§ § § - August 20, 2007

It was dusk by the time Hachiro, Michiko, Lani and all the children trudged wearily through the front door of the Tokita house. "Mama-san?" Hachiro and Michiko called in near unison, made equally uneasy by the quiet that met them coming in.

"Come in here," they heard Miyoshi call out. "We are in kitchen."

Most of the boys groaned. "I'm too full to eat any more," Aaron grumbled.

"Yeah," three or four of his brothers agreed.

Miyoshi appeared in the kitchen doorway across from the top of the steps leading up from the foyer. "Is not heavy meal," she assured them, taking in their doubtful faces. "How long since you had meal with Paul and Katie?"

"Only two or three hours," Michiko said. "It was one of those late-afternoon cookouts that almost becomes supper. I didn't eat that much, though. I don't like gorging myself and coming home feeling like my stomach's going to burst."

Lani was nodding as she spoke. "I'm with you. Besides, I get acid reflux all the time, and I have to be careful of what I eat, or it keeps me awake all night."

"I'm hungry," announced Tyler, almost three, which made Lani roll her eyes.

"You're a human vacuum cleaner," she said. "He's never not hungry. Whatever you have in there, I hope it's something he likes."

"He like this," Miyoshi assured her. "Come in kitchen, Tyler, I show you what your brother make for us all."

"My brother who?" Liam asked blankly. "We were all at the cookout."

Cody elbowed him. "Not Ephraim, remember?"

Liam's expression curdled. "Oh yeah. If Ephraim made it, I don't want any."

"Yeah, he'd prob'ly try to poison us," Zachary opined.

Michiko cleared her throat. "Guys, guys," she admonished. "Give it a chance. Let's go see what he's got in there."

"He make it himself," Miyoshi said with a broad smile. "I give him recipe and all things that go in it, and he does everything. We have some before you come home. He will be very good cook, your boy."

Hachiro and Lani looked at each other in astonishment; even the boys were curious enough to crowd into the kitchen along with the adults. Ephraim sat alone at the table, a huge wooden bowl filled with what appeared to be salad in front of him and stacks of salad bowls, forks and napkins nearby. If he had heard his younger brothers' disparaging remarks, he gave no sign. "Hi," he said.

"Hi, son," Lani greeted him. "Is that salad?"

Ephraim nodded. "It's kind of a 'garbage salad.' I called it that 'cause it's got everything on earth in it. Lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers in three colors, cucumbers, shredded lettuce and red cabbage, sliced radishes, shiso and basil leaves, and a special dressing Miyoshi showed me how to make. Everybody can eat it—even you, Mom."

"Even me? With my acid reflux?" Lani asked. Ephraim nodded, and she surveyed the bowl with mounting interest. "And you did that whole thing entirely by yourself?"

"Whole thing is Ephraim's," Miyoshi confirmed. "I give him basic recipe and he make it all his own. I already have a little and it tastes wonderful. You must try it."

The younger boys looked dubiously on while the adults dished out bowls of salad and Aaron added a couple of spoonfuls to a bowl of his own, no doubt to be polite, the way he was to everyone. But within seconds, they were all astounded by the taste. "This is fantastic, Eph!" Lani exclaimed, delighted. "The flavors are delectable!"

"Mmmph, it really is good," Hachiro agreed through a mouthful. He swallowed and regarded the contents of his bowl, then Ephraim, who looked uncharacteristically serene. "I gotta hand it to you, this is as good as anything I could eat in a fancy restaurant."

"Very tasty," Michiko put in. "And it's just right for an evening meal after that enormous amount of food we had at the Ichinos'."

"You did good, bro," Aaron said and grinned. "I mean, I thought my stomach couldn't hold any more, but this actually makes me hungry."

Ephraim's grin by now had consumed half his face, and his eyes were shining. "So you guys really like it?"

"We love it," Lani assured him, setting her bowl down long enough to wrap her arms around his shoulders and squeeze.

Ephraim popped out of his chair while Aaron helped himself to a couple more scoops of the salad. "You know what, Miyoshi said everybody's good at something. I made another recipe for supper, for me and her, before I did the salad. She let me use her rice cooker to make a casserole with rice and salmon and a bunch of vegetables in it…"

"Which veggies?" Michiko broke in. "It sounds familiar; I think it's the one that we all grew up eating."

"She told me the name in Japanese, but I can't remember it. Anyway, it's got mushrooms and potatoes, corn, peas and some seaweed in it. All she did was give me the recipe and I followed it on my own. I wasn't sure I could do it, and she had to help me set the rice cooker, but everything else, I did myself."

Hachiro was grinning; Ephraim's excitement was contagious. "I know what you're describing. It's called takikomi gohan. Michiko's right; we grew up eating that, had it at least once a week for supper. So there must have been plenty left over—it makes a lot."

"Yeah, Miyoshi said we could have the rest for lunch tomorrow," Ephraim said. "You know what? She's giving me a cookbook I can take home and make recipes from. It's really fun, finding the right ingredients and making something that tastes good. If you don't mind, Mom, maybe at home I could do some of the cooking."

"That would be a great idea," Michiko said, reading Lani's flabbergasted look and grinning. "Japanese food is very good for you—very healthful. Now, if you have plenty of the food we grew up on, your whole family will benefit. And it tastes good, too. Get the younger kids started on it now, when their palates are still open to new things, and you'll have some converts on your hands. Sooner or later the older ones will want to get in on it too, just to keep from being left out."

"I dunno," Cody said, peering doubtfully at the salad. "That smells funny."

"That's because you don't have a refined palate, like the rest of us," Aaron twitted him with a smirk, ruffling his hair and making him duck away. "And you know, Hachiro, if you eat this kind of food, and you spend more time practicing baseball with the twerps, next thing you know you could lose forty pounds and look ten years younger."

"Get this! Advice from my know-it-all stepson!" Hachiro said, laughing.

"It's true," Michiko said. "Not only that, but you could lay off all that nice imported Japanese beer you have such a taste for, and that'd help too."

Hachiro lifted both hands into the air. "I surrender. So you've got the magic solution for the spare tire. Now how about the bald spot?"

"I can cook for you, Hachiro, but I can't work miracles," Ephraim said, and everyone burst into laughter. Even the younger boys took experimental bites of Ephraim's salad after that, and once it was pronounced good (with only one dissenting vote from Griffen), they all took seats where they could find them and dug in. For the first time, Lani and Hachiro dared begin to hope that they could get the boy back on the right track.

§ § § - August 30, 2007

"Hey, Leslie! What're you doing in here? I thought you were working today," called out Camille, much to the surprise of Leslie, who was in the island's one and only supermarket picking up some last-minute snacks for the triplets, herself and Christian for later.

She laughed and waited for Camille to catch up, pushing her cart at nearly breakneck speed. "Just grabbing some stuff for us later. It'll be a long afternoon and Mariki warned us that supper'll be late because she has to wait for some things to come in from Hawaii that she ran out of. So what's up?"

"Not too much, just surprised to see you in here, that's all. Oh, no, wait a minute, there is something. Almost forgot. I talked to my mother last evening and she and Dad have worked everything out with Tommy and Susan for Dori to move in with them and start school here next Tuesday. Susan's taking tomorrow off and bringing Dori to the island, and they're bringing along as much of her stuff as possible and shipping a bunch of other things. According to secondhand accounts, Dori's really excited about going to school for the first time Susan can remember, because she's already got Maureen's and Myeko's girls for friends. Everybody's excited. They think it'll be good for her."

"Hey, that is great news. I'm glad for Dori especially. Nobody should have to endure high school without friends." Leslie's smile wilted. "I'm glad you had something positive to tell me, because I got a phone call from Michiko this morning just before I came over here. It turns out that Errico does have cancer after all."

"Oh wow," groaned Camille, her face radiating sympathy. "That's a major bummer, all right. What's the plan for treating it?"

"Well, they can't really operate on the mass they found, because it's pretty deep in Errico's brain and they don't want to risk turning him into a vegetable even if they get it all out. So they're going with chemotherapy and see if that does anything to it. Actually, when Michiko told me that, she sounded a little better than she did when she was here. She said it's just such a relief to know what the problem is and what's going to be done about it, and then she added that Errico's furious because he's afraid he might not be well enough to see Paolono get married."

Camille laughed. "Sounds like Errico. Well, I'll e-mail Michiko tonight and pass on my best wishes, and I'll give the other girls a heads-up for you if you want."

"Already did that—in fact you'll find an e-mail when you get home. Michiko said they're releasing a formal statement to the press later today, which is actually tomorrow for them, so we've got the scoop. She even mentioned she gave Myeko permission to put the news in her column for the Fantasy Island Chronicle."

Camille nodded and glanced into her cart, then rolled her eyes. "Crud, I forgot the dog food. Well, hey, we'll talk again soon, I'm sure…just wanted to touch base. Don't want to keep you from anything important."

"No problem," Leslie assured her. "See you later." She watched Camille round the corner and disappear toward the next aisle, then headed slowly for the checkout with her basket, letting her thoughts drift along to Michiko's other news: that Ephraim's cooking adventures at home were turning out to be a surprising success, and that he now wanted to go to cooking school as an aspiring chef. Wishing Hachiro and Lani further success in repairing their relationship with each other and Ephraim—and not even realizing how unusual that would have been for her not so long ago—she turned her thoughts to the upcoming weekend and her own workload, which had increased slightly thanks to Roarke's preparations for something mysterious and a bit sinister-sounding. She knew she'd find out sooner or later; it was only a matter of being patient.

Speaking of being patient, I really appreciate that my readers have (if I have any left, that is)… With my stepsons on Christmas vacation, I'll give myself a break till the new year and then, I hope, come back sometime in January with something new. Whatever you celebrate, have a wonderful holiday; if you don't celebrate any of the "traditional" holidays, happy winter solstice! See you next year!