“Thank you for lunch, Mr. Somerset,” said Emma as we headed toward the restaurant’s entrance. “Yes, thank you!” exclaimed Ai just after. “The food was delicious.” followed Mai. I looked over my shoulder to see them on each side of father just as they finished together with “We’ll have to come here again after we move.” Father’s face was priceless. He obviously had no better idea how to take them than I did on my first day. I was truly grateful that I somehow managed to tell them apart, so speaking with them was less disconcerting. “Race you to the car!” they called as they passed me and started literally skipping toward it. Father laughed and said, “Do you ever get accustomed to them?” I shrugged and Emma told him “They grow on you.” Then she yelled after the twins “Like a strange fungus that leaves their friend behind!” I laughed and said, “What? My parents and I aren’t company enough?” She stuck her tongue at me. Then father let out a dramatic sigh and complained, “Take a girl to dinner, and she scorns you. That’s women for you, James.”
Emma gaped at him, barely keeping the smile from conquering her feigned shock. “Mrs. Somerset, your husband and James are abusing me!” Mother groaned and declared “James has obviously been a bad influence on his father. I can’t do anything with them, Emma. Sorry, dear.” I looked over at father and said, “Father, mother seems to think there’s something wrong with us.” He nodded and told me “Son, you should be more worried if ever your mother claims there’s nothing wrong with you. Then she’s wanting something from you.” He gave her a wink as she bore an expression between exasperation and amusement. Emma was laughing, but the twins were complaining loudly about how slow the rest of us were. “Someone had to stay behind and protect the cripple. You wouldn’t want Emma getting hurt, would you?” I stepped back just in time to dodge a crutch to the shin. “Bad, man-slave! Behave!” she exclaimed. The twins were concealing their smiles with their hands, and mother asked, “How would everyone feel about going to see The Hunger Games while it’s still in theater?
I was in shock. Mother was actually talking about seeing an action flick in theater? I knew father had read the books, but maybe he convinced mother to read them also. I still hadn’t yet. My work schedule was really cutting into many of my hobbies. Maybe I could get a kindle or something similar after I caught up to father’s expectations on my finances. “Well..” started Ai before Emma covered her mouth with a hand and gave Mai a look. “Yes!!! I would adore seeing it! Please!” exclaimed Emma. Ai, who was allowed to speak again, then said, “Let that be our treat though. We have connections with one of the theater chains.” I was wondering if there was anything with which they weren’t connected. “If you two insist,” started father, and mother told them “That would be lovely. Thank you, girls.” I held Emma’s crutches while she slid into father’s car. Ai and Mai waited for me to open their respective doors before getting into the bright pink bug. I was surprised that father hadn’t commented on me driving it yet, but he was probably off his game a bit with the twins and Emma around.
Mai put in the address of the theater on the phone she shared with her sister. “So what was with Emma covering your mouth, Ai?” The twins looked at one another, shrugged, and then said, “She already made us watch The Hunger Games once, but we don’t mind seeing it again.” Ah. That would explain their reaction. Before I could say more, the GPS on their phone gave a rerouting notification. I heard both of the twins groan and could see Mai typing something on the phone in the rearview mirror. “What’s going on?” I asked them. “Nothing major. We’re just going to a slightly later showing at a different theater.” Being a little surprised by a GPS causing this, I asked if resetting the GPS would be easier. Without a moment’s hesitation, both of them said, “No. Definitely not.” This other theater was twenty minutes farther away than the one to which we had been traveling. Partway there, father called to ask if we were lost. After explaining that the twins insisted we go to a particular theater, he got off the phone. I was certain that I’d be hearing about the extended drive until I arrived to find another surprise.
“Daddy look! James is here with those twins I told you about!” shouted a very excited Aaliyah. I barely had my arms up in time to catch her as she jumped to give me a hug. “Nice to see you again, James. I’m so glad that Mrs. Wilson recommended you to me from the company’s list. Finding a babysitter that Aaliyah gets along with can be difficult at times. She’s rather particular.” I was on a company’s list? “Umm.. I wasn’t aware that I was on any sort of list.” Chad nodded and went on saying, “Oh yeah. The company has you listed as a go-to guy for any sort of help they need. Can’t believe we bumped into one another like this.” Father looked amused as he, mother, and Emma walked over to us. “Chad, this is my father, mother, and, of course, you know Emma. Father. Mother. This is Chad, Aaliyah’s father.” Father shook his hand as mother said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Chad. I do hope my son isn’t teaching your daughter any horrible habits. The girls here have been telling me that he’s all sorts of trouble away from home.” Then she whispered conspiratorially “He gets it from his father.”
Chad laughed and greeted everyone. “James seems great with kids. Aaliyah absolutely adores him. She rarely stops…” His sentence was interrupted by Aaliyah literally leaping from my arms to his and covering his mouth. “DADDY!” she yelled. He was laughing under her little hand, which she started wiping on his shirt sleeve. “You slobbered.” Father, who had started lifting his hand as if to shake Aaliyah’s, wisely placed it behind his back before saying, “I’ve heard wonderful things about you, Aaliyah. I’m glad to finally meet you. Which movie are you seeing?” She shyly hid her head behind Chad’s until he patted her back, and then gave father an enormous grin and told him “The Hunger Games!” Father looked a bit taken aback by this news as he looked from Aaliyah to Chad. “Do you know what the movie is about, Chad?” Chad shrugged. “Aaliyah picked it out after noticing that we get a discount through my work. I read through the summary, but I figure she can handle it at eleven. With the games kids play these days, there won’t be anything in it that she hasn’t already seen.” Father was gaping for a moment, staring at Aaliyah as if trying to fit the age to the tiny girl in Chad’s arms.
Emma, who had been quiet throughout this whole exchange, broke the silence by saying, “At this rate, I’ll beat you all inside even with crutches.” Then she started shuffling toward the theater with all of us in tow. To my surprise, Ai and Mai walked on each side of mother, apparently talking about baking. “I bet James will give you a piggyback ride,” said father to Aaliyah with a smile. I nodded at Chad who set her on my back. Then I sped up a bit, knowing father must want to talk with Chad about something. I wasn’t surprised. Between curiosity about Aaliyah’s size which I shared and this being the first chance father had to talk with one of my clients, I was sure he had plenty to talk about. Plus, father was never rude when he was being inquisitive. If Chad wasn’t up to speaking about Aaliyah’s condition, he wouldn’t be pressed. Aaliyah was light enough that I could easily run with her on my back, so we passed Emma and teased her a bit about going so slow. She laughed and said she’d hit us with her crutch when we least expected it.
When we got inside, we were all greeted by the theater’s manager, Rob. “Ai and Mai, I presume. Having you here is an absolute pleasure. If you’re in the area long, I hope you’ll consider enjoying more of our hospitality.” The twins thanked him and then said that Chad and Aaliyah would be joining us. I looked over at my parents who seemed as bewildered by the reception as I was. Rob then offered to start the movie early for us, since he had arranged a private viewing. I knew that we weren’t there at the busiest hour, but I didn’t see how a theater could afford to set a theater aside on such short notice or even why there would be need for it. I wasn’t about to complain though. Aaliyah, asked me to bend down, and then whispered something to Ai. Mai then told Rob, “Thank you very much. We’re going to play games in the arcade for a bit, so the kid can release some of that energy. Mind starting the movie in fifteen minutes?” Rob assented and then, to my further surprise, took orders for our concessions.
Aaliyah wanted to play air hockey, but I wasn’t going to volunteer to possibly getting my butt kicked by a munchkin in public. Father stated, “James, I’m surprised you aren’t volunteering. You always gave me a run for my money when you were a little tyke.” Then he told Chad “Now he beats me all the time.” I smiled and said that he should give it a shot to see if he still remembered how. Mai got a stepstool from one of the theater’s staff, so Aaliyah could actually stand high enough to play, as well as another mallet for some reason. Father checked with Aaliyah to see if she knew how to play and then let her start the game. I don’t think he even realized the puck had moved until he heard the sound of it entering his goal. Then he took another look at the tiny girl across the table who appeared to be biting her tongue in concentration while waiting for him to serve. Luckily for his ego, I think Aaliyah was taking it easier on him for the rest of the first game and the two that followed. She even almost let him score once.
“I told your father and am guessing you’re curious as well,” started Chad. “One of the many benefits of my job is access to a marvelous medical staff. After I realized that Aaliyah hadn’t grown after her first year with me, I had consulted her doctor about it. Despite the quality of physicians, I swear we were in and out of various medical centers for nearly a month of testing, but they eventually concluded that she has some sort of extremely rare disorder that keeps her from aging normally. They don’t know if she’ll ever mature physically. No matter what happens, she’ll always be my little princess.” I nodded and told him that I had been curious. He smiled and said, “Everyone who spends much time with her is curious. She’s so very agile and strong for her size, and the girl is brilliant. You should put her in front of a computer sometime if you ever need help with one. I’m not the greatest at computers by any means, but I haven’t seen anyone doing the things she does outside of television. She’s made half the programs on my laptop. Anytime I have trouble getting something to work, she’ll fix it in a flash and make it work better.” I had to see this, so I told him “When I babysit her next week, I’ll definitely ask her to show me some things then. That sounds very impressive for her age.”
I gave father a break from getting his butt kicked, and didn’t fair any better than he did. Then I got to see why Mai had grabbed an extra mallet. They each covered half of their side and somehow managed not to get in each other’s way at all. I had never seen two people work in such perfect unison before, even passing off multiple walls to one another in an attempt to trick Aaliyah. After what seemed an amazingly long period of the puck flying back and forth across the table at incredible speed, I started timing them. Rob showed up after four minutes to see if we still wanted the movie to be starting. The twins hadn’t even looked up at his approach, but Aaliyah somehow got a puck past them and scored. They looked at one another, stuck their tongues out at her, and told Rob to lead the way. Aaliyah was all smiles and innocence, skipping behind them. Our concessions were waiting for us on a cart which inspired the twins to turn and ask us all “Anything off the trolley, dear?” in a marvelous British accent. They must have been Harry Potter fans at some point. The theater in which we were seated was one of the large ones, which seemed even more surprising to me. The movie was wonderful and made me even more inclined to read the books, but those stories would have to wait until another time.