Chapter Eighty One

Dasha is online, Dahfoney, Eemaya says we are coming home now. Shadow ees dead. He was seemple, drone shot him in backyard. We go een house, get computer and phone, no safe, no money around. So anyway we are almost at airport, five hours maybe plus time zone.
Good, put you here by eight tonight, I'll be there to pick you up.

She drops offline, good to chat with you Dasha.
"They will be here by eight, I'll confirm arrival with Blue Sky and collect them, at least they get lunch and dinner in flight, and won't have to miss cocktail hour. Might be sloshed by the time they land."
Janah, "Amaya would never appear in public drunk, nor would Chloe. The twins don't get drunk, not so you'd notice."
It's true, our Russian bookends have ultra capacity when it comes to alcohol. Although to be fair, the drinkers seldom drink during the day and eat when they imbibe, appetizers and full dinner, never drink without food.
Nikko and Zi are at the office today, Janah and I decide to take Cassandra to the temple. Neither Zi or Chloe is around, but there are Sensitives at the temple, they can read Cassie's vibe.
The place looks the same, mostly, I see fresh paint in the dining room, the gardens are always changing, and here's David Li. He was Master of the Garden after Hue passed, then Janah made him Abbott. He is the son of Chan Li, the most qi powerful monk on the planet, at least as far as we know. David makes our pharmaceuticals, he has a degree in chemistry, up to and including a PhD. Hue's old herbal cooking and mixing shack is long replaced by a full lab, stainless steel vats, all manner of chemical analysis equipment including spectrometers, process analyzers, refractometers, rheometers, viscometers, evaporators, thermal analyzers, and calorimeters. If you want to know what something's made of, David Li can find out. He can also duplicate or recombine it into new chemicals, which is how we got our instant tranquilizer, instant toxin Oblivion and a version of sodium pentothal that has subjects spilling what they know in minutes.
"Master Sylk, Abbess, welcome, and who is this young lady?"
"Our daughter Cassandra, Cassie, this is our friend Abbott David Li, and here is Master Manolo, another friend."
Cassie smiles, says nothing.
Janah, "I'll find Disciple Jin."
Jin is a Sensitive, still a disciple, but not for long, even Zi is impressed by the girl's ability to read the attitudes and intentions of others.
She comes back with Janah, "Hi Jin, this is Cassandra, or Cassie. Janah explained?"
Jin, "Yes. Perhaps she will walk with me, Cassie, come with me please."
Cassandra looks up at me, I nod a yes, Jin takes her hand and they go off towards the training grounds.
"We are here so Cassie can get a feel for the temple. She has an unusual background, raised by a Shadow."
David cocks his head, "Not his offspring, nor is she tainted."
"No to both. However, she was not allowed to make decisions, choose, she was told what to do always, ask no questions, no give and take. She will answer questions only, or follow instructions. If you give her options, she can't make a decision. If you tell her what you want her to do, she does it."
David Li, "You think the temple is more suitable, she must have been sequestered at home, not allowed to go anyplace. All of a sudden faced with a world she knows almost nothing about, quite a shock."
Janah, "She appears to be handling it well, but she's been relatively cocooned for the last few days. She did okay with a walk on Venice Beach, so many people made her nervous, she felt safe with Sloane and Oceane."
Manolo, "Understandable. Even now I am struck when I go outside, the sheer number of people and activity. Here, we are relatively few, less than a hundred. And the temple has that mystery quality, it seems almost endless inside even though we know it is less than a full square block outside. We are our own optical illusion."
Janah goes to the office, I wander the gardens, up to the training ground, Jin and Cassandra must have moved on, maybe the meditation hall or the dorms. Then it's one, time for lunch.
Janah and I sit with students, ranks are not separated at lunch, meals are taken in silence. I spot Jin and Cassie across the hall, silent lunch will work well for Cassie. Today, there's won ton soup, French bread, stir fried vegetables and chunks of tofu in dark Szechuan sauce. Over lunch I nod at several old friends, masters now. We grew up as students, became disciples, then masters. After that, we must spend three years in the world before we can return to the temple. Many masters leave and don't return, there's no requirement. They follow their Dharma path in the world, much as I did.
Janah is Abbess, but has turned over most of the reins to David Li, I am here frequently to train or help train disciples. Masters train disciples, disciples train students, it isn't completely rigid, a student can ask a master questions, no one is treated as lesser. Students have more cleaning and caretaker tasks, in our day, I used to have to get up at night to replace candles, check smudge pots in winter, then up early to work in the kitchen. After I became a disciple, that went away and I got to sleep an entire five hours a night. Now there are LED lights, automatic heaters and sprinklers in the gardens, lots of solar panels. Our utility bill is almost zero. Dorm rooms are bigger, with private showers and toilets, still sleep on mats, Chan drew the line at beds. The Shaolin life is not to be confused with quiet comfort and perpetual meditation. Monks don't pay in coin to be here, they pay in labor, and there is never a shortage of things to clean, paint, repair or replace.
Lunch over, it's time for rest or study until three, then hard gung fu. I decide to stay for the session and go to the dorm room we maintain, change into Shaolin working clothes. I sit cross legged in our room, zone out in meditation until time for training.
Master Khan, Gung Fu Master, retired a couple of years ago, he lives here, and attends the sessions as an active observer. Master Jerry Hendrick is in charge now, the first non-Chinese to hold the position. He was a child in the temple when we started, his entire life has been Shaolin and gung fu. He studied under Khan for thirty years, they know each other well, it was Khan's decision to turn the job over to him.
Master Hendrick, "Master Sylk! You are in uniform, going to train today?"
"Yes, been a while, I may have to become a student again."
"Every master is a student, our old master sits and watches, then I get his active critique of my incompetence."
"And I shall have the benefit of your critique today. You and Master Zi practice at home no doubt."
"Something every day, even if it's a half hour of kata. Our sparring sessions are more of a jumble of arts with Nikko there, more hapkido, grappling. Opponents on the outside don't conform to our gung fu styles."
He smiles, "No, and we train with that in mind. You introduced us to a more varied sparring style, Chan and Black come around to dish out punishment frequently, Chan was here yesterday, still unbeatable."
"Blame Tan for that."
"Old Tan, the mystic. I recall the days of suffering Janah and you underwent at his hand, then Chan. Although he seemed to have it easier."
"Don't remind me. The three of us fight Chan occasionally, mostly so we can practice self healing when he's done punishing us. He says we bruise him and knot his muscles, I can't prove it. I ask him to at least fake a small limp or sore wrist when we finish, he ignores me."
"Then you are still in top shape, and annoyingly refusing to age."
"Miyako figured out we have screwy blood proteins and some other RNA protein, or protein inhibitor, Janah knows. Janah and I don't share blood, not as in blood relatives, but we have identical blood types, down to the last little bits. A consequence of mental merging is our only explanation, and it doesn't explain much."
"I wonder how it would be, to have someone read my every thought and feeling."
"No secrets is freedom Jerry. We never have to explain ourselves, apologize, no misunderstanding or miscommunication. Perfect harmony every moment."
The session starts, I see Jin and Cassandra on one of the shaded benches watching. First, one-on-one sparring, find a partner and go for it. Then weapons, I'm partial to nunchuka, shuriken and long staff. I practice and instruct.
Master Khan comes over, "You remain exemplary Master Sylk, good to see, a skill unused is a skill lost."
I bow, the hug him, not exactly protocol but he's the last of the originals Janah and I grew up with. Sung, Zhang, Chu, Hue, Tan, all gone beyond.
"Zi keeps after me, she's a Sensitive, but she loves sparring."
Khan, "After she moved in with your family, here she was acceptable, but sparring was a lesser interest for her. Your family's other duties make combat more of a necessity I think."
"And there are Shadows, apparently replicating like bacteria."
Khan nods, "Sad to say. Chan tells me they have heard of you, maybe not a name, but of Shaolin actively in search of them. Regrettable and thankless work."
"Comes with the job description. Fortunately they are arrogant and dumb. Instead of laying low and keeping their activities quiet, they seem now inclined to join forces and try for a splash. It just brings them to our attention."
Khan, "Even in the old days they couldn't resist preening and showing off. And angry, always angry. I threw four out of the temple, that was before your time."
Kahn, "I have seen your twins here from time to time, ruthless efficiency. Good they are with you, or there would be more death."
"They have been most helpful with Shadows. The twins are functional psychopaths, Shadows dysfunctional ones. Psychopaths can manipulate people, but not each other. We keep them busy in other ways, Daria with our businesses and her computer skills, Dasha cooks for the family and has a few restaurants around town. As long as they're occupied, it isn't a problem."
I look for Cassie to introduce her, but she and Jin are off someplace, "Our family has been blessed with a new responsibility," I explain Cassandra, "we are considering her for the temple. That is, she is taking a look and Jin is reading her. If I told her she was going to become a student, she would just agree. We don't want that, Jin is the best alternative."

Chapter Eighty Two

We're with Jin and Cassie in the office Janah shares with David Li.
I ask Cassandra, "Do you have any thoughts on the temple, how did it feel to you?"
"Not so many people."
"You watched gung fu, the fighting, what did you think of it?"
"They tell you what to do, then you do it."
"And you like that part?"
"How was lunch? Vegetarian here, no meat."
"It is there, I eat it."
"What would you think about living here?"
"If you want me to, I will."
"No, what do you think of it, not what do I want."
"I don't know."
I ask Jin, "What did you see? It's okay to talk, we want her to know it's a discussion, not a dictate."
Jin, "She felt no discomfort here, her aura is pale blue or sea green, not yellows or reds, her attention rose to dark blue with a bit of silver sparkle at gung fu, interest and energy. She was fine in the garden, it didn't show up as high interest for her. Lunch was lunch, neutrality in the meditation hall, same in the dorm. The highest energy occurred in an unexpected place."
Janah, "Tan's hut."
Jin smiles, "Yes, how did you know?"
Janah, "My mystical insight that it was the only place left."
Jin smiles again, "Rosy red sparkles, not the dark red of hostility, intense energy and near bubbly joy. We often feel Tan's presence, she connected almost instantly. I had to blink and take a breath, the colors were so striking I thought I may have misread, but it was real."
I ask Cassie, "What happened in the hut, the little room in the back?"
"There was a man, he told me to come and visit him again. He said I should learn."
"Do you want to learn?"
"I do not know want. I am to learn."
Jin, "Sounds like a decision to me."
Janah, "Yes. Daphne won't be content to turn her over though. Looks like we'll be back in the temple for a time."
Jin, "Then a double, triple, blessing for us. The child is...unique. Perhaps Chan should meet her."
"He'll be around sooner or later."
Day done, we thank Jin, she hugs Cassie, we came in our Escalade so Cassie wouldn't have to trek busy Manhattan streets. It's seven, I check with Blue Sky, flight will be in at quarter to eight, time to get to Teterboro.
No baggage claim, it comes right from the guts of the plane into the SUV. After hugs for Cassie, they climb in, Amaya takes the wheel and we head for home.
Dasha, "Ees Cassandra going to be een temple?"
"Perhaps. Her vibe was good, Chloe and Zi can ask a few questions tomorrow, see if the feelings are the same. If she goes, I don't want to delay. Better to let her get started than get used to the condo."
Chloe, "You will go with her, yes?"
"Yes, for a while, not much overnight, maybe at first. We'll see how things go and adjust on the fly."
Dasha, "Sister haf a lot of hacking to do from Shadow computer. We think a few million, plus sell a couple of houses."
We'll start a trust for Cassie, as we did for the others, she also folds in to our family assets. Nikko has a formula of ownership based on time with the family. It doesn't matter much, we're stupid rich and Murakami Sylk keeps cranking out money hourly.
Amaya, "The dear child loses out on my wardrobe skills, she is going to be in robes and training uniforms for years."
"Give you something to anticipate. Just think, she becomes a master in fifteen or so years, you haven't aged a day. So you get to dress a twenty something. She also needs gradual exposure to the world. She won't be in the temple constantly. We have her comfortable in the world by the time she's ready to leave."
Amaya, "Good, she will need some kid clothes along the way. Must she cut her hair, it is thick, shiny, just perfect."
"If it's a go, she does what every monk does. Our temple doesn't require perpetual shaved head. She can start to grow it after six months. Most monks do, we surprise visiting monks sometimes, they expect everyone to be bald."
We arrive at the condo, Eloise is almost giggly to have her twins home again. It's almost nine, time to wind down for the night. Zi thoughtfully made finger sandwiches, Janah, Cassie, and I had no dinner.
"Sloane, after Cassie has a sandwich, please take her upstairs, a warm bath, then bed."
Sloane eats as well, she had dinner but she has a wolf metabolism, nothing sticks for long. Janah's like that, she has to have small meals between meals.
Sloane, "Enough?"
Cassie nods, Sloane says, "Then let's go little sister," Cassie follows along, they disappear up the circular staircase to Sloane's room.
While we nibble, Zi asks, "What did Jin say?"
"Before we bias your observations, perhaps ask Cassie questions tomorrow, after she's had a night to sleep on it. Then we see what matches up."
Zi, "Good thought, so how is everyone at the temple?"
"Place looks great, David Li runs it well. Lunch was good, nourishing, the monks have routine and time for no routine. Most telling is their laughter, a good sign. They have long days, training, meditation, studies, no different than when we were full time. I took part in hard gung fu, had a chat with Master Khan. He's moving more slowly, uses a long staff for support, but he's at every training session. Manolo oversees the garden now, with a few monks. David spends the bulk of the day in the lab or administrative work. Janah met with the other masters for a half hour. I was busy getting beat up and don't know what that was about."
Janah, "I'm sending them on rotation to the ranches. Some worked there as disciples, others have never been. I think masters in our order need to see what their temple is supporting. We continue to staff with disciples, and several permanent staff from monks who were out in the world. We have four ranches now, twenty kids each and waiting lists. The point of my meeting was to suggest another ranch, perhaps two. The Society turns up abused kids all the time. Some can go to relatives, with others the relatives are the problem. In any case, they agreed, Nikko will have her people find us suitable property. Our formula works, horses, a few milk cows, chickens, vegetable gardens, in a place with hiking, even skiing a river or a lake. Kids take on responsibilities, stretch themselves, have full busy days. Keeps them from dwelling on the past and constant ruminating about life's unfairness."
Nikko, "Same formula, Shaolin buy property and develop, the Society pays operating expenses. Most of the money from the current Shadow terminations will go to the Society account. When I give money to the Society, I keep enough to cover our expenses. Shadows aren't technically a Society project, we can't send other Social Work teams after them, too dangerous. But we do use the resources, Transportation, Minders, Surveillance, Cleaners. If we keep the money, like for Cassandra, that job is our expense. The Society is useful when we have assets to dispose of, a Shadow's home or expensive car. It's good for laundering cash, it has shell corporations worldwide. Individually, we have enough money. Cash we confiscate goes to the Sylk Trust funneled through a variety of Society shells.
The point is, projects are well funded for the foreseeable future. Two more ranches won't make a dent. All the expenses are paid by income on the Society's principal, we haven't spent down any of that."
Dasha yawns, "We are reech American girl, now time for making sex. Dahfoney, you will come for relaxing."
I sure will go to her for relaxing, or anything else she may wish.
Amaya, I would have thought as much as they were all over Chloe and me they would need a break.
I suspect her offer is a gift for me more than a sexploit for her. In fact, if I'm reading Eloise correctly, she's in attack mode for Daria. They've been apart for a while.

Amaya, Yes, I see that now, our techie is a lusty little sprite. She creeps in to Chloe and I sometimes. I am about to zone out and there's a mouse tasting me on the way to Chloe.
She's good at it.
I have no complaint.

Chapter Eighty Three

Finally, a morning when we're all together. And Saturday, no running to offices or check out our restaurants. Dasha and I do a pancake extravaganza with soft scrambled, piles of crispy bacon and grilled ham slices with pineapple lightly dusted with a hint of clove. Buttery grits naturally.
Chloe, "Pancakes, yay!"
Sloane gets Cassie set up with a fat pancake, couple slices of bacon, shares a slice of ham and adds a serving spoon of grits.
Amaya, "I should hate you calorie Cossack, but these pancakes are to die for."
Zi, "Agreed, not to mention creamy grits," she laughs, "Chinese girl mad for grits, I'm supposed to eat rice, with chopsticks."
Nikko, "For a family with two and a half Asians and two Geisha, we eat almost no rice."
"Everyone seems to prefer baked or mashed potato for starch. We have brown rice with Chinese or with beans when Dasha does her southern thing."
Nikko, "I mean like every meal, rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention Miso soup."
"We're not Japanese enough, I love a lot about the culture, but rice is boring, well, an exception for spicy fried."
Sloane, "Pass the pancakes please, we have a fan down here."
She offloads another cake to Cassie's plate, pours the butter, adds maple syrup, then a touch of cane. Cassie starts in. It's good, healthy appetite, she wiped out the eggs, bacon and half slice of ham, wanted a second cake too.
Sloane, "Oceane, Cassie, and I are going to the roof to fly drones, okay mom?"
"Sure, I'll be up later."
Sloane and Cassie race off, Oceane follows, Oceane doesn't race, next to the definition of serene in Webster's is a picture of Oceane.
After clean up, we sit around the table with a second or third coffee or tea.
Zi, "My read is that Cassandra doesn't need to be in the temple, Chloe may see it otherwise."
Chloe, "No, the same."
"Wait, neither of you questioned her."
Zi, "No point. I'm sure she had a vibe with or about Master Tan, Jin wouldn't be mistaken about that. And she may have in interest in gung fu, or martial arts."
Chloe, "She wants to be in the family, the whole family. She may not say so, but she studies each of us, she feels warmth, compassion. She would go to the temple, but only because you told her to."
"How to proceed?"
Zi, "Same thing you did for all the rescues, let her acclimate, here, soon enough we're in Arizona. Keep her busy with lessons, Amaya, if she has time, can help her with expression, read parts in plays, whatever she thinks best. Chloe?"
"Cassie will thrive best in the closed environment of family, she is bonding with Sloane and Oceane. There is no reason to move her elsewhere. If she has qi gifts, okay, we have Daphne, Janah, Daria, Dasha, and Chan to explore them. Martial arts attracted her, but we practice that here, she will have endless training opportunities if she shows an interest. The visit to the temple opened up paths, but she can walk those paths with us."
Janah, "Good, then it's settled. Sloane can easily accommodate a second bed until Cassie is ready for her own room. Wait, Lacy's apartment is ours now, we have space we haven't touched yet. No need to impose on Sloane. The hallway opens to the place we took over when Chan and Ning moved and we expanded Amaya and Chloe's rooms, the entire fourth is one huge condo."
Chloe, "My read is that a space for solitude folds in with her connection with Tan and the hut."
They look to me as first mom, "Go with it, if we need to adjust, we adjust. I'm happy Zi and Chloe caught the sense of her. Jin could only read what happened at the temple, she wasn't here to take Cassie's temperature with all of us."
Janah, "And I'm sure she will understand that, I'll speak to her. I'd blame it on Daphne as a helicopter mom, but Jin would never believe me."
Thus it is determined that Cassie will remain with us. Frankly, I'm relieved. I love the temple and the monks, but I also have family to feed and things to do in the world outside.
Chloe and I go upstairs, the girls are flying drones, Oceane has one someplace over Chinatown, Sloane has shown Cassie how to maneuver one of the basic machines around the building. She has a huge grin, Sloane guides her finger so the drone does a loop de loop, then settles it onto the roof.
Cassie, "I can make it fly Daphne, did you see?"
Crikey, conversation, "Sure did, it was fun, yes?"
Sloane asks, "Do you want to go on your own this time?"
A nod, Sloane hands her the IPad, the drone lifts off and sails out over the Village. Cassie is studying the screen. Didn't occur to me until this moment, but the drone is a way to get her used to crowds, from a safe distance.
Sloane guides, "Turn left, no, up higher, don't bang into trees or a power line. You don't need to go lower, zoom the camera to see more detail, look, like this," she taps the zoom and the screen fills with a close up of Bleecker St. Saturday brunchers looking to avoid the Sunday crowds queuing up at various cafes.
Chloe, "She's sunny bright."
Eventually the drones need a charge, they bring them in, Oceane takes hers off to plug in. I certain she'll show up to swim shortly.
Chloe and I sit with Sloane and Cassie, "We think it will be best for you to stay with the family rather than go to the temple. If you are drawn there later, fine, for now you will be with us. It's probably selfish on our part, everyone wants you to be here not gone."
Sloane, "I sure do."
"And we have a room for you, just yours, with your own bed, bathroom, closets. As a matter of fact, you can go look at it right now. Sloane, Amaya will meet you, go to Lacy's, she can take Lacy's former bedroom."
I mental Amaya, Can you take Cassie to Lacy's? Let her see the bedroom, Lacy's former, you may want to change up furniture or whatever.
Got it, what about the front door?
We'll have it removed and open that wall up. You and Chloe's rooms have doors, the hallway will continue to Lacy's living room like it's one big room connected to our condo.
They're coming downstairs now.

It's just Chloe and I, Janah's in my head, Chloe says, "She's delighted. Feels it, can't express it. And you're right, the family would rather she be here. If the temple had been best option, then of course they accept that. They're happier it turned out the way it did."
"I don't want to be away either. Even if it's only day duty at the temple, it's not the same as being here to help Dasha, the daily interaction, juggling trips for our work. We still have Shadows to deal with."

Chapter Eighty Four

Amaya's in her fashion element, only a couple of months before she and Chloe return to LA and we'll be in Arizona. That means Cassie needs to be outfitted for fall and winter. We disposed of her unsuitable things in San Diego and she's been relegated to jeans and t-shirts.
"Angelo is picking us up at ten, spare myself the parking crazy. Sloane is coming with us, she's enough protection."
"Chloe not going?"
"No, she's too well known and we'll have to spend time with fans. She's staying in to study lines."
"I want more than Sloane, there should be two."
Dasha, "Sister ees in workshop wiz Eloise all day, I will go wiz Eemaya. She and Cassie will be safe."
"Then go get on something besides those jeans, and brush your hair, and some makeup...geez, here, come with me."
Dasha follows her, mumbling, "I am only for bodyguard, why ees haf to look like fashion modeling girl just to beat up maybe someone."
Amaya, "I hear you Socialist Slob, get up here and let me make you presentable."
Sloane, on the other hand, is Amaya's dream girl, she would never think of going out sloppy, she doesn't do staying in sloppy. While they wait, she's brushing Cassie's hair.
"Such beautiful thick hair, just like Daphne's. It's true Cassie, you look like your mom who looks like her mom."
Susan calls, "Amaya said she's taking Cassie shopping, I want in. We can have a fancy lunch at Le Bernardin."
"They'll pick you up."
"Not necessary, I'm getting on your elevator now."
"Sis!" hugs and kisses dispensed, she asks, "Where is everyone?"
"Nikko, Daria and Zi are at the office. Dasha’s going shopping but wasn't in Amaya acceptable, she's being remodeled. Here's Oceane now, Janah's coming down from her room."
More hugs, Susan says, "Good God, Oceane gets more stunning every time I see her, she's gone from willowy to ultra willowy."
Amaya is down the stairs, Dasha trails, "Oceane is perfectly annoying. I am top honeybee in this hive. Girl betta rekonize."
Oceane whispers something to Amaya who smiles her luscious licentious smile.
Susan, "I see somebody rekonized something."
"Amaya is imperious, but practical, practically imperious when it comes to girls."
Sloane appears with Cassie, the rest of us disappear from Susan's consciousness, "Cassandra, adorable. We are going to shop for you, and I made reservations at a splendid restaurant to Are you ready to go?"
"Yes," Susan asked, Cassie answered, that's that.
Susan, "She doesn't drone on and on does she?"
Cassie, "I have my own drone."
Sis, "What does that...never mind, she's flying over the Village now?"
"Yep, and she's good at it. She and Oceane play follow the leader."
Amaya, "Angelo's downstairs, it's ten, first to Juicy, then a couple of spots upper East, then lunch, reservation is for..?"
Susan, "One."
They go off to create inflation in parts of Manhattan, I step to the kitchen and plot lunch for six of us still at home.
Janah, "Let's just go to Ultra Violet. They won't want much dinner, we can have a pizza party and let Cassie model her new stuff."
Problem solved, I mental Daria, We are going to Ultra Violet for lunch at one, you and Eloise be ready please.
Da, okay.

I find Chloe reading her script, "Susan is taking the shoppers to Le Bernardin for lunch. We decided to take the rest of us to Ultra Violet, good for you?"
Chloe grins, "Sure, I'm getting a roast beef poboy, yummy."
"How's the script?"
"Much better now that Amaya has it. I'm not memorizing just yet, she likes me to read the parts out loud, she sometimes changes her changes when she hears it spoken. Then we practice, she reads the parts that aren't me, in the voice of the character, I read mine and we record it. Then she can hear the whole thing like it will sound in the movie. She's amazing, she knows what each character should sound like. On the set, she can tell each actor intonation, pacing, dialect."
"They just go along?"
"She makes it clear she's open to suggestions. The director likes it, the actors like it, as if the whole crew has a part in the dialogue. To make sure production stays on track, it's a two or three minute discussion, that's part of the game. She says to pretend they're dialogue doctors and the patient will die if they don't come up with a treatment in two minutes. She actually clicks the stopwatch on her phone."
I laugh, "I never knew, after all the movies."
"The process morphed, it wasn't like that at first, the gay private eye, the Ultra Violets, she and the director worked it out. Then actors made suggestions and she said they were often good ones. She also found open ended discussions sometimes led to arguments, so she put in the limits."
"Girl's got smarts."
Chloe, "Tell me, she's scary creative."
"Let you get back to it, Janah's going to yoga on the roof, think I'll fiddle with the balance beam, get a bit of gym in."
Upstairs, Janah's decided on nude yoga, Oceane is swimming in her usual nothing. I strip and mount the balance beam.
An hour of beam, uneven bars, tumbling, splits and handstands, we're sufficiently fried. We sit in the sun, Oceane joins us, improving the view.
Janah, Susan's right, Oceane is giving Amaya a run for her money.
The two of them making love, must give Chloe a heart attack.
The thought of it is warming me. After lunch....
We'll get really warm, hot, then shiver our way back to normal.

Shower and dress, I called Mariella and gave her a heads up for our private room. We walk, it's only a few blocks. The entrance area is full, people streaming up to The Lobby at Ultra Violet for beer or wine while they wait, others filing down when their table is ready. There are no lunch reservations, only dinner. The Lobby, which is our upstairs beer and wine bar, is a comfortable holding spot rather than people out the door and sometimes down the street. There's no customer bar in the restaurant, only the service window for the wait staff to place drink orders.
Mariella, "Six, where is everyone?"
"Some of us work for a living, Amaya is shopping for our newest family member, Sloane and Dasha went with them."
"Another? A girl, how old?"
"Eight, adorable, Cassandra, or Cassie."
Chloe, "And she looks like Daphne and Susan as a weird coincidence. Daphne's officially adopted two girls now, Sloane and Cassie."
Mariella, "What's that now, twelve? Keep it up and you'll need a bigger private room. Just go on back, Darcy will be along for orders shortly."
She's our manager, but during lunch rush, she's also the second hostess. Customers get the digital menu, which also lets them know when their table is ready. All orders are placed by customers on the device. It keeps a running total of the bill, there is no tipping, clearly stated on our website and the menu. They love that part.
We seat ourselves, close the door part way. The private room allows us to come when we wish and not take up table space or push ourselves to the front of the line. When the whole crew comes, we’d suck up three tables. We also pay the tab despite owning the place. Staff has profit participation and if we don't pay, it takes money out of their pockets. Not a lot, isn't like we eat here every day, but still. We tap our choices on the screen, roast beef for two, hot sausage for one, fried shrimp for Oceane and Sloane, Janah has salad and a side of creamed spinach. We also have fried veggies for the table, today cauliflower and mushrooms.
Darcy comes in with drinks, they know our lunch preferences. Coke Zero for Sloane and me, tea for everyone else.
"Good to see you, Mariella said you have a new daughter Daph, congratulations."
"Thanks, I'm the name on the paper, she has eight other moms, two sisters and three grandmothers. By the time she's a teenager she'll be quite insane."
Darcy, "Maybe, lots of teens are insane with only one mom, more moms might be the solution. I see you've ordered, be up in a few," she hustles off to other tables.
Lunch comes, Dasha would be satisfied, plates are well presented, even with poboy sandwiches. No dressings hanging over the side of the bread, plenty of meat or shrimp, not so much as to make it a mess to eat. Condiments are as ordered, linen napkins fresh and crispy white, silverware spotless.
Chloe, "So good, been too long since I've had one of these, just what I needed."
Comfort food, a saving grace in an increasingly discomforting world.

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