Today's Reading

The physical exertion of cleaning made Ashna feel alive.

The mosaic floors needed a good buffing, the velvet jacquard on the chairs was frayed in places, and the teakwood tables could use a coat of varnish, but as she wiped and scrubbed, everything got a little brighter and took on the familiar gleam of long-owned artifacts. New things were overrated anyway.

Baba had hand-selected every fitting and fixture to his exacting standards. Every little thing here was a handprint he'd left behind. With Bram Raje at the helm, Curried Dreams had been Palo Alto's hottest spot, the Bay Area's first fine dining Indian restaurant. Reservations had been a coveted prize, favors Ashna's father handed out in his magnanimous Prince Bram way.

Ashna switched the vacuum cleaner off and wrapped up the cord. She refused to turn toward the half flight of stairs that led to Baba's office, where she had found him in a rapidly growing pool of blood. If she let the darkness knock her down, who would keep Curried Dreams alive?

"What are we going to do?" she whispered to the beloved walls. She was all out of options.

A ping sounded in her ear, interrupting Alicia's rapture over New York City.

We're at the door. A text from her cousin Trisha.
In a mad dash Ashna put away the cart, rubbed rose-scented lotion into her hands to cover the chemical smell, and ran to the door.

It was just past midnight, but a visit after closing time from one of her cousins or her best friend, China, was a common occurrence. Everyone Ashna knew worked too hard and too late, and after all the restaurants in the area closed she was everyone's favorite food source. She opened the door and found herself to be right twice over. Both China and Trisha pushed their way into the kitchen.

"We've been knocking for five minutes!" Trisha said accusatorially.

"You're still here, thank God!" China added.

"Where else would I be?" Ashna headed for the fridge. "You hungry?"

They shook their heads. "We ate," they said in unison. Very strange. A midnight visit without a food agenda. "We'll take some tea," Trisha said, even as she found Ashna's cup and took a sip. "I can never drink chai anyone else makes. You've ruined me for substandard chai."

Ashna smiled. Most people did murder tea. They didn't understand how spices interacted with leaves and basically just threw stuff together and called it a blend. Some even had the gall to call it "tea" when there was no tea in it.

"Don't drink it cold." Before Ashna could finish the sentence, the cup in Trisha's hands had been drained.

Ashna sighed and refilled the kettle. China and Trisha exchanged a speaking look. Something was definitely up. Trisha might be Ashna's uncle's daughter, but they had grown up together and were more sisters than cousins. Also, Trisha had the world's most transparent face.

"Anyone want to tell me what this is about?"

China extracted a beer from the cooler. "Maybe it's too late for tea."

Trisha noticed the stack of mail Ashna had brought in earlier and started filing through it. The kettle whistled.

China and Trisha jumped.

"Okay, what's going on? What do you two want?"

Instead of answering, Trisha picked out an envelope and waved it like a victorious flag. "I think we finally know how to get rid of these foreclosure notices."

China took a gulp of beer and nodded.

"They're just warnings." Ashna snatched the envelope away. "And I don't need any more of your harebrained ideas."

Last week Trisha had tried to convince DJ, who was her boyfriend and one of the Bay's hottest private chefs, to insist on all his offsite parties being held at Curried Dreams. DJ had been one of Ashna's closest friends since culinary school in Paris. Ashna was, in fact, the one who had introduced DJ and Trisha, a matchmaking win she would always be insufferably proud of. But she was not going to let DJ hold his clients ransom for her restaurant. He had already done enough for her with the Menu She Couldn't Cook.

Trisha made a face. "I've never had a harebrained idea in my life. Neurosurgeons can't have harebrained ideas. It's in the Hippocratic oath."

Trisha was being only half facetious. The woman was abnormally brilliant and Ashna was obnoxiously proud of her cousin, but when it came to ideas for saving Curried Dreams, not so much.

Ashna sighed. "I'm sorry. I appreciate the effort. It's not like I've come up with anything that works either."

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