“This is the employee wing.” I stated, guiding Maple inside. One of the nearby doors to an unused room opened, so I gestured inside and said, “Mila is integrated throughout the house. She provides security, information, and company as you want it. The mirrors on the walls are actually very advanced computer screens with various sensors built into them.”
“They track movement?” asked Maple.
“They give Mila a large amount of information, such as variations in air pressure, light, sound, and heat. They also allow her to act as a computer for you, connecting you to the rest of the world.”
Maple looked a little nervous as she inquired “They don’t record video, do they?”
“They can record and play video. Mila decides what is recorded and when to ignore what you’re doing. If you decide to stay here and feel uncomfortable with Mila’s surveillance, you can ask her to shut off the mirror in your room.” I assured her.
“Who is Mila?”
“Me.” stated Mila as she walked towards us.
“You’re a maid!?”
“Yes.” replied Mila. The mirrors around us illuminated, displaying her on there as well. Then from the nearest speakers, she said, “I’m also what you’d consider an artificial lifeform.”
“Huh?” asked Maple, looking between the mirrors and Mila’s body.
Mila stepped forward and held out her hand expectantly. Maple hesitantly reached out and touched her. As time passed, I pulled out my phone and started looking through tonight’s schedule. I’d be gone for several months again. I would be inspecting one of the new Best Friend For Hire branch offices in the second week, so that was something to which I could look forward. Meeting new employees had grown fun over the years.
“Where do you get technology like that?” inquired Maple as she stared up at me.
“The lab under the garage. Jarod’s a genius. Mila might as well be a set of geniuses. Maxine is a genius. Then there’s Aaliyah, with whom none of them can keep up.” I explained.
“Mila can’t keep up with someone?” asked Maple incredulously.
“Aaliyah is my mother. She made me.”
“Well… I mean… I know you were made, but…” started Maple as she pointed around. “There’s so much of you.”
“Is this a fat joke? Mother warned me about those.” replied Mila, looking perfectly serious.
Smiling, I informed Maple “She gets her sense of humor from her mother. Mila probably knows every joke on the planet.”
“Master, you could have let her worry a little.” insisted Mila with an amused grin.
“Apology accepted.” she told me. Then she faced Maple and said, “In all seriousness, I don’t even anticipate Jarod and Maxine’s ideas consistently. They both are quite creative and prone to very large mental leaps when searching for solutions. I’m far more methodical in my search. Mother, on the other hand, seems to know everything. She’ll have a solution and an elaborately planned package for it before I know a problem exists.”
Motioning through the door, I said, “As for the rooms, they come like this with no extraordinary features save for Mila’s assistance. If you want specific furnishings, Emma and Mila are adept at fabricating furniture in house, so you can have practically anything you might want.”
Maple nodded, still a bit wide-eyed, as she entered the room and looked around. I then took her upstairs and knocked on Jemal’s door.
“Boss!” exclaimed Jemal the moment he opened the door. “Where’s Kayla? Is she alright!?”
“She’s in the ballroom, playing Ancient Tribes of Earth with Dani, Isis, and Raine.” replied Mila.
“Jemal, this is our newest friend, Maple.” I told him, motioning to her.
I was amused at how awkward Jemal became as he looked at her, realized he was staring, and quickly presented his hand to shake.
“Jemal Castello.” he told her.
Maple reached out, stopping short of touching his hand, and then pulled back. Looking to me, she asked “Should I warn everyone here?”
“W-what’s wrong? Are you sick?” questioned Jemal, looking overly concerned.
“I have psychometry, so if I touch your hand, I’ll know what you’ve been doing for the past several minutes.”
“Girl, you don’t gotta worry about that. I’ve just been working.” insisted Jemal, brushing away her concerns with his hand before holding it out again.
I considered casting something to help him relax, but I knew there was no need. Aaliyah had already told me of these two. She just hadn’t warned me how awkward Jemal would be.
“Maple Apple Wood.” replied Maple as she took his hand.
“Your parents must love trees.” he stated, still shaking her hand.
“They just love terrible names.” she teased.
“At least they didn’t name you ‘Maple Syrup Wood’. That’d just be ridiculous.” he replied. Realizing he was still shaking her hand, he suddenly released it and leaned awkwardly against his doorway.
Maple laughed and said, “Yeah, that would have been terrible.”
“Care to join us, Jemal? I don’t want to interrupt your studies, but I thought you might like to join us in checking on everyone in the ballroom.”
“S-sure, boss! Whatever you say!” he replied. He glanced down, looking at his battered t-shirt and sweatpants. “Umm… can I get a moment?”
“We’ll be down saying hello to Brenna.” I replied.
He nodded and slipped back into his room, shutting the door.
“Is he always so…” started Maple after a few steps down the hall.
“Jemal’s been responsible for his little sister ever since their father died. He’s had a bit of a fight managing all of his new responsibilities up till he came here. Now he works three times as hard as needed, fearing something will go wrong.” I explained.
She nodded and said, “This place does seem surreal. Is he studying to be an electrician?”
“He’s a best friend for hire, so he studies a bit of everything to help wherever he can.” I explained.
Mila then added “What you saw was the wiring for a car. His next job today will have him switching out a fuse box for a client who’s trying to modify his car, but Jemal wants to be able to explain what’s wrong and understand why there’s a short without relying on me.”
“Did I mention auto services as a perk here? Jarod and Mila are excellent at switching cars to electric too.” I stated.
“No, you hadn’t, but I’ll keep that in mind.” she told me.
When we arrived at Brenna’s door, she nearly bumped into me, watching her phone as she stepped out of her room.
“James! I’m sorry.” she told me. Noticing Maple she quickly said, “Hi! I’m Brenna Underhill.”
“Maple Apple Wood. Nice to meet you.” she replied.
“Applewood? Haven’t heard that last name before.” commented Brenna. “Are you from around here?”
“I’m from…” started Maple, visibly wincing as she said, “The Grove. My last name’s ‘Wood’. Apple is my middle name.”
Brenna looked at me as if asking if Maple was being serious. Then she said, “Sorry. Are you starting here today?”
“Yes? Maybe? I was just hired.” she replied, glancing at me for confirmation.
“Welcome to the family!” exclaimed Brenna. Then she whispered “Beware my brother, Brandon. He’s dating Deyanira, but he comes across as flirtatious. He means well most of the time. His sense of humor just sucks.”
“Oh. Umm… okay. I love your dress.” stated Maple.
“Think it’s too much? I was given it for a party tonight for this modeling agency which occasionally hires me, but I have a meeting just before the party with this film producer who’s shooting a short downtown. I figured I might as well use the dress for both instead of trying to switch between.” she explained, speaking rapidly. “So what do you do?”
“Pardon?” asked Maple.
“What sort of magic do you have? Mine’s lame. I just can alter my skin tone. Brandon can change his whole body. Watch out for him pretending to be a girl, by the way.”
“I can see the past of anything I touch, as in a small area around it.” replied Maple.
“So if I shook your hand right now, you’d see me changing?”
“Well, I suppose.”
“I’m so glad you’re not a guy.” declared Brenna. “No offense, James. I know you’d be safe, but I can unfortunately imagine what Brandon would do.”
“None taken.” I assured her.
“I really must be off. Nice meeting you, Maple. Bye, James! Bye, Mila!” exclaimed Brenna as she hurried down the hall toward the employee parking garage.
“Mila, would you tell Jemal that…” I stopped, mentally examining the magic in use nearby. “Strike that. Mind guiding my little friend our way?”
“Little friend?” asked Maple.
“There are fey in the woods I pointed out to you earlier, which is why no one is allowed in there without me present. One of them is particularly small.” I told her.
She opened her mouth to speak and left it open once the little fairy flew between us. My little friend seemed quite excited over a particularly exquisite, red acorn she discovered today. I’d have to ask Aaliyah about it later. A single red acorn seemed peculiar. Given how Maple was still gaping, she obviously needed a moment. I hoped Jemal wouldn’t be long.