Two days and too many cakes later, a knock booms through the warehouse. We dare to peek through a grimy, dust-curtained window. I can just make out Stipple.
We throw open the door and everything is noise and laughter and tears and bear hugs. Bags are flung aside but food is carried to our little urban cottage.
“We have about an hour before the others arrive!” Stipple shouts over the cacophony.
“Others?” I ask.
“Cindi and a guest are coming,” he says with everyone’s attention. “Wash up. Grab a few minutes’ rest. You’re all going to need it.”
Even at three minutes per shower, the hot water can’t keep up. Hot or cold, people get energized and happy. Stipple bars Pye and me from answering any questions. Anybody who asks he puts to a task.
“Patience, patience,” he repeats.
Then a knock sounds again. Stipple raises his hands, palm down, and bounces them in air a bit to signal quiet. He needn’t have done this; Cindi and E enter the unlocked door. The others immediately tackle Cindi, while E steps around the crowd and through a door I had never noticed. Stipple continues to shut down any questions or answers, claiming that it might confuse the process.
I follow E. The door opens to a wide room almost like a theatre. Long drapes cover the walls. Cozy couches scatter across the floor at a distance. Closer, a long table with business chairs stands ornate, place settings signaling a proper meal. E sits in the dead center of the far side.
A clinking, chattering noise attracts me to yet another door, through which I find a massive kitchen and several workers. They take no notice of me and I retreat.
“What—,” I say, but E presses a finger to her lips, so I sit, obediently silent. My head spins as I wonder what else this building holds, what other tricks will soon be played.
Others straggle into this new space and promptly die of curiosity. Or, that’s what I think I might do. All I know is almost nothing, again.
Chairs roll. Folks test the swivel and slight recline of their new thrones. Stipple enters last, closing the door behind him.
“Locked up this time,” he says, though no one cares. A hush falls.
E stands. Her white pantsuit dominates the room. “You all have lucky stars,” she says. I mentally plead for her not to be cryptic or haughty. Not now. “We have some business to sort, and we may be in this room for quite some time, until you each make your decision.”
As if cued, waitstaff appear from the kitchen door with long plates. They serve us salad, and I can almost hear stomachs grumble. I want to assure them more will come, but I am of no station.
Furtive glances reveal more than one of us has forgotten our table etiquette. Tentatively, we follow E’s movements.
Salad, a thing from my lighter past – the least unbird thing imaginable.