Mercy Kennedy Flunk, 31-year-old asssistant professor and housewife, had a harried expression on her plump face as she tried to keep Bruce and Bennie from getting trampled. Lilith and Myrine, somewhat younger than Mercy, were assisting with humor, but then neither of them had children yet. The typical sarcastic seriousness of Myrine's freckled face was lightened by a smile inspired by the kids' antics, while Lily, less sedate than her tall friend, couldn't stop laughing at the stunts Bruce and Bennie were pulling. Even with all the friendship in the world, Mercy wished she wouldn't give Bruce and Bennie such an appreciative audience.

"Oh, Lily, you kook," Mercy said, "if you don't calm down, you know the kids never will!"

"Hi!" Lyssa said, squeezing through the crowd to them, Deborah in tow.

Mercy's face lit up. Fame hadn't taken the friendliness out of Deborah Dobell. Her eyes in the middle of all the laugh lines were the jolliest blue Mercy had ever seen. All the other successful authors Mercy had met seemed overly full of themselves--even the home-grown ones. Deborah looked like she was laughing constantly at the comedy going on around her, and was quite capable of laughing at herself as well.

"Hi, Deborah. Hi, Lyssa," Mercy said. "Looks like you're here on business."

"Actually, I haven't gotten started on the business yet," Lyssa said, patting her tape recorder. "It's all been fun until now. Deborah and I have been debating the merits of a goddess in our midst--and irritating Roxana."

Mercy laughed. "I can imagine that."

"Where's Diana?" Lyssa asked.

"She's up in Seattle," Lily replied.

"And what about Matt? Didn't he feel like coming to Portland for the event?"

"Oh, he's up in the trees," Myrine said casually, as if that were a perfectly normal place to be.

"Poor Matt!" Lily said. "The way it's been raining on Portlandia's parade, it's probably been raining on Matt too!"

"Up in the trees?" Lyssa repeated. "If you'd said up in the clouds, I would hardly have been surprised. But up in the trees?"

"You mean you're not informed, Lyssa?" Lily asked with her characteristic laugh, a sudden explosion fizzling out in a trail of giggles. "He's tree-sitting!"

"Is that anything like babysitting?" Deborah asked.

"Seeing as it's a form of social and environmental protest, the parallels are probably few," Myrine replied.

"But tree-sitting isn't allowed by Utopia Now," Lyssa protested. "It's illegal."

"I guess Matt got fed up with the legal actions," Myrine said. "He's gone over to SOFT."

"And you? You in SOFT now too?" Lyssa asked in a tone of vague concern. Myrine smiled and shook her head.

"Save Our Forests Today," Mercy explained to Deborah, who was looking puzzled but amused.

"I must admit, I feel rather ignorant. I don't keep up on these movements as I sometimes think I should," Deborah said ruefully.

"Lyssa does more than enough for all of us," Lily said, the admiration obvious in her voice.

"It's hard to keep up with her," Mercy added.

"You must be busy enough as it is, though, teaching, raising kids, and writing poetry on the side," Deborah replied.

Mercy was a bit taken aback that the Famous Person remembered so much about her. "Oh, I don't do that often," she protested.

"Maybe you should do it more," Deborah said with a grin and a nod of her silver-grey head. "So, are you enjoying the apparent worship of a female image too?" she asked conversationally.

"Oh, definitely. But so are these guys, and I doubt if worship has anything to do with their enjoyment," Mercy replied, running her hands through their hair.

"Aw, Mom, cut it out," the oldest said, jerking his head away.

"Worship?" Myrine said. "More like slavish adoration." Lily laughed. Lily always laughed. She was manic even in her depressions.

"Worship, adoration, same difference. But why is she female? Why isn't she an old fart on a horse?" Deborah surprised everyone into joining Lily in her laughter. Fame wasn't supposed to talk that way.

"I hope you're not going to hold your speech again," Lyssa protested mildly.

"Don't you have work to do?" Deborah asked, a teasing smile lurking in her eyes and at the corner of her mouth.

Lyssa gave her soft laugh. "That I do, and I guess I'd better get started. I have to get my interviews before the crowd disperses."

"I'm sure that will be a while," Deborah said.

"I don't want to miss the celebrity either, remember?" Lyssa said as she moved away. "Stay right there--I'll be back. And don't torture them too much with lectures. They can always come to the official one if they want to hear you."

"You're giving a lecture?" Mercy asked Deborah. "What's it about?"

"I'm not quite sure yet. I'm starting backward, with the moral of the story."

"And that is?"

Deborah gave her a brilliant grin. "If we want to change our lives, we have to change the myths."