Sisters' Dinner Conversations: 2002

In the midst of her morning meditation, Aurora's eyes snapped open and she smiled slowly. Diana was close. She could feel it. Much closer than usual and heading this way, though it would probably be a few hours. Maybe dinner. It would be nice to see her, even if she was in one of her moods

Aurora quickly got through her shower and dressed for the day. She took care of everything for the shop for the day and made arrangements for Crystal to take over the Yoga class that evening before Aurora went out shopping. Diana was definitely a steak and potatoes girl, light on the potatoes and with a robust Bordeaux. A stop at the corner bakery yielded up a rich chocolate cherry cheesecake that bordered on the obscene.

As the sun set over the Bay, Aurora sat up on the roof sipping wine while the steaks cooked slowly and waited, the smell of marinated aged beef and garlic potatoes on the grill wafting down to the street below. Diana knew the way up to the roof from the street so Aurora wasn't worried about her older sister finding her. She'd just follow the smell of beef or the sound of Beethoven that drifted from inside and carried on the evening breeze.

For Diana, it had been a helluva night. Even as she parks the Jag around the back of The 'Stick, she can recall the looks on the faces of her mark as she'd stepped out of the shadows as he and his bodyguards were getting out of the limo. In her tailored black suit and sharp black heels, she muses, they probably never quite understood what was happening.

She'd driven the rest of the night up from LA up to the Bay, made her reservations back to Rome, and decided at the last minute to visit her little sister, her own psychological opposite, Aurora. Slipping in through the front door, she manages to avoid the insipid little bit of chimes, and turn the lock behind her. Flipping over the worn OPEN sign to signal the end of customers for one day — Diana's endlessly amazed at how many lavender candles and silly pink quartz rocks one city's flower children can manage to purchase each year — she looks around for her sister.

Heading up the stairs in her dark stockinged feet, with her shoes in her hand, she looks for Aurora.

The stairs lead to the second floor where Aurora's workshops are and around to the next flight that lead to her apartment. Her door stands open, music playing on the stereo against the far wall. Across the room, a wrought iron spiral staircase leads to the roof. Years ago, Aurora had knocked out most of the walls on this floor, doing away with the too small rooms and opening them up into huge airy ones with floor to ceiling windows and French doors that led out onto several balconies on which she liked to spend evenings watching the people below or where she had her myriad of flower boxes and pots. The rooms were comfortable; with hardwood floors and scattered Persian rugs, big overstuffed chairs and couches clustered in conversation areas. The only exception, Diana knew, was her secondary library which took up a good quarter of the top floor. On one wall was a painting of a dark haired man on horseback, leaning down to pull a redheaded woman up off her feet and into a kiss. Another was of a boy no older then twelve dressed in the finery of a Dark Ages' noble; his dark curly hair framed a youthful face with a strong jaw and eyes that were a mesmerizing blue-green. They were Old Masters, painted by Leonardo himself when Aurora had bided time in his company after she left the Court of Medici. Diana had never been able to get a full story out of Aurora about the subjects of those paintings, but she knew that they made her youngest sister both happy and deeply sad.

From the open door at the top of the spiral staircase comes her sister's voice. "I'm up here!"

Her sister's ability to know when even she was coming used to unnerve her. No one else seems to know when she'd sneak up on them… like last night. Diana didn't have to walk around the long black Lincoln, she was sure the driver's not seen her. But these days, she just considered him 'collateral damage.' And he didn't hear her walk up to the driver's side window…

"Something smells fantastic," Diana calls up ahead of her, soon stepping out onto the roof. "You knew before I did I was coming," she smiles, dropping her shoes where she stands.

The parts of the roof not used by the gardens are covered by redwood slats which make walking barefooted a lot easier. Dressed casually in a pair of white shorts and a white crop top, Aurora stands checking things at the grill and she chuckles as Diana appears. "I had a feeling. There's your favorite Bordeaux on the table over there and some very old scotch sitting on the wall by the herb garden just in case you wanted to be different."

She looks up at Diana across the way and tilts her head to one side. "You're tired. Plop down on a lounger and take a load off."

Grabbing the wine, Diana slowly falls into the chaise, sighing. "I hate El Lay," she says, mostly to herself. After a long sip of her drink, she leans forward and looks around. "Nice… Must be nice to have the time. I'm flying back to Rome tomorrow morning." She pauses again before saying, "Maybe I should get a place out here…" But Aurora's heard this before, and even if she hadn't, she can tell Diana's just imagining.

"So," she says, unbuttoning the top couple of buttons on her blouse, "how's the Earth Mother business these days?"

"Oddly, it just gets better," she replies as she moves to curl back up in the chair she was in earlier. She fluffs out of fiery curls with one hand and sips her wine with the other. "There was that drop off in the late Seventies and early Eighties, but we're doing a booming business now. I can barely keep up with some of the inventory." She makes a face. "And some of it has just gotten loopy. Somebody came in here yesterday asking for centipedes." Aurora chuckles. "Easily provided. We just clean out our pool filters."

Diana, for all the gore of her profession, still cringes at the thought of insects and pool filter goo.

She looks across at her sister. "You know, you should take a break. A real one. Not what you've been doing. Stay at the ranch for a week. Ride a horse. Lay in the sun and read trashy novels."

"Can't. The Giancomo Family owes me payment — you'll probably read about it in tomorrow's paper — and they insist on face to face meetings. And apparently, this is their 'busy season'. I guess Benito's trying to avoid the December rush," Diana jokes darkly. "But it sounds like a nice idea. Plus, my new place in Rome needs some fixing up. I miss the French Riviera, but it's easier to find jobs in Italy, and those god damned frogs are hell to get paid. Stingy bastards, worse than the Dutch. You have to come out. Great view of the old city…."

Diana falls silent, finishes the Bordeaux, and gets up to pour some scotch.

Aurora looks out towards the lights of Golden Gate and sighs as she idly caresses her wine glass. "It is hard for me to go to Rome nowadays. Rome, Venice, Florence. There's some places in Spain and France I'm the same way about, but nothing like Italy. I miss the Renaissance and the life I had there then. The people. There's too much of the old Rome there and it hurts." She drains her glass and gets up to go take up the steaks. She never mentioned England in these rememberences. Even after nine centuries, it still pained her. She still missed them, thought of them, some nights she still ached for the man that had been the one great love of her life. She had named four of her subsequent sons for him, and two for the son they had together that all the knowledge at Aurora's fingertips hadn't been able to save.

"I buried the great love of my life in Rome and three of our four children. I'm surprised it still bothers me after all this time, but it does. " Diana smiles a little and performs her usual rapid subject change as if the previous had never happened. "But you didn't come here to hear me get maudlin. There's a street festival coming up. I'd invite you but I think you'd get annoyed with the crush of hippie types.."

Diana is quiet. It's two minutes of silence until Diana brings the topic back, saying quietly, "I forgot Nicolo's name. Jesus Christ, Aurora, I *forgot* the name of my first child. What are we doing here?"

"Trying to have lives," her sister replies as she puts the finishing touches on dinner. "Some of us have never stopped looking for the rest of the House even though others have given up long ago." She looks pointedly at Diana on that last one. "It's something we cling to that gives us hope. Otherwise we would scream our anguish to the skies and slit our own throats at the futility of going on.." Gods only knew how often Aurora had contemplated that very thing in the middle of a cold and lonely night, when she buried yet another child or grandchild that had fallen to these world.

"Or others, I suppose," Diana says quietly, as she stares down at her drink.

Aurora puts the steaks on the warming rack of the grill instead of taking them up and refills her wine glass. She walks a few feet away and stares out over the Bay. "I remember them all, you know. Every husband, every lover, every child. I even keep track of the lines. I can tell you right now where every one of my descendants are." She smiles a little and turns back to her sister. "But I'm done with putting myself through the pain of outliving another child or husband. My last son came home in a box from Vietnam." Julian. He had been the last one she had named that. She had taken his death in a war neither of them believed in especially hard. "This world has become too angry a place to raise children in and that pains me. What else have we got once we give up on that? Nothing. Except the hope that one day we can get out of this quickly filling room and go home before it blows itself up."

"You were always more hopeful than I, don't think too badly of me Aurora," Diana says. "I gave up on children after the Revolution…. the French Revolution…. Stupid that we should have to designate which one. The House is gone, we're orphans Aurora. Have been for the last millennium. I know you seem to be happy, but…" She shakes her head slowly.

"I don't judge you, Diana, or the choices you make. You, or the others." Aurora sits on the low wall around one of the herb gardens as her black cat, Shadrac, comes slinking over to her. "It's not my place. You are the one that has to live with your decisions. I decided a long time ago that, for me, I was more content trying to help the people around me and to learn from them. It gave me purpose." She smiles down at the cat rubbing against her arm and scratches him behind the ears. Aurora looks up at the stars, pale from the light pollution of San Francisco. "Do you remember the other rooms? The ones Father would sometimes take us in for vacations? Are they still out there somewhere, you think?"

"The other worlds? I presume so, but the doors are closed. I try not to think much about them, or life before… But you bring up a point. You said living among these people gives you a purpose. I've been thinking of a purpose of my own. Really, of *our* own, you, me and the rest of us."

"You know," the dark haired woman says, looking out at nothing in particular, "together, we could rule this planet…. Get rid of the crap, do for these monkeys what they refuse to do for themselves. In my own way I do a little of that even now…."

Aurora slowly brings her gaze back to her sister. "Why? I can't see that we, or at least, I, would be any better off ruling this place. Or any happier. In the thousand years we have been here, we have never all even been in the same place at the same time. I cannot even say I know my older siblings well." She stands and goes back to the grill to take things up on plates.

"What would we get out of ruling the world?" She asks as she carries their food to the table. "Besides a great headache."

"We have the benefit of a thousand years of living, and I'm tired of having to play by other people's rules. Stupid, selfish people… You say you liked the Renaissance? For me, it was hell. I mean, it's always hell. Being a woman hasn't helped any either. For the first 900 years we couldn't even bloody vote. I think it's time we changed the rules, get rid of the old ways. Look out there," Diana says, sweeping her hand across the skyline. "It's terrible. Pollution, war, famine, crime, unhappiness. With you, and maybe Fallow, Raisa and Firuz, we could begin turning this place into something decent. Don't you want better for these people while making it livable for us?"

"Of course I do," she sighs. "But the things that make it nearly unbearable aren't things that will change with us in charge." She smiles over. "Come eat and tell me how you plan for us to do this thing. We are but a handful of people."

Diane doesn't argue and pushes herself away from the rail. Sitting opposite her sister after pouring more scotch, she waits patiently for Aurora to serve. Everything smelled wonderful, Aurora had a flare for seasoning, and some of the week's cares seem to fade into the background, if only momentarily.

"Wonderful, it all looks fantastic. Thank you. I appreciate this. I appreciate it every time you do it for me," she says with a smile and a shrug.

"So, Pinky, let me tell you how we shall take over the world," the older sister says as she takes her fork and hunts through the salad for a tomato. "We're rich, we don't seem to die very easily, we're terribly smart, and some of us," she says waving the fork to indicate she means present company, "are smashingly beautiful. Wealth, health, brains and beauty. Throw in a bit of precognition and hocus pocus, and I'm sure we'll come up with a plan."

Finishing her tomato, she says, "Seriously, I've been looking into taking out some of the world leaders… It's quite doable."

Aurora very calmly drizzles homemade dressing on her salad and tosses it around in the bowl as Diana talks. She finishes her first mouthful and look across at her sister. "I'm sure that it would be. Even I have seen holes in security when I've watched some of them on television."

She cuts off a bit of steak and tosses it to her cat. "You realize the 'hocus-pocus' here is … well, difficult these days. Magic requires a lot of time for anything major and even when it works the effects don't last long at all. It's good enough for special effects for the coven, but I don't know that I could actually pull anything spectacular off." She stabs another forkful of greens and then lets the fork dangle from her fingers. "I wonder what would happen if enough of us got together and concentrated on the effort? That might do something."

"See, you are a little interested in the idea. As for magic, your other skills would be more useful, I agree. Still, being in charge would be a new and novel experience. I mean, the world has had its fill of Giancomo's — as have I — and the thought of much longer with this American idiot as President… Your cat is more qualified to run the asylum than that fool. Give him a bottle of whiskey, a few lines of cocaine and the keys to the Bentley… " Diana enjoys a bite of steak before continuing. "I'd bet Fallow'd be interested. You keep in touch with him?"

Aurora gives a little shrug as she finishes chewing a potato. "Not really. I know where he is approximately. Shouldn't be that hard to get a hold of him." She looks across and chuckles. "And I didn't vote for Monkey-Boy. Actively campaigned against him, in fact. See what good that did? Though, to be fair, San Francisco didn't vote for him either." She sighs. "Is it possible for America to experience the Dark Ages this late in the game?"

"It's not just the New World…. I mean America. Hell, Russia's got Putin, Italy's on the verge of electing an avowed fascist. I'm not looking forward to an Austro-Italian Axis. So, anything's possible. First sign Monkey Boy or any of the rest wants to burn books and they're toast though."

She falls silent again as she cuts off another piece of meat for the cat. "I don't know, Diana. Do you plan on taking out the whole chain of command? Blow up the Senate or start somewhere else?"

"Really, I've not gotten much past the Avenging Angel theme. Of late, you can get people to say, 'if they only succeeded in killing Hitler' or 'if they only killed Stalin'… I thought about just taking out the dictators at first. Sure, they'll likely get replaced by other dictators. But I don't see why some of us don't assume leadership of the big seven or eight… China, France, England, Russia, Japan, America… We could finally be ourselves instead of constantly having to reinvent ourselves every twenty years… I'm tired of running. Aren't you?"

Aurora looks thoughtful a moment and then chuckles silently. "I wouldn't know what to do. I've reinvented myself since, well, since the House broke. Day one. Luckily I have an imagination like wildfire." She drains her wineglass and refills it. "If we're going to do this, and I really think you're going to have to get everybody to agree to it for it to work, promise me you'll take out those bastards in Iraq, Iran, and eradicate the Taliban. I truly hate those bastards."

"With pleasure," Diana agrees. "So, what's up with everyone else? I never see any one but you."

"Well, I'm the cutest, you know," Aurora flashes her a smile and pops a mushroom in her mouth. "I'm not sure what everyone's been up to the last few years, though I know pretty well where abouts they are. As I said earlier, some still look for the House, moving from here to there in their quest. Everyone is making the most with what they've got."

Changing the subject, Diana asks, "So, how much longer can you continue running this place?"

"I just publicly took it back over four years ago, so I have awhile," she replies, now cutting her steak up for her, which annoys Shadrac. She leans closer to her sister and smiles. "Having a group of women who believe you're an honest to goodness Witch in this day and age has it's perks. They think I still look like this because of being Chosen by the Goddess."

"What idiots," Diana retorts. "To think of it. No more than three hundred years ago, they'd have tortured you and burned you at the stake. Now they think you're some kind of plugged in demi-god." She shakes her head. "How *did* you avoid getting cooked, by the way?"

"I stayed ahead of it," she says with a shake of her head. One hand reaches up and holds out a flaming curl. "I had to dye this for part of the time. Darken it with walnut juice because some people thought red hair automatically made one in league with Satan. Actually, the only time I came close was when I was living with Michel in France and the Inquisition tossed him in prison. Silly man wouldn't leave when I told him to and I couldn't let them have him. He was one of the few with real Talent I had come across."

"What happened to him? I found myself fleeing Europe for Persia about that time. There was no place for strong smart women…"

"The Queen demanded his release," she smiles. Diana was trying to bait her with that remark and she wasn't rising to it.. "Not even the Church dared stand up to that woman when she walked into the prison in person. She was furious when I told her. Happily he went on to write many more prophecies and lived to a ripe old age." She sighs. "But he sent me away long before that or I would have stayed till the end. He was right, of course. I would have eventually had to hide away from the public and he knew that would just never work."

"I guess I wasn't aware you were attached to Nostrodamos. You were running in dangerous circles. That was stupid. I found myself getting into too much trouble with the seemingly omnipresent authorities. I came to despise not just the Catholic Church, but all religions. Ironic you could be the center of your own religion."

"Even more ironic that I came to the New World disguised as a Catholic nun," she chuckles. "I thought my hair would never grow back after I got away from the mission in Central America." She chews on a piece of steak for a moment. "But I was never in any real danger. I'm still not. I pay my taxes, all my papers are in order, and I always know when it's time to go."

"I could so use your talent. In Persia, oddly enough, given how the region has degenerated today into a misogynous disaster, I found that exceptional women could claim a certain amount of power. I have to laugh when I remember being mistaken as a dynasty's personal Djinn of Death. It wasn't until Louis the Sun King that I found anything similar in Europe. But in Baghdad… I wish I could find a place like that now. That's why I think we should institute our own government."

"You are a Djinn of Death," Aurora smiles, pointing at Diana with her fork. "You know, we could always just create our own country. Buy an island somewhere and populate it with enough of our descendants or the type of people we wanted on it and declare ourselves independent and then work our way out. Start off as a prosperity of some poorer country's and we could buy our independence with a well placed bribe."

"Think Madagascar's too extravagant?" Diana replies, laughing. "Actually, not a bad idea. I'm just so tired of people. I envy you, Aurora. You seem so at home in this world. I wonder sometimes if there's something really wrong with me. It's not like I'm offing widows and orphans, but still, I think I *should* feel some kind of guilt or remorse or something, but I don't. Your idea of running away to an island isn't too far from a good idea."

"Feh. It's a wonderful idea," she chuckles. "Assuming we could all agree on ruling it. However, I'm not certain Madagascar is up for grabs." Aurora tosses another tidbit to Shadrac to get him away from the table. "I think I was able to settle in so easily here because I was so young when the House broke." She smiles a little lopsided sad smile. "It was easy to pull off lost and afraid. Mostly because I was. I kept dreaming of home and waking up in a nightmare. But the people who found me and took me in were decent people. The beginning was harder for me than it was for you all. I cried every night for months. I just wanted my Mommy or one of you but no one was around and I was alone."

Diana frowns. "I wouldn't cling to that idea that it was any easier for the rest of us. I can't imagine falling into the Dark Ages was any walk in the park for any one of us. I don't remember too much of those times myself. Probably just don't want to remember. I do know I didn't have any kindly family taking me in. I worked the streets as a thief and… well, we'll leave it at thief."

"The past is so depressing. Let's talk of something more promising," the older sister says, with a thin smile. "You first."

Aurora finishes the mouthful of mushroom as she thinks. "You want a kitten?" She chuckles. "Shiatan just had a litter." She looks at her sister's expression and laughs. "I didn't think so." Gesturing with her fork, she points towards the buildings on either side of hers. "I'm thinking of buying those up and expanding. Then again, maybe I'll just put my cataloge online. What do you think?"

"Stick with real estate. This Internet thing…" Diana shakes her head. "What's wrong with the printing press? Or illuminated manuscripts? Nobody takes care of what they do, everything is mass produced, mass media-ed, mass consumed. But land is forever…. until California drops off into the ocean. Plus, do little wannabe witches even have credit cards?"

"Oh, yes," Aurora smiles. "By the handfuls. At least out here. I had considered opening one up somewhere else. Out of state. But I can't decide. Someplace I can take everything to before California does drop off into the ocean. I'm pretty sure I'd know far enough in advance to pack it all up. And nothing's wrong with illuminated manuscripts if you have a cloister full of monks to do them. Okay, now it's your turn."

"How about Salem Massachucettes? They've a long, illustrious history with witches. Really, ground zero for North America," Diana answers. Seeing Aurora's expression, she adds, "Just a little suggestion, dear."

"Well, let me think if I've done anything cheery and life-affirming…. Well," Diana says after a pause, "If not any-thing, then I have done some one. Lovely boy named Paulo. Shouldn't call him a boy, but at my advanced age, twenty five seems like a baby."

Aurora laughs merrily. "Glad to hear it. No, really. You're not the Ice Queen." She chuckles. "My adventures in cradle robbing currently involve a very enthusiastic young man from Berkeley named Rick. So, have you put Paulo in traction yet?"

"Ice Queen!" the older one exclaims in mock anger. "How could you possibly think that? I can take the best of 'em, honey. And have," she smiles. "I'm sorry to be the one, after a thousand bloody years, to have to tell you that the purpose isn't to put them in traction. Well, unless they ask really nicely. So, anyway, I'm certainly not done with sex — of any sort — but I think I'm done with children… Oh stop me before I loose my life-affirming momentum here!"

She gets a sly grin and props her elbow on the table, leaning a little towards Diana. "So… is he good?"

"You are so bad!," Diana exclaims but then adds, "Undisciplined, but as you say, enthusiastic. I think I've hit my stride: now endurance is of interest to me. Now that I'm in a position, as it were, to lay back and enjoy it. Plus, we look good together. And isn't that what it's all about, after all?" she laughs a little.

"So, when does your boy get out of the hospital?"

"If he's in the hospital, I didn't put him there," she chuckles. "Actually, I might by the time he gets back down here. He's had dead week and finals so I haven't seen him in almost 2 weeks."

"Oh lord, you really *have* gotten yourself a boy! Good grief. Did you get a parent's permission slip from him? Did he first get your attention by asking if you'd like to go up to his room and see his pokemon card collection?" Diana teases her sister.

"He's just two years younger than yours, I'll have you know," Aurora laughs. "And as long as they're old enough to drink, I figure they're old enough."

"Oh sure, your motto is: If they're old enough to drink, they're old enough to drive," Diana taunts Aurora. "A twenty five year old Italian is much different than a twenty three year old American. But you have fun breaking him in, dear."

"Yeah, my twenty three year old American is so addicted he doesn't dare roam," she says with a sassy grin. "Unlike Italians of any age."

"Honey," Diana counters, "so long as expectations are clear, he may roam all he wishes. Which, to my knowledge, isn't far. But I've no need to own the darlings I entertain with. Best, in fact that I don't. People get hurt around me," she says, getting serious once again. "Paulo needn't ever know how I pay for his suits. Only that it all ends when I cease to be amused. But to be truthful, I don't think I've the power to addict a man. Only capture them. I still must make efforts to keep them."

Aurora starts to say something then falls back laughing in her chair for a good minute. "I was really going to say something about you paying for him, but then I remembered there's a shiny new red Trans Am in the parking garage that I bought Rick for a graduation present and realized I had no room to talk.."

"Lord, it's like we're a couple of ratty, wrinkled spinsters speaking of our young cavaliers. Hell, for a thousand we look *good*, for everything else, we look *great*. So, speaking of that, didn't you mention something about cheese cake?"

"Yeah," she chuckles. "Hang on." Aurora gets up and disappears back inside for a few short minutes and comes back out with a tray bearing plates of chocolate sin and two cups of her special blend coffee.

Once they're both served, Diana smiles contentedly, or as contentedly as she ever can, and thanks her hostess. "This has been a godsend, Aurora. Last night was brutal. I needed this."

"I could tell," Aurora says over the rim of her coffee cup as she regards her sister. "You should do this more often, I think. My invitation is always open to come stay at the ranch."

"I'll keep that in mind. Come with Paulo, let our boys play together while we drink." She laughs, and it's the first real laugh of the day.

"That would work, too," she grins. "Maybe I can talk them into helping break the horses. Bare chested men on horseback are sexy as hell."

Standing, Diana straightens her skirt and buttons her jacket, again looking rather unapproachable. Finding her shoes, she wishes her sister goodbye. "Thanks again. I'm sorry I'm always abusing your hospitality, eating and running, but I've a flight to catch. You and your Rick play nice now."

Aurora sees her sister to the door. "You be careful." She smiles. "I know, I know. You always are." She stands there and watches Diana disappear down the stairs and then turns back to the night to give Shadrac some catnip and herself the human equivalent, Aurora on her back on the lounger watching the stars she can see and her cat laying beside her feet, both of them happily mellow as Aurora ponders the stars.


TOCThe End of Days

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