I awoke to a tantalizing smell and a corresponding grumble in my tummy. Terry had fired up the grill in the back yard and had just laid a slab of love on. I emerged to see who was where.
A familiar ping in the basement encouraged me to use the pan down there–Pharaoh was in the tub, hair done up in a tidy knot on top of his head. He waved, and I flirted my tail, but I didn’t stop to chat–ever since the surgery, when I awakened with a full bladder it was pressing against sore places.
Damn it! I had forgotten, or rather failed to realize, that the pan they’d fixed up in the bedroom had to come from somewhere. I yammered a string of dismayed stupidities at myself, doubling back and whimpering at Pharaoh as I went past. He caught my desperation.
“Want a lift to the loo, m’lady?”
I ran over to him and meowed a loud assent, wiggling a little from paw to paw as I did so. He laughed and put a hand out toward me. There was just an instant where I saw an invisible net springing from his hand. (Yes, I know, but I don’t know how else to put it.) I sniffed the gating smell, and then, oh joy, there I was in the study. But the bathroom door was closed. Lynn Tarragon was in there.
“Hurry u-u-up!” I screamed, my wiggle now a dance. I really didn’t think I could make it up the long flight to the master bedroom. To my surprise and joy she opened the door. I saw that it had been a reach-over, her still being on the pot herself. What a princess! “I would do the same for you any day,” I reassured her, sweet relief filling my souls from inner to outer.
“It’s all good, Eureka. Been there. They moved everything around and it still kinda hates you. It should go back to normal. You’re lucky you don’t have the other problem–some people wake up not being able to go at all. It’s an anesthetic thing.” She sounded so matter-of-fact that I perked up my ears in suspicion.
“Can you speak Cat?” I asked. No answer other than a smile at my questioning purrup. I realized that Lynn just automatically treated everybody with respect and didn’t even talk down to, well, me. It was as if she didn’t know how. A rare gift.
We both finished our business and exited together. I realized that Pharaoh had really screwed up by gating me into Terry’s study with a “tseradi” in the house. I didn’t know how I was going to get this through to him, but at the least he needed to be told it had been a Bad Thing, and I guessed I could get that across. Lynn sort of followed me as I headed off to the basement, there being nobody else in sight and the only person in the yard being Terry singing to himself over the grill. It was something about it being a marvelous night for a moondance–why, that no-good plagiarizing fink! That was the song Duke was singing for me! How did Terry get hold of it? It took me a few minutes to realize that the likely path of plagiarism had gone the other way, Terry not speaking Cat. Bah. Nobody can be trusted these days.
Pharaoh was out of the tub, sitting on one of the redwood benches surrounding it, putting in his contact lenses. He looked up as we both came downstairs. I headed over to him; Lynn froze on the bottom two steps. I realized that they probably didn’t know each other, as the sorcerer hadn’t been there the previous times Lynn had visited. Then I noticed that Pharaoh was naked, and caught on that Lynn at least was embarrassed.
“Oh, ah, hello. Sorry. Just wandering about. Didn’t know there was a tub down here. I’ll be . . .” She turned to go, heat radiating from her skin.
Pharaoh called after her, “Oh no, please don’t go! I don’t mind a bit. I’ll just be a jiff. Give me just one second . . . There!” He blinked to center the contact. He stood up, all grace and Lion muscle, and bowed.
“Pharaoh Hiroshi, Lion Quartermain.” His hair undid itself and tumbled at his feet; he tossed it back over his shoulders as he straightened up. It was black and glossy, catching the highlights from the muted track lights which were echoed on his still-damp skin.
“Lynn Tarragon. I’m a mother–I mean a grad student–I mean, I’m a friend of Terry’s.” Poor Lynn was still dying of embarrassment, her eyes fixed on a spot about two inches above Pharaoh’s head. He grinned, and went over to his clothes, getting dressed quickly but without the slightest fuss. She relaxed a little when his boxer shorts went on, but only a very little.
“How do you know Terry?”
“Ah, um, we had some classes together here at Harvard. I live across the street now.”
Pharaoh put on his wifebeater and looked around for his overshirt, which I had appropriated in an automatic fit of absent-mindedness. “Shoo, Eureka!” I wasn’t shooing, and bit into the soft chambray, hugging it with all paws. It was a game we often played. I wanted to make sure he noticed me.
Lynn noticed him, I think. She kept making these little sounds as he laughed and his muscles flexed while trying to dislodge me. Her outer soul was giving off an impressive amount of embarrassment and what I was breveting as sexual frustration, sketching that theory in based on what I got off the cubs while watching certain music videos.
Saved by the blowhard! I heard Dante Fabrizio come in the front door and call through the house. After a moment, he reached the kitchen and went out onto the patio. Lynn followed him, almost fleeing up the stairs.
“I’ll see you–I mean, I’ll see less of you–I mean, oh dear.” She exited, closing the door at the head of the stairs as if she had trapped a djinn down there. What the what was her problem? I mewed at Pharaoh in frustration. Somebody needed to brief him on this woman; but it looked as if somebody had needed to brief her on him. Was she really such a goody-good as to be that body shy? She had lost every bit of a poise I had thought as much a part of her as her fur–if she’d had proper fur.
“I’m very pretty,” said Pharaoh, complacent. He was braiding his hair into the workaday Lion plait, beads round his neck and both sneakers tied in bows too short to play with. “No, really. Artemisio looks like a guardian angel, and Dante ain’t half bad, but as far as naked goes, I win hands down around here. It makes the whole thing ever so much worse when the unexpected naked person is really pretty. You instinctively want to admire them, but that would be impolite. And the vibe from that poor dear is that she hasn’t been laid in months. Neither have I, of course, but she hasn’t got a vow of chastity to blame it on. What a pity; she looks like quite the armful. What do you think of her?” He picked me up and we headed upstairs, pausing in our now usual spot.
“The question is, what do you think of her? Gating me like that. I could have been the death of that woman. Or she–”
He raised a hand. “You seem upset. Oh dear, did I gate you smack into her?”
“Yes!” Over the months I’d taught him about fifteen key words in a register he could handle.
“Oh dear. Did she scream? No. Did she realize what she was seeing?”
She hadn’t seen me gate, per se. But it had been close. I settled for biting his wrist.
“I should be more careful?”
“But . . . Here’s an odd question, Eureka. An occasional cat can pick up wavelengths that we can’t, so you just might know this one. Is this lady Th’nashi?”
“YES!” I yowled. Hell with their conspiracy. Then I did a double-take. He was a master sorcerer, but he was a Knightsblood, not a Todeschlagi. How had he guessed?
Pharaoh laughed at my face. “Elementary, my dear catkin. She doesn’t ping quite right to be humani. When we’re trying not to let on that we’re turned on, we leave other bases uncovered. Other wavelengths. To put it another way, her g’nah looks like the very beginning of a jigsaw puzzle–most of it is ‘missing,’ but there are a few key sections that are exactly where you’d expect them to be–and they were the pieces that were trying their clumsy best to interface with mine. Moreover, that lady’s a’thanila, or I’ll clean your pan. Am I right?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
He smirked. “All in a minute’s work. That’s why I’m a District Sorcerer. Ha! Do the others know?”
“Yes and no.”
“Yes. Terry, Sasha, Meeze.”
“And she’s not home yet. If she were, she would have Lioned me half to death back there. Caught desiring my off-limits bodaciousness and all.” I was impressed.
Terry poked his head down the stairs. “What is it with you and the cat? Careful with her, she still has stitches.” In actual fact, the sorcerer had plugged in his nice, warm, pain-numbing outer soul as soon as he took me into his arms. I was determined to stay by his side for the evening.
We came up, Pharaoh rubbing the spot behind my ears that only he and Sasha could get. It made me kind of stupid, but I didn’t care.
The cubs and Rita were bringing the food inside, it being a little too cool for the backyard. Not one but two slabs of brown and black amazingness! I licked my chops. No chicken, though. No, no, I was wrong, here it came with Sasha, who scowled at seeing somebody else loving his cat. And all manner of human accoutrements, like potato salad and pickles and (I licked my chops again) olives. They were a little too bitter to actually chew, but I could lick and play with one for hours. The humans found this hilarious for some reason, but screw ‘em. They were happy, I was happy: Ah, bliss.
Everybody sat down, Pharaoh putting his well-stuffed knitting bag under his chair for me, going so far as to hand me an olive and hiss, “Make sure the drool gets on the carpet.” I purred an assent and set to work.
Terry soon turned the conversation to school. He, Sasha, Pharaoh, and Dante had all been to fancy boys’ boarding schools; the cubs had both gone to their local public schools, but those had done a good enough job to get them into Harvard. Lynn had gone to Catholic school, and I got a great deal of amusement out of tracing the holes in her and Terry’s stories as they avoided admitting knowing each other at that age.
It was obvious that Dante had gotten a thorough briefing on the Tarragons, except for the Th’nashi part, and he said so many tactful and careful things about the uses of good school systems like Cambridge’s as to win him points with both them and me. I could see why he’d been picked to be Privy Councillor–he was a very smart man, and when he set himself to the job, could charm your collar off.
Lynn’s metaphorical collar was in tatters. By the end of the meal, she had agreed to be introduced to a couple of Dante’s friends, one of whom had fingers in the pie over at the local high school and the other of whom was an expert on childhood trauma.
“Know anybody good for me?” she quipped.
“But of course. There’s also the tried and true version of increasing your social supports. There’s a lovely hot tub right below our feet, for example–well, no, it’s a few feet thataway. Nothing like communal bathing to foster community and soak out the aches of the day.”
“Lynn has already seen the tub,” said my wicked friend with a playful leer in his voice, but Lynn had by now so recovered herself as to throw something at him. Another olive, which he proffered to me, but I was busy with the bone Joel had slipped me, slurping every available iota of delectable pig fat off with brio. Pharaoh sighed and moved his bag a little bit.
By the end of the evening, Rita was as much as signed up with a network of smart and caring adults and Lynn herself was scheduled to attend Evensong at the local monastery with Dante. I could detect just a little jealousy emanating from Terry over that one, but it wasn’t as if they were going clubbing. Or kissing or something; but I guess it was understandable. My tummy was full of forbidden human scraps, which were giving me an uncomfortable amount of gas, but my private and personal District Sorcerer was stroking my belly, sending little zaps through my gut which broke up the bubbles into something more manageable. Life was good, and our problems were solved, weren’t they?
Except for the Kaiser of Todeschlag, but he was in Germany. All the way on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. And he could stay there. My dai’yadi was expanding, and I was at peace.