Best Friend For Hire, Entry 335

“What’s up, man-slave?” inquired Emma as she stepped into my office, glancing around. “This looks incredible.”

My parents had left shortly after mother finished her painting. Surprisingly, they accepted a ride from Mila, who also drove father’s car back for him.

“Mila certainly knows how to choose interesting landscape.” I replied with a smile. Mila contained an incredible amount of information from my travels. “Please, take a seat.”

“Is something wrong?” inquired Emma, nervously poking what appeared to be a rock with a chair carved into it.

Nodding, I said, “Yes, Emma. Doom is upon us. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to save this world. You must cross the inescapable labyrinth, attain the heart of the world, feed it to the nearest creature you find, and then do five jumping jacks while singing Never Gonna Give You Up.”

“Man-slave, you suck.” she replied, crossing her arms and plopping into the chair she had been poking.

I laughed and told her “Sorry. I couldn’t resist.”

“So do I have some incredibly awkward job coming?” she asked, lounging backward.

“Oh. No. I just wanted to give you a warning.” I replied with a shrug.

Sitting up in surprise, she inquired “Like a formal ‘don’t do it again’ job warning?”

“No. This isn’t precisely work related. I wanted to warn you not to get too attached to Dani.” I explained. Seeing her slump, I quickly told her “I’m not saying you can’t date her if you really want or anything of the sort. I’m concerned that she might hurt you on accident. Dani is from a very, very different culture, one that doesn’t practice monogamy… or the idea of personal space, for that matter. She’ll follow her emotions wherever they go if her good sense doesn’t catch her in time.”

Emma frowned, not looking particularly convinced as she watched the little fairy napping on my desk.

“I know this isn’t the easiest thing to hear, but please trust me enough to guard yourself for a while. Make observations and come to your own conclusions. I’ll be taking Dani into the forest soon, and I would very much like for you to join us if you’re willing.” I told her.

“Are you nervous?” she asked.

“Of course. I don’t want you to get hurt.” I told her.

“You don’t really seem nervous. Something’s changed about you.” she told me.

“Marriage can have strange effects on people” I replied with a smile.

She nodded and asked “What do you think will happen with Dani in the forest?”

“She’s going to be swept up in the emotions of the fey. You know how overwhelming they can be for people. Imagine getting a double dose of their emotions. Dani’s empathic abilities are an inborn magical trait that she cannot shut off. If she gets too caught up in what the fey are feeling, she might start projecting her own emotions on them as well. Things could get out of hand very, very quick.” I insisted.

“Can’t you do anything to stop it?” inquired Emma. “I know you’re way ahead of me in magical knowledge these days.”

I shrugged and said, “I’m capable of dampening what she feels or even cutting off her sense entirely with spells, but I promised not to do that to her again. She was quite clear that it’s far worse than being blinded or deafened to her.”

“Really?” asked Emma, seeming dubious.

“She connects with others through their emotions and is accustomed to that just being part of her.” I insisted.

“I mean, the idea makes sense. I can kinda empathize, given how I feel when communicating as the fey do, but I’ve never wanted that feeling all the time.” she replied.

“If you’ll join us, I’d suggest using that ability on Dani while we’re in the forest. You’ll see.” I assured her.

“Sure, man-slave. I’ll join you. First, I’ve gotta ask how Dani convinced Alma to let her wear that outfit.” she insisted.

“That’s modest by her people’s tastes, though I’m sure my parents will be asking me about it and others later. You can just ask Alma yourself.” I replied.

“Will your wifey be joining us?” inquired Emma with a grin.

I laughed, pointed to the doorway where Alma stood, and said, “Really, just ask.”

Emma jumped and looked.

Rolling her eyes, Alma told me “James, you’re terrible. Let’s be off. Dani is already out back.”

I shrugged and followed her with Emma in tow. When we arrived outside, Cosette and Dani were doing tricks on the zoomies that would make the average human feel alarmed.

“You’re not trying to lure my daughter away for a bite, are you?” I teased.

“What’s wrong with a bite in the moonlight?” inquired Cosette, grinning at me with elongated fangs.

“I would very much appreciate having Dani intact when she first meets the rest of the fey.” stated Alma.

“But I can have a bite afterward?” teased Cosette.

At the same time, Dani asked “Where’s my little friend?”

“She’ll be along soon, I’m sure. Are you joining us, Cosette?” I inquired.

“Of course. I’m intrigued.” she insisted.

I nodded and led the way with Dani and Cosette flying circles around us. We were nearly there before my little fairy friend caught up with us, complaining that I didn’t carry her with me.

“Let’s leave the zoomies out here.” I stated.

Dani sighed dramatically before saying, “Yes, daddy.”

“What happened with Kayla?” inquired Alma.

“Jemal came to get her. She apparently hadn’t finished her homework today.” explained Dani. “He’s really umm…” she started, moving her hands all over while wiggling her fingers.

“Fidgety?” suggested Alma.

“Yes! Fidgety. He seemed to like me though.” she replied, casually hugging Emma after stepping off the zoomie.

Emma grinned at first, but the grin faded as she looked at me. Cosette came around to Emma’s other side and draped her arm over Emma’s shoulders as she leaned into her.

Spotting some of the fey already lurking near the edge for the forest, I said, “Well, here we go.”

Stepping into the forest, I heard Dani gasp. Her planet was filled with residual energy, but not like this. They used far too much of it and produced far less per person.

“Emma, is that you!?” exclaimed Dani.

Emma nodded, smiling as Dani hugged her.

“That’s so cool! I knew mom could do it, but I didn’t realize you could too!” exclaimed Dani.

Dani’s grin widened as she stared around. Numerous fey were coming to greet us. Flying, tunneling, rolling, and skipping, they were eager as ever.

“What’s wrong?” asked Dani, practically bouncing as she watched Emma stiffen slightly.

“Nothing. I just need a moment. Wasn’t quite ready for all of them.” claimed Emma before glancing at me.

I hugged my wife as the fey surrounded us. Dani, however, was already engulfed in their glee, chasing after one who looked like a small, rolling stone. As the minutes ticked by, her energy only seemed to grow. I quickly retrieved her when one of the fey started kissing her hand.

“Daddy, why!?” exclaimed Dani when I set her down a ways out from the forest. “They’re so… so…”

“Passionate?” I inquired.

“Maybe!” exclaimed Dani, obviously not understanding the word.

Alma was quick to join us, and Dani started calming down.

“That was interesting.” commented Cosette as she came towards us with Emma. “I never expected to see anyone receive half as much attention from them as you, James.”

“Dani has a way with people.” I told her.

“Magical way?” she suggested.

“More chemical, though I suspect her magic plays a part.” replied Alma as she hugged our daughter.

“Chemical!?” inquired Emma.

“Potent pheromones.” I explained. “She exudes a large variety.”

Dani stuck her tongue at me. “I hate that explanation. Can’t I just be likable?”

I laughed and said, “Sorry, but many here have inquiring minds.”

Cosette, who was nodding, obviously did. I wondered if she actually felt any of the effects from my daughter. I would guess not, given her biology, but there was always a chance.

“Let’s go see if Jarod’s in his lab. We need to get Dani’s enhancement suit started, and my wife will surely want to help debate the style.” I announced.

I already knew he would be, since Mila had shown me a little of his latest experiment. Jarod, Mila, and Aurora were building a sort of flying vehicle. Mila had seen enough on other planets that she could easily give numerous pointers, but I doubted she would be too forthcoming with alien technology. Dani, however, might get a bit enthusiastic.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 334

“James, can I show Dani the zoomies?” begged Kayla, mere minutes after finishing her meal.

The two were instant friends after meeting.

“Later. Mila, remind Dani not to take apart the zoomies when she sees them.” I stated, worrying that she might.

“Daddy!” exclaimed Dani. “I haven’t done anything like that for… days at least.”

“But does she know how to put things back together?” inquired Jarod.

“Of course! Everyone takes…” she started, hesitating before saying, “note of what they take apart.”

She was probably going to reply with one of her courses at school, something akin to an advanced physics or engineering course here I’d wager. Luckily, she remembered not to explain how she knows as much as she does, though Jarod would surely ponder the pause in her response.

“Dani will probably want to hang out in your lab off and on if you don’t mind.” I told him. “I assure you that she will surprise you.”

“What about her hasn’t been surprising?” teased Jarod with an ear-to-ear grin.

In response, Dani started singing a pleasantly lilting melody about the surprises found wherever they’re sought. Unfortunately, the song was in her native tongue, so only Alma and I would understand why she started singing.

“Dani, you might consider asking Mila to acquaint you with more music here when you get the time. You’ll probably like some of it.” I informed her.

Grinning she said, “I know I will. Mom and you sing beautifully. Aaliyah’s songs are a dream.”

“Or a nightmare.” teased Alma with a small smile.

“I quite liked what she was singing. What did it mean?” asked mother.

“Oh… umm… The title means… Something Wonderful Can Be Found, I think.” replied Dani. “The song’s about finding surprises wherever you go.”

“Maybe you can teach it to me when we paint.” suggested mother.

Dani grinned with excitement and nodded. “I’d love to!”

“Is there anything she can’t do?” questioned Jarod.

“Control her excitement.” I frankly replied.

“Daddy!” exclaimed Dani, looking indignant.

“You know he’s just being honest.” stated Alma.

Dani sighed and said, “I know.” Then, grinning, she told us “But there’s so much to see and try! And this little lady keeps showing me fantastic things!”

Yes, my little fairy friend hadn’t even stopped showing us her adventures for our meal. Life here would certainly be interesting while Dani grew acclimated to it.

“Mom, I want to paint something now. Can I?” inquired Dani, looking to Alma hopefully.

“Of course. I think the others might be entertained by watching.” she replied. “Mila, is Dani’s studio prepared?”

“Yes, Alma. You know I don’t slack off.” insisted Mila.

“Sorry, Mila. Everyone who’s interested in seeing my daughter paint, please follow me.” stated Alma as she walked toward her old wing. “I assure all of you that you’re in for quite a treat.”

“Mom, you’ll make me blush.” complained Dani, though she was still smiling.

“What does blushing even look like with your skin tone?” inquired Emma, smiling mischievously. Then she noticed me watching her and said, “Er… sorry. I’ll behave.”

Looking forward again, I said, “Just like Dani will stay calm for an hour.”

“Daddy! Don’t em- umm… oh… wait… I know it! I really do.” insisted Dani.

“Oh, the suspense.” teased Mai.

“Yes, it’s killing me.” replied Ai.

After kissing Mai’s head, Jarod said, “Don’t make Alma roast you for teasing her daughter.”

Alma laughed, shocking Jarod, and said, “I’m planning on leaving incinerations to Fridays now.”

The twins stared at one another past Jarod, looking equally shocked, and were probably communicating telepathically again.

“Don’t worry. She’s fine. My wife is simply happier than ever.” I assured them.

“I really am.” agreed Alma.

“You certainly seem to be in good spirits. Ai and Mai must be wondering if you’re a different person entirely.” suggested father.

“Are you claiming I was dismal company before I was married?” teased Alma.

I heard the smile in her voice, but I doubted my father could, not with his relatively little experience around her and inferior hearing.

“Well… uh… no. I was just meaning…” he started.

Interrupting him, Alma said, “I’m only teasing. I was well aware that I could be more than a little moody at times.”

“But why, mom!? This place is fantastic!” insisted Dani, hugging Alma from behind.

“I worried over too many things.” she replied.

Though two of Mila’s bodies had stayed behind to clear the table, having shooed Marco after us, another waited ahead by the door. When I peered into the door, the hallway that met me was incredibly different than what I had remembered. The woodwork was the same, but the furnishings were far, far brighter. Paintings of forests, meadows, and stuffy-looking nobles had been replaced with vibrant pictures that were quite obviously some of my daughter’s works.

The painting she had made me when she was eleven, showing me one of her favorite nebulas in extraordinarily vibrant hues, was off to my left. On my right, a “family portrait” she made a year ago showed us standing on the shadow moon of Ternitus IV. There was a branch of my company now where we had been standing. I doubted even Jarod would recognize it as something more than an artist’s fancy. Mother was certainly interested in the paintings as they continued, but the studio was just a couple rooms inside on the left.

Dani’s excitement was boundless as she entered the room and looked around. Mother gasped as some of the paint canisters flew toward one of the empty canvases, leaving their lids behind. Dani grinned toward the rest of us, still filing inside. Then she began to sing again.

Alma walked over and leaned against me as we listened and watched. This song had no meaningful lyrics. All of Dani’s people were taught it as an expression of their dreams and desires. Humans couldn’t have the vocal range to manage many of the runs throughout the song. Dani’s people had a more complicated vocal structure than ours.

The streams of paint seemed to dance with the music, twirling through the air and lightly touching the canvas as Dani directed them. Part of my forest was appearing on the left half of the canvas in bright blues and greens while the right half seemed more of a collage between parts of my home. In a pink far brighter than Dani’s actual skin tones, she was appearing in the center, larger than life. In her arms, the rest of us were forming. I hoped she left room for the ones she hadn’t met yet, or she’d probably insist on repainting the entire scene.

Our positions and expressions obviously reflected what Dani thought of us. Alma and I were centered and closest to her with my parents just in front of us. The rest were taking interesting poses, such as Emma attempting to kiss Dani’s arm. Jarod was portrayed as holding back Ai and Mai by their shirt collars as they grinned viciously and reached toward Dani’s thumb. Kayla was doing a handstand on Dani’s right forearm while Jemal looked up at her with a worried expression. Marco casually balanced a tray of food on his head, balanced another in each arm, and smiled widely. Raine’s hair was impressively enormous where she crouched down to poke at one of Dani’s fingers. Portentia gripped Maxine’s arm, giving her a stern look while Maxine appeared annoyed. Cosette casually leaned against Dani’s left forearm, smiling as she seemed to watch the others. Brenna appeared confused, staring up at Dani’s smiling face while reaching behind her for something that wasn’t there. Aaliyah appeared on Dani’s head, laughing and pointing at the scene below.

“James, dear… this… this is incredible.” muttered mother, her eyes glued to the painting in progress.

All at once, the paint that had been twirling around the canvas dove into their cans as the cans headed to the floor. Dani stopped singing and rushed to my mother.

“You should paint with me. Please!” begged Dani, staring up at her and gripping her hands.

Mother looked hesitant as she glanced around. Then she nodded and said, “I won’t be nearly as quick, but okay, dear. I’ll try.”

I smiled as mother started examining the brushes mounted on the wall. She and father would probably need quite some time yet to fully grow accustomed to Dani, but things would work out.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 333

“James, dear!” exclaimed mother as she moved to embrace me.

“Don’t forget our new daughter-in-law.” stated father. He looked surprised as Alma stepped up and hugged him, but he still hugged her back.

“Of course not.” replied mother, letting go of me to hug Alma too. “How was the honeymoon? Did you two have fun?”

“Quite eventful. You’d be amazed how much we can accomplish in two weeks.” I told them.

Father laughed and said, “Not really, not with how incredibly fast you two are.”

“I’m pregnant.” stated Alma, stepping toward me.

My parents stared at her incredulously for a moment.

“Isn’t it a bit too soon to tell?” suggested mother.

“Alma’s not quite human, so things work a bit differently. I assure you that she is.” I told her.

Father hesitated a bit longer before saying, “Well, I always did want to be a grandfather.”

“Congratulations to you both!” exclaimed mother. “Do the others know yet?”

“Sorry, but your son couldn’t keep it a surprise till you got here.” claimed Alma, smiling up at me.

I shrugged and told my parents “Sorry. I’m a bit excited.” Waving them onward, I said, “Come in, please. We have something to show you.”

“Another surprise?” asked father.

I nodded.

“I’m sure it’s not as surprising as this.” claimed mother, smiling at me. “Any idea when the baby will be due with the umm… differences?”

“December, we think.” replied Alma, before winking up at me.

“Are you planning on finding out if it’s a boy or a girl? That seems pretty common these days.” suggested father.

“Probably.” I told him. “We figure that’ll give us more time to come up with a name.”

“If you have a boy, are you going to carry on the tradition?” inquired father, following us toward the ballroom.

“That seems quite likely. I like how easily the name would pass in my country too.” explained Alma.

“What if you have a girl?” questioned mother. “I’ll gladly help with names.”

“We already decided on Dani for our first girl.” teased Alma as she loudly emphasized the name.

“Oh? Is there a story behind this?” inquired mother, her eyes opening wide as Dani came running into the room.

“Mom, are these them!?” exclaimed Dani, putting her hands together and grinning like she just got the most exciting present.

“Dani, meet my parents.” I told her. Then to my parents I said, “This is our adopted daughter, Dani Lyshaa Somerset.”

“Uh… b-but…” started father, stopping as he stared at me.

I caught Cosette grinning from the ballroom doorway as Dani ran up and hugged both of my parents at the same time. Father, still looking shocked, patted her back as he looked down at mother.

Switching to her native tongue, Dani let go of them and asked “Why aren’t they happy?”

“English in front of your grandparents.” ordered Alma.

“What uh language is that?” asked father.

“Oh, that’s from Dani’s home. The circumstances were a bit unusual, but she’s part of the family now.” I told him.

“Dani, I love your hair and umm skin.” stated mother, reaching to touch Dani’s head but hesitating.

Dani pressed her head into mother’s hand as she exclaimed “It’s all natural, except the tips!”

“Is she… uh… similar to the ones in your forest?” asked father.

“No, she’s not a fey, but she does sense the emotions of those around her.” I explained.

“The fey! I forgot about them. When can I meet them!?” exclaimed Dani, staring up at me.

“Let’s plan on tonight for most of them. You’ll meet one sooner.” I promised, creating a burst of light above the forest with a spell. “Just don’t let her know how long we’ve been back, since she’ll be disappointed that I didn’t come see her first thing. For now, let’s head to the dining room. Marco’s probably done preparing dinner by now.”

“Almost, master. We’re putting the finishing touches on at the moment.” announced Mila over the speakers.

“Perfect.” I replied as I started walking to the dining room.

Alma looped her arm around mine and said, “I have missed his cooking. This will be a treat.”

“Marco’s cooking is always a treat.” agreed father as he and mother followed with Dani between them. “Dani, how old are you?” he asked.

“Almost fifteen.” she told him with a grin.

“When’s your birthday?” asked mother.

“Uh…” she mumbled, looking thoughtful.

Alma glanced back and said, “April nineteenth.”

“That’s the one!” exclaimed Dani.

“How long have you been studying English? You’re doing quite well.” stated mother.

“I’m not too sure.” she replied with a shrug.

When my little fairy friend came flying toward us, I glanced back to watch my daughter’s reaction. Her look of wonder was priceless, especially when my little friend started showing us all of her adventures in the forest.

“Daddy, she’s adorable! I want to ride on the umm… the squirrel!” she exclaimed. “I want to ride on a squirrel. I guess they’re pretty small for her to ride them like that, but wasn’t that awesome!?”

I pursed my lips as my little friend started paying more attention to my daughter. Dani was getting more and more excited as the fey talked to her. I had expected her to get a double dose of their emotions, since she’d be feeling it with her own abilities as well as in the fairy’s projections, but I hoped the forest wouldn’t overwhelm her when we visited there.

“I’m still not accustomed to feeling that. What did you think, Dani?” asked mother.

“Oh, mom’s shown me things like that before, so I’m used to it.” she replied, sounding much calmer than I would have expected.

Perhaps Alma was intervening for Dani, projecting her own calm into Dani’s mind.

“Will the others be joining us?” asked mother.

“You can count on it, the ones who are here at least.” I assured her. “A couple are out on jobs. Jemal and Kayla should return soon. He’s probably picking her up from her friend’s or on his way back with her already. The ones here are just giving us a few minutes privacy while you get to know Dani a little.”

Mila had given me a rundown of everyone’s schedule on the way here from the airport. We had flown home in Alma’s plane just to give Dani the experience of how flight is here. Given how advanced her home planet is compared to ours, most things on this planet were going to seem pretty low tech.

“Isn’t it amazing how pretty all of daddy and mom’s friends are!?” exclaimed Dani.

Father laughed and said, “I couldn’t agree more. My wife and I would feel remiss in our apparel were we to leave home in anything too casual for a visit here.”

“You’re quite beautiful too, Dani.” insisted mother.

“Thank you, grandmother!” replied Dani with another grin.

Pursing her lips for a moment, mother said, “That will take some acclimation. I wasn’t expecting to be a grandmother this morning.”

“Son, why does she call you ‘daddy’ while calling Alma ‘mom’ and now my wife ‘grandmother’?” inquired father.

“I blame Aaliyah. She insisted that Dani go with ‘daddy’ for me. Alma wasn’t about to be called ‘mommy’ but she didn’t want to have things sound too formal when I’m ‘daddy’.” I explained.

Piping in, Dani said, “And they thought ‘grandfather’ and ‘grandmother’ seemed right for you two.”

Father nodded and said, “I suppose.”

“You three already seem so casual together. If you’ll pardon my asking, Dani, but wasn’t being adopted by someone as young as… as these two… a bit odd?” inquired mother.

Dani grinned and told her “I feel like I’ve been with them for years.”

“But they’re really not too much older than you.” stated father.

I gave Dani a warning glance and shook my head when she looked like she was going to reply.

Taking father’s hand in both of hers, Alma said, “Getting used to the idea of me dating your son took a while too, but families can come about in the strangest of ways. Please trust us on this.”

He looked surprised by her, but he nodded. “Life in this household will never be normal. I have come to terms with it. I think marriage suits you.”

She smiled and told him “It really does.”

“Let’s all take this end again.” I suggested, walking to the northern end of the table as I explained to my little friend that we were eating soon.

She excitedly projected all of her favorite foods into my head, complete with aromas, taste, textures, and her feelings on them.

Dani wistfully announced “I want some of everything.”

“She really is remarkable. I should show you some of the paintings she’s inspired if you ever visit.” suggested mother.

“Daddy’s told me that you paint! I’d love to see your work.” insisted Dani.

“You should paint together.” suggested Alma. “Dani has talent and has been well trained in the arts.”

“Really? I’d love to paint with her.” replied mother.

“Please forgive her if she cheats at times.” I warned.

“What do you mean, dear?” asked mother.

“Daddy, it’s not cheating!” insisted Dani.

“Dani has a gift for magic and uses it when painting.” explained Alma.

I smiled, feeling my wife’s explanation was a bit of an understatement, but mother would see soon enough. That conversation ended there when my friends started coming into the room, since greetings were exchanged. Still, I felt things were progressing nicely.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 332

As Mila drove the limo down my driveway, Dani was practically bouncing in her seat, looking around at everything with obvious excitement. I hoped she was ready for this; I hoped I was ready for this. Explaining how Alma and I went on a honeymoon for two weeks and came back with a daughter who appeared to be near our age ― a girl with taffy-colored skin and cobalt blue hair tipped in black dye ― would be a bit of a shocking tale, even in my household. We all had agreed not to give a full account though. We couldn’t, at least not yet.

“Is that really the house? It’s huge!” exclaimed Dani after Alma gave her a nod.

“Your father and I will be occupying the second and third floor of the center part. We’re letting you have your way with my old wing in the West.” explained Alma, pointing toward the wing.

Grinning, Dani asked “And the first floor is for everyone, right?”

“Sure is.” I told her, smiling.

When I left here, I wasn’t that many years older than Dani. I couldn’t even guess my age now. Aaliyah offered to tell me, but I had told her not to make me feel old. As far as most people on this planet knew, I was still nineteen, and I needed to act the part as best as I could.

Dani led the way to the doors, practically running the moment the car stopped. Alma and I followed behind her, taking things slowly. We had spent the last two weeks on our island, attempting to finish acclimating Dani to the world, since Aaliyah didn’t want to “spoil our fun” with a more efficient course. Things would work out one way or another. Our lives were guaranteed to go well for many years.

“Z-, er… daddy, what’s with all these umm…” started Dani, spinning as she looked around.

“Engravings. They’re telling a story about a wonderful woman.” I explained, almost through the door.

“Who are you?” called Emma from down the hall as she jogged toward Dani.

I was about to reply when I felt someone tug my shirt from behind me.

“D-daddy?” asked Raine, staring up at me with wide eyes.

Adjusting to her speed again would take some time. She let me grab her shoulders, lift her, and deposit her inside next to my daughter.

“You must be Emma!” exclaimed Dani as she hugged Emma and gave her a kiss. “I’ve heard so much about you!”

Emma smiled and blushed as she inquired “Good things?”

“Emma, Raine… meet Dani.” I told them, releasing Raine from my grip.

Dani turned at Raine’s name, exclaiming “You’re the fluffy one!”

Raine was shaking slightly as Dani hugged her and kissed her forehead, but that was to be expected.

“Y-you… sm-smell good.” mumbled Raine.

“Guys, James and Alma are back, and they brought someone new!” exclaimed Brenna from the ballroom doorway.

“Sooo fluffy!” exclaimed Dani, still hugging Raine and playing with her hair.

Alma and I stepped out of the way as Mila brought our luggage inside. Portentia, Maxine, and Cosette were coming out of the ballroom behind Brenna. I spotted Jarod, Ai, and Mai coming down the hall, so Mila apparently notified them as well.

“Dani, don’t upset Raine.” cautioned Alma.

“Sorry, mom. I’m just excited!” she exclaimed as she released Raine from her embrace. “Raine’s hair is spectacular. Of course, so is yours, Emma!”

Dani couldn’t smile without it seeming flirtatious, and I would need to warn Emma before she got her hopes up too high. I didn’t care if the two had some sort of relationship eventually, but I wasn’t going to have Emma’s hopes crushed by Dani’s nature. Dani’s entire species was beautiful, empathic, capable of magic, and completely incapable of monogamy. The concept was far too alien for them to really believe. We knew quite well from our brief visits to their world and our attempts to get the idea through to Dani. Like the fey in my forest, they were a species of whim and strong emotions, though Dani’s species could show remarkable focus when passion drove them to a task.

I quickly grabbed Dani before she went around hugging every last one of them. Then I said, “Everyone, this is Dani Lyshaa Somerset. Alma and I adopted her while we were away.”

“Adopted!? Isn’t she around our age?” asked Jarod.

“Yes, but adopting her was the easiest way to get her into the country. Aaliyah assured me that all of the paperwork has been pushed through already, so she’s officially our child. Please help her as she acclimates to things around here and tell me if she gets into too much trouble.” I explained, doing my best not to smirk at the looks of shock.

If they knew how many years Alma and I spent raising Dani, they would really be in for a shock, but that was a story I would never share with everyone here, despite how much they might enjoy being regaled by our adventures.

“Can I be there when you tell your parents?” inquired Cosette with a smile.

“They’ll be here this evening, so any of you who aren’t working might be around.” I replied. “One last announcement that my parents will soon be privy to as well…”

Everyone looked at me expectantly, so I glanced at Alma to see if she wanted the honors.

“James, really… I thought we’d tell your parents first.” she stated, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. Then she sighed and said, “Fine. I suppose they might as well find out first. I’m pregnant.”

Following shouts of shock, several of them quickly congratulated us. Alma and I thanked everyone, happy to be home. The baby had certainly been a shock when Aaliyah informed us that the time was coming for us to return home. We declined letting her tell us the precise date of birth or gender, preferring the surprise, but we actually did know the month. Alma was already four months pregnant and starting to show slightly, but she had another eight and a half to go.

Dani was practically bouncing under my hand. She couldn’t be expected to contain her excitement when feeling the excitement of everyone around her. I let her go, knowing that I couldn’t contain her enthusiasm.

She hugged Brenna, kissing her cheek as Brenna turned her head. Then she looked over to Maxine for a moment before rushing her.

“Daddy, is this the criminal!?” exclaimed Dani as she hugged Maxine.

“Yes, so you should be careful around her.” warned Portentia, looking confused as Dani pulled her into the hug.

“And you’re Portentia. Your skin is sooo beautiful.” she insisted.

“Lady Pendreigh…” started Mai.

“Girls, just call me Alma. I’m married. Let’s drop titles and formalities while at home.” insisted Alma.

Ai and Mai stared at her in wide-eyed shock, glancing at one another in obvious bewilderment.

“A-Alma…” started Ai.

“Not to be rude, but…” continued Mai as she eyed Dani.

“What’s with my skin?” asked Dani, interrupting them.

“And hair.” stated the twins.

“All natural! Be jam.” replied Dani, releasing Portentia and Maxine to approach them.

“Jelly.” I corrected.

At the same time, Alma said, “Jealous.”

“Pleased to meet you all. Mom told me not to kiss you because you’re married.” explained Dani as she held out a hand to each of them while standing all too close to Jarod.

He took a step back between Ai and Mai, reaching a hand between them when Dani went to shake his hand.

Smirking, Alma said, “I actually warned you against kissing people at random, since many will find it confusing and even disturbing, married couples especially.”

“But they’re all so pretty…” complained Dani.

“Behave.” I chided. “Let’s get you set for playing that game I’ve been telling you about before my parents arrive.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, hugging my arm as I showed her into the ballroom with several of my friends in tow.

I wasn’t certain how well she’d be able to sit still at the moment, but the others might calm down enough to help Dani calm down with a bit of gaming. Introducing my daughter to my parents was going to be interesting enough without her feeling rambunctious.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 331

With the ceremony complete, Aaliyah joyously took Alma and I to do an incredible amount of signing. When that was finally finished, we went out for pictures. The photo session took longer than I hoped, but I was sure that was all part of Aaliyah’s plan. She was on stage again, entertaining the guests while Mila took pictures with the cameras in her eyes. Alma insisted on looking at them from time to time on my phone, and I couldn’t deny her when I was curious as well.

When Alma suddenly gathered her dress and ran, I followed her without question. She seemed worried. I sprinted ahead when I spotted Adelmar doubled over near the house with Anwen looking afraid. His breathing was incredibly fast, and he seemed to be in pain. He stood, taking a swing at me the moment I stopped.

Catching his hand, I said, “Adelmar. It’s me, James. What’s wrong?”

“When did you get this strong?” he snarled, staring at his fist in my hand.

Alma arrived, stopping just behind me. “Is it time already?” she asked.

I thought he was going to attack me again, but I felt a number of his defensive spells being dropped. The anger quickly left his eyes.

“Cousin, I wasn’t aware that your husband was holding back so much during his challenges.” stated Adelmar as he casually straightened his suit.

“I did inform you that he was much faster and stronger than I originally believed.” she replied.

“YOU SHOULD HAVE SHOWN ME!” he yelled, taking a step toward her.

I put my arm out, blocking his path, and to my surprise, he hugged me.

“I’m sorry, James. I’ll be fine soon.” he told me as he stepped back.

“What’s wrong?” I asked again.

“His time’s coming soon.” replied Alma as she leaned against my arm.

“Time?” I asked.

“There’s something I haven’t told you yet.” she stated, holding my arm and looking up at me.

“I imagine there are many things you haven’t told me yet.” I teased.

“Just tell him.” ordered Adelmar.

“My family is descended from dragons, and each member of the Slayer family is destined to become a dragon. My mother didn’t die. She became a dragon and went… elsewhere.” explained Alma.

“Elsewhere?” I inquired, knowing I couldn’t reveal that I had seen her mother not too long ago.

“She doesn’t know. None of us do.” asserted Adelmar. “Welcome to the family.” he added with a smile.

“Yes. Welcome, James. We’re thrilled to have you.” agreed Anwen as she hugged Adelmar’s arm.

“Would you two care to come back for more photos?” I asked. “We were just about to send for you, so your timing is rather great.”

Smiling wryly Adelmar said, “Timing on almost turning into a dragon and disrupting your party? I think my timing needs improved. Then again, I don’t know that I could have stopped were you not here. Despite the other effects of your magic, there is a very calming effect to it.”

“I’m glad I decided to attend my wedding today then. Alma certainly would have been fired up if I had skipped out, and you apparently would have been as well.” I teased.

Alma lightly hit my arm and then said, “Sorry, Adelmar. He can’t take anything seriously at times.”

“All part of his charm, I’m sure. I still cannot believe your strength and speed.” he stated, reaching up to roughly squeeze my shoulder as we started to walk. “If you had struck Hyun-woo full force, the man would have died on the spot.”

The chipper way Adelmar talked about how I could have killed a man bothered me, but I wasn’t going to argue with him today, especially not if his change really was coming soon. The little I had seen of dragons was enough to show me that they were as dangerous as they were beautiful, and Adelina’s temper seemed quite volatile as one.

The rest of the pictures were taken without interruption, posing with various friends and family. Adelmar and Anwen seemed quite disturbed when Ariadne, Vito, Papak, and Zachary joined us for a couple shots, but they didn’t protest.

When pictures were finished, Alma and I went out to perform a little dance number we had rehearsed. Then we took to the stage and welcomed everyone to the reception, encouraging them to join us in dancing until food would be served.

The seven course meal that Marco prepared along with Carl and his staff would surely be remembered fondly by everyone, leaving them envious of my chef. He was quite superb. After the dinner was finished, a large number of speeches were given. Adelmar was certainly long-winded as ever when he took a turn. Given that the sun hadn’t set while he was still talking, I wondered if Carl was playing with time again.

When the speeches were over, there was a great deal of dancing and eventually an enormous cake. Alma and I did our best to visit the hundreds of tables to greet everyone, but missing someone would have been easy in the crowd.

After a final speech encouraging the guests to enjoy themselves in our absence and thanking them once again for attending, Alma and I departed to the limo. Having her hugging my arm and smiling so beautifully, my happiness was on a new level.

“Mila, you missed the turn. Where are you taking us?” inquired Alma a few blocks later.

“I have a surprise for you, so please forgive this little stop before we fly out.” I told her.

“Oh. Does the pilot know?” she asked.

“Yes, he was given the correct schedule rather than what you were given.” replied Mila.

“Lovely. Our marriage has already started with more secrets.” teased Alma.

“Actually, this is to be a bit of explanation.” I assured her.

“Oh?” she inquired. Her face suddenly took on a look of shock. “We just teleported.”

“You didn’t really want us to deal with traffic, did you?” I teased as I opened the door.

“I’m not allowed in there.” stated Alma as she gazed out at the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.

“As one of the primary shareholders, I give you permission. The others have already confirmed.” I assured her, offering her a hand as she stepped out.

Alma sighed and said, “Of all the places to go first, you had to pick one of the most plain-looking buildings around.”

When we passed through the second set of doors, her expression became one of shock. The room was enormous, easily ten times the size of the building. Furthermore, there were numerous species dining here.

“What sort of illusion is this?” she asked.

“No illusion. The Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce is present on thousands of worlds, offering the best fine dining services in all of time and space.” insisted Evanna.

“You weren’t there a moment ago.” stated Alma as she looked to our host.

Smiling, Evanna said, “No, I wasn’t. Please follow me, and I’ll show you to your room.”

Taking Alma’s hand, I followed Evanna three feet to our right where we were instantly transported to a lavish room with only one table.

Motioning into the room, Evanna then told us “Please wait here for your next host to attend to you.”

“You won’t be taking us around?” I asked.

“No. Sorry, James. As much as I would like to give you another tour, Carl has me assigned elsewhere today.” she replied, waving before she disappeared.

“How is this possible?” asked Alma.

“Stabilized passages through space-time with radiation buffers, annoying people buffers, and other fun buffers.” explained Aaliyah as she stepped out of nowhere. “Buffers… Don’t you love buffers? Along with some other useful tech I designed, they allow the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce to simultaneously exist throughout all of space and have room for all. Pretty slick, isn’t it?”

Shaking her head, Alma said, “You’re just messing with me, aren’t you.”

“She really isn’t. Where would you like to go?” I asked with a smile.

“When and where, really. The ‘when’ is just as important. I’m calling first choice though. See ya!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

Alma and I found ourselves staring up at a very familiar dragon who was munching on a large creature I didn’t recognize.

“Mother…?” asked Alma.

“Alma!” exclaimed Adelina, jumping over to us. “You’re married?”

Alma hugged her mother’s face as she said, “Yes. Just today. Father was there. He misses you.”

“No telepathy today?’ I inquired.

Adelina snarled but didn’t attempt to attack me this time.

“Today? You two have met?” asked Alma.

Shrugging, I said, “Of course. How do you think I decided on a ring design? I forged your engagement ring in a volcano on this planet.”

“We’ve been fools, Alma. After I attacked James, the dragon queen told me a great many things that I would like to share with you. Why can I not see your thoughts?” asked Adelina.

“I was given something that protects my mind from intrusion. Adelmar approved of its use on Ai and Mai as well.” explained Alma. “There are many things I would like to share as well.”

“I’ll hang out over that way and give you two a bit of time to catch up. We’ll probably be on this planet for a while.” I told them. When Alma nodded, I jogged off to do some exploring, since I didn’t have the chance last time I was here. This would certainly be an interesting honeymoon.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 330

“Feeling nervous yet, son?” inquired father as he approached me.

“More excited, really.” I replied, stepping over to hug mother.

“I am. This is quite a gathering. We weren’t sure we’d be able to find you, but Mila called and told me where you were.” stated mother as she casually looked around.

“You should see what some of them really look like.” I teased.

“What do you mean?” she whispered.

“There’s a large series of spells in place that alter perceptions, so those on bad terms with one another won’t be inclined to cause mishaps.” I explained.

“James, dear, I recognize the prince over there. Are you sure it’s working?” she asked, looking concerned.

“Does the man behind him appear twice his height to you?” I questioned.

“No. Twice his height!? You must be joking.” she accused, staring up at me.

Papak, who was standing several feet behind the prince, gave me a grin, obviously overhearing the conversation.

“I’m really not. If you wish for proof, I’m sure he would accommodate you.” I told her, earning a wink from Papak.

“What is he then, son?” asked father.

“One of the eldest vampires in the world. He and his brothers have been around for thirteen thousand years.” I explained. “If ever you two are on Poenari Island again, I’ll gladly talk them into giving you a tour of their collection of antiquities. The stories they told me were incredible.”

Nodding while sounding a little shocked, he said, “We might have to go there specifically for it eventually.”

“We’d be quite honored by your presence.” stated Vito as he and Ariadne walked up behind my parents.

Mother jumped, but father casually wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him.

Holding out a hand, Vito said, “I’m Vito Sanguinem, that one’s brother.” He nodded toward Papak. After my parents each shook his hand, he motioned to Ariadne and said, “And this is Ariadne, Aaliyah’s aunt.”

“Pleasure to meet you both.” replied mother.

“Just Ariadne?” asked father.

“Surnames weren’t common if they existed anywhere when I was born, and unlike the brothers, I never bothered making one up.” she replied.

“I suppose I should have said ‘great aunt’, but only Aaliyah can say how great of an aunt she is.” teased Vito.

“He lies, of course. I can name every last one of my brother’s descendents through the years.” argued Ariadne as she pointedly ignored his joke.

Looking confused, mother asked “So… he wasn’t… um… “

“No, he never became a vampire.” she told us, projecting an image into our minds of a black-haired boy with eyes as green as hers who was probably not much older than me. The emotions that came with the image seemed incredibly strong to me, even by fey standards.

“I simply can’t grow accustomed to seeing things in that manner.” claimed mother.

“Remind me to thank Zachary later.” stated Vito as he looked over to where Zachary had intercepted Adelmar and Anwen when they started approaching us.

“He probably wanted to greet my parents.” I suggested, trying not to smirk at Adelmar’s obvious discomfort.

“Yes, that does seem likely.” agreed Vito. Turning to my parents, he said, “My condolences for the loss of your sanity if he catches you too long.”

“I’ve got one more song for everyone, but first I’d like to inform you that the ceremony will start in thirty minutes” announced Aaliyah from the stage after finishing another song. Please find your way to your seats in that time. If you need assistance, just ask any of the staff. After the wedding, the reception will begin back in this area, so you’ll be able to catch me for more music! I hope you enjoy!” The next song started with a soft, beautiful melody performed on her violin.

“How many people are here?” asked father.

“I’m not honestly certain if you count the security details and other staff, but there are twenty-three-hundred seats.” I replied.

“At least your yard is large enough to accommodate everyone, or you would have us sitting in a stadium.” teased Vito

Father laughed and said, “I did wonder why my son needed quite this much space when he purchased the place, but things are going quite well for him.”

Nodding, Vito told him “After admiring your son’s house, I feel that I might need to look into modernizing more rooms. Mila explained that she can be hired to assist me at any time. James’ business is most intriguing.”

“I completely agree. When he first pitched the idea to me, I never believed he’d come this far, especially so quickly.” replied father. Turning to me, he said, “I’m very proud of you son. I don’t know if the staff mentions it ever, but I highly approve of the changes you’ve made to Somerset Suites. I must say you’re doing an excellent job.”

I leaned down and hugged my parents as I said, “I’m glad you approve. Ready to see me take my next big step?”

Father nodded and mother hugged me tighter.

“Well, then. Ariadne and I best find our seats. I hope we may speak again soon.” stated Vito after Ariadne gestured for him to move.

As they walked away, I stood, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Then I told my parents “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to visit during the reception with all the mingling I’ll need to do. Mila will help you get in touch if you need anything.”

“How long will your honeymoon be?” asked mother.

“Two weeks is what’s scheduled, but I have trouble imagining Alma keeping away from work that long. She typically works throughout most days and into the night.” I explained.

“Marriage can change people. I don’t feel I know her well enough to even guess how things will be for a while, but I imagine she’ll take more time off if you two end up having kids eventually.” suggested father.

“I doubt we’ll have children too soon, but I actually did ask her. She seemed shocked that I needed to ask and promptly explained that heirs are expected from someone in her position. You two should expect grandchildren eventually.” I assured them.

We headed to our places and the wait began. As I looked over the crowd, I was amused by the reactions my friends from high school were having. They obviously recognized some of my guests with how they were attempting to snap photos with their phones. No one else was likely to notice though, not with how the illusions were masking sections.

My head ached slightly as the memory of casting the spell came to mind. The spell was simply too massive for me to really consider well without using that room to enhance my abilities. I felt for my other friends who were acting as part of the staff today. I didn’t really want to make them stand through the ceremony, but I agreed that having them participate in that function would help things run smoothly. All of them were so skilled these days.

Alma had been quick to approve of Aaliyah’s plans for there to be no groomsmen or bridesmaids. Apparently, having others stand with us would be frowned upon by some parts of her family given her station. Jarod had taken the news that I wouldn’t be having a best man fine. The twins had warned him before I even found out. We still had a little bachelor’s party last week, hogging the theater and snacking like maniacs.

I looked over to Aaliyah as she waited to perform the ceremony. Adelmar had apparently felt miffed over the decision for Aaliyah to preside over the wedding, but he had ordered Alma not to try bringing Aaliyah around, making me wonder what she had said to him.

Music started at Alma’s approach ― another part of the spell I had cast ― and my eyes instantly found her. I wondered how Aaliyah’s wedding present to her was going over. I had mixed feelings myself, since temporary sanity for Duke Gruffydd Aiden Pendreigh seemed almost cruel to me. I trusted my little friend though, so things would work out. I could see Alma smiling through her veil as her father walked her down the aisle. My heart was racing. Well, racing by my current standards.

Throughout the ceremony, I probably smiled more than I should have, but I felt an unending happiness every time I looked at her. When we kissed to a tumultuous applause, I felt her heart racing through the spell on my wedding ring and knew she was every bit as happy as I felt.