same, easier clean up than frying. Dasha mixes pancake batter, a dozen and a half eggs plus four for the pancakes.
We’re in the cooking zone, grits bubbling, pancakes flipped then transferred to the warm oven. Our girls are surrounding the table, sipping coffee and tea, discussing plans for the day.
People say girls don’t eat breakfast, or nibble a half a banana, or a pop tart. My experience is, if I cook it, they eat. They don’t want to do the cooking part, so they take the path of least resistance and tell themselves they’re dieting. Nobody gets fat from eating breakfast, it’s the endless trail of sugar throughout the day that gets you.
Chloe, “Dasha, I am a pancake pig, you are a pancake genius. Thank you both.”
Amaya, “Splendido deluxe ladies, you are the best.”
General acknowledgement follows, it is good to feed the appreciative. My tribe works hard, plays harder, got to keep ‘em energized. I notice Daria has decided that Eloise needs to sample everything, she doesn’t overload her plate, a pancake, a poached egg, spoon of grits, small bowl of mixed fruit on the side. Eloise snagged three pieces of bacon on her own, is on her third cup of coffee. Good for her, good to see her chow down. Susan, who cooks nothing, just buys whatever Eloise writes on the list, mostly yogurt and power bars, there’s always fresh fruit around, she eats that and takes a vitamin. Her skin is clear, so are her eyes, I don’t detect any sickness scent. She’s healthy enough.
Breakfast winds down, everyone has projects and leaves to get to them.
Eloise stands with Daria, she doesn’t say anything, but she nods politely to Dasha, then to me. I consider that, and her clean plate, more than sufficient.
“Eloise, you are welcome here anytime, for meals, tea, to stay over. You needn’t wait to be invited, just show up when you feel like it, okay?”
Eloise stares at the floor, but manages a whispery, “Okay.”
Dang, she speaks.