Mundo called an alliance meeting for later that same night. A ballroom was selected for the event, and while the older boys pulled together tables and brought in chairs and a podium, the girls and smaller children decorated, using silk flower arrangements from one of the storage rooms. Sid made sure the lantern batteries were adequately charged, and Cassie and Alaina directed the younger children in placing hotel note pads and pens at each seat around the conference table. Cassie raised her eyebrows when wine glasses were set out, but her stomach didn’t clench with hunger when Sandra brought in trays of snacks. Neither Cassie nor Galahad had been invited to participate in the meeting and they could have snacks in the penthouse later. There was no longer any need to gaze enraptured at the sight of stale Cheetoes, or raisins shriveled to the consistency of pebbles.
Cassie and Alaina were putting the finishing touches on the decorations, bickering amicably over how best to make use of the silk ivy, when someone touched Cassie on the elbow. She turned around to see Rochelle. “Doc wants to know if you can mind the clinic. He has to give a speech about Zach’s treatment.”
Cassie thought longingly of the penthouse patio, cool and safe on a warm night like this. It would be heaven to lie with Galahad on one of the chaise lounges, naked under the stars. “You and Sasha can do it. There aren’t any new patients, are there?”
Rochelle scowled. “Mundo wants me in the nursery with the baby so it will look like he’s got a full-time nanny. And Doc doesn’t feel right about leaving Sasha in charge of the ward.”
Cassie understood but wasn’t happy about it. Why should she change her plans just because Sasha was unreliable and Mundo wanted to create a certain impression?
She followed Rochelle to the clinic where she found Doc in the treatment room, bent over a piece of paper and scribbling furiously. “I understand you need backup.”
Doc looked up with a harried expression. “Are you a good writer, by any chance? They only told me half an hour ago I’m supposed to give a speech about the effect of growth hormone on Telo and I don’t know what to say.”
“Ask Alaina. She’s the one with the history and English background. I bet she can write.”
Doc bent back over his paper. “That’ll take too long. By the time I get done explaining it to her, the delegates will be here.”
“So write it like that—as if you were explaining it to an ordinary person.”
Mumbling unintelligibly, he wrote a few words, then crossed them out.
“So how long do you need me to cover the clinic? Do you have to stay for the whole conference or are you going to give your speech and leave?”
“God, I hope Mundo doesn’t make me stay there half the night with Empress Elissa and those wackos. Did you know she gets upset if she isn’t addressed as ‘Your Excellency’?”
Cassie did know, and cringed at the memory. “So you’re going to give your speech and come right back and relieve me?”
“If they don’t ask a lot of questions.” He gave her a sly grin. “You and your boyfriend have plans?”
Cassie felt herself blush, but willed herself not to look away. There was nothing to be embarrassed about. She was lucky to have found love after the horror of the past year. “I just don’t want to be stuck here all night.”
“Well, neither do I. But yeah, I intend to come back as soon as I can. Hopefully the whole thing will break up early so we can quit acting like we’re running some sort of major medical center and go to bed.”
Cassie was about to add to that remark, but Doc cut her short with a gesture. “Look, can you help me out with this?”
She looked at the scribbles on his note pad. “You’re rambling.”
“How about you just write an outline, like for a school essay or something. Use that and wing the rest of it.”
Sasha poked her head in the door. “Amy Gurrola and Mallory McCarver are here from St. Catherine’s Prep. They heard about Zach and want to see him before the conference begins.”
Doc threw down his pen in frustration. “This isn’t the goddamn circus. Tell them—”
“It’s okay,” Cassie said. “I’ll go handle ward tours. You just write that speech. And make it a good one.”