Thanks to all of my readers for your patience and support as I worked through this story. Evidently "recommendations" are the new currency of the realm here, so if you liked the story, please recommend it. I've already started on the next book in the saga.
October 12, 2003
Palo Alto, CA
It was quite the unusual crowd at dinner this Sunday.I briefly scanned those present, noting that there was almost an apprehensive feeling.I felt the need to try and fix that problem, but since JP was the host, it fell to him to set the tone.My eyes moved past Will and Darius, both so well turned out, and fixed on JP.It was one of those surreal times when we communicated with just our eyes, with him giving me the slightest nod of permission.I smiled, then stood up to get everyone’s attention.“Welcome everyone.This has been an amazing weekend, getting to know Mike and Beverly, Colin, and Christopher, and now meeting Kat and Magi.For the first time in my life, I’m not ashamed of that part of my heritage, of the Carmichael side.”
“I could not agree more,” Mike said in his stiff but vaguely friendly way.“A toast, to family.”
“To family,” we all repeated, as we lifted our glass and toasted ourselves.
Just then the staff brought out the salad.I was distracted by a loud sound of alarm, and saw Kat with her mouth open, recoiling from the table.“Toxins!” she said in terror.
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Beverly said, putting down her knife with a slight thud.
“No, no,” Magi said to her soothingly.“It is good.It is safe.I can tell these things.”
“You’re sure?” she asked, looking at him with an expression that almost contained awe.
“I am sure.There is nothing toxic here.”
“Well then,” she said, and started eating, with all of us staring at them in amazement.I finally got my wits about me and started eating, which prompted Jake to do the same thing.
“You know, when I walk in here on a Sunday night, I have no idea what the dinner is going to turn out to be like,” Jake said.
“That must bother you,” I said, worried.
“No way,” he said with a smile.“I love it.”
“Dude, stop,” Will said, giving us an annoyed look for being a bit too romantic at this family dinner.
“Whatever,” I said, mimicking him perfectly, so perfectly Darius cracked up.
“So besides visiting opium dens, what did you do while you were in India?” Beverly asked Kat in her cattiest voice.
“You would do well to open your soul a bit,” Kat snipped back, and it was the strangest thing.When she did, she reverted back to the Philadelphia mainline housewife she must have been.I intuitively knew that I was looking at this other side of my aunt.
“I’m glad you enjoyed your time in India,” Mike said, intervening.
“Magi and I are moving back here, and we’re going to live up in Napa Valley,” Kat announced.
“It will be wonderful to have you close by,” Stef said, being polite.I wondered pessimistically if that may be one of his worst judgements ever.My new aunt seemed to be quite headstrong and dramatic.
“And what will you be doing in Napa Valley?” Beverly asked coolly.
“We’re building a siddhi temple, a place for people to find their hidden Siddhi,” Kat said, sounding stoned. This Kat was the crazy hippy aunt, not uptight suburban aunt.
“What is a siddhi?” Will asked.It was typical of him to boldly ask questions when his curiosity was aroused.
“It is a special skill, or strength,” Magi explained smoothly.He was very attractive, both physically and charismatically.“Everyone has one.Perhaps it is the ability to be lighter than air.For some, it is the ability to travel from one place to another instantaneously, or even to a different time.For others, it may be the ability to enter into someone else’s mind and body, to truly feel and see what they see.”
“So you can train someone to fly, time travel, or be a mind reader?” Will challenged.Darius had to cover his mouth to avoid laughing at Will doing the same thing he did to JP: distilling grandiose phrases down into simple concepts.
“It is not quite like that,” Magi said in a condescending way, one which showed how much Will had irked him.
“Do not patronize me,” Will snapped back.
“I meant no offense,” Magi said smoothly.“Perhaps later, we can take some time and I can explain how the principles work.”
“Maybe,” Will said, even as I could sense him calming down.This Magi guy was a pretty smooth operator.I could see him convincing denizens of Napa and beyond to shell out a bunch of money so they could learn to see through walls or whatever other supernatural power they wanted to acquire.
“Well it sounds nice, but are you sure this isn’t just a different way of saying brothel?” Beverly asked with faux innocence.
“Why do you always assume everything has some sexual meaning or innuendo?I think it is people like you, who are so uptight and repressed, who we can help the most,” Kat said, reverting to uptight suburban mode.
“How will this temple support itself?” Beverly responded, as if she hadn’t heard what Kat just said.
“It will serve as a hermitage for those who want to find this inner, hidden skill,” Magi said smoothly.“We will use the profits from that aspect of our ashram to help those in need.”
“So it is a charitable venture?” Stef asked.
“It is, structured as a church under your Internal Revenue Code,” he replied.
“I should have known that’s why you came back,” Beverly accused Kat bluntly.“Did you already run through all of Paul’s money.”I remembered that Paul was Kat’s first husband.
“It was our money, not Paul’s money,” Kat snapped back.“And no, I did not.”Perhaps I had that mind-reading skill, or maybe it was just obvious that she wasn’t being entirely candid about that.It was a good bet that she’d burned through a bunch of her net worth.
“Such an establishment must not rely solely on one person,” Magi said.“It must be a group effort.”
“Not a dime,” Beverly said to Mike, pointing her finger at him.“You’re not giving her a dime.”
“How sad, that someone so rich should be so ungenerous,” Kat said in a quasi-philosophical tone.“Such greediness is so unattractive.”
Before Beverly threw her knife or fork at Kat, Stef intervened.“If it is a charitable venture, I would be willing to be part of your team, as it were.”
“That is very nice of you,” Magi said, grinning from ear to ear.
“Do you have a budget?” Will asked him.“A balance sheet?” Christopher started snickering at that, nascent businessman that he was.
“Of course we have those things,” Magi said soothingly, but it was a good bet he was mentally scrambling on what those things were.
“You’ll need them if you’re going to get funding,” Will asserted, and glanced at Stef meaningfully, explaining that these two needed to jump through the same hoops any other charitable venture should.
“They will be provided,” Magi promised.
“Thank you for your generous offer of help,” Kat said gracefully to Stef, even though she seemed to hurl the word ‘generous’ at Beverly.
“You are welcome,” Stef said.“In exchange, perhaps you can teach me to travel back in time, to when I was a young man again.”He’d said that last sentence with a distinctable trace of melancholy.
“If you want to see yourself as a young man again, you have only to look at your grandsons,” JP said affectionately.
“I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about me,” Will said.John and Darius nodded in agreement.That Hallmark moment was broken up by the sound of musical strings, and that prompted me to get ready to propose to Jake.As soon as we’d finished the main course, which we’d just done, a single violinist was supposed to walk in, playing some romantic ditty or another, and that would be my cue to speak.
“I sense we are about to be serenaded,” Claire said, with an eyebrow raised to question what was happening. And then, instead of my single violinist, an entire Mariachi band came out.In addition to the guy I’d asked to play the violin, there were two guitarists and a trumpeter.They were playing a romantic ballad, one that was almost artistic enough to be opera, while simultaneously being down to earth.I was really impressed that they’d done this; this was way more than I’d asked them to do.The music wasn’t overly loud, but in the confines of the Great Hall, the volume was amplified as the sound waves bounced off the beautiful oak walls.
As soon as they were finished, I started to stand up, when I felt Jake all but jump to his feet, shocking the shit out of me.This was definitely not going according to my script.I glanced over at Will who smirked back at me, and it was then that I realized he and Jake had hijacked my proposal.It was not a little annoying to have this whole event I’d had planned out completely go off the rails.“I’d like to ask for your attention, please,” Jake said.God, he had such a deep, sexy voice.
“The floor is yours,” JP said.
“Will, Darius, I’d like to ask, on behalf of you and your brothers JJ and Matt, for your permission to marry your father,” he said formally.
Darius and Will stood up and looked directly at Jake.“You have our permission, and our blessing,” Will said.I’d just been sitting there, kind of dazed, mentally pouting because things hadn’t gone how I wanted them, when it dawned on me what Jake had done.He’d made sure to include my sons in our marriage, and he’d done it at its conception.Jake reached down and held out his hand, and when I took it, he pulled slightly to urge me to stand up.
He dropped down on one knee and looked up at me with a smile.“I’m nervous that what you’re going to do next isn’t really suitable for all this company.” That made everyone laugh.
“You always were a bit of exhibitionist, no?” Stef taunted.
“You are?” Jake asked me with a leer.I frowned because I was embarrassed, and I knew that I had to be blushing, when Jake pulled me back into the moment.I stared into his blue eyes and felt nothing but love for this man who understood me so well, and who, despite grappling with his own insecurities, tried so hard to make me happy.“Brad Schluter, will you marry me?”
“Yes, Jake Pike, I will marry you,” I said, and pulled him onto his feet and into my arms.I kissed him, and even as I heard the noise as everyone else clapped for us, we were alone in our own world, and I was happy.