As the movie ended, I realized the time and thought Aaliyah should be going to bed, but she insisted on showing me one thing first. “It’s a surprise though! You’ve gotta stay there. Cover your eyes, and no peeking!!!” I heard her roll away on her rollerblades. I was going to ask her to take them off when we sat on the couch, since I didn’t want her getting the light green cushion dirty, but she looked so completely adorable when she hopped onto the low cushion and crawled her way to the back. The couch was definitely made for sprawling, being several feet deep, but Aaliyah could lay down on the thing widthwise and barely have the wheels of her rollerblades hanging off. I honestly was a bit distracted by their home theater setup as well. There was a voice activated screen which rolled down from above the fireplace. Then Aaliyah said, “Movies,” which brought up a list I would guess was stored on some form of network accessible storage.
I didn’t bother asking the details at the time, not wanting the food to get cold. I never thought about an apartment having a vast amount to see before I had walked through the door of this building. This place reminded me of countless videos I had looked up dreamily when thinking of what houses in the future would be like. To actually see one in person was incredible. I couldn’t hear Aaliyah rolling anywhere nearby, so I decided to peek and send Jarod a picture of the living room. Instead, I found another distraction. Somehow Aaliyah had replaced the pizza box on the coffee table with a laser tag chest and gun without me hearing a thing. The girl was like a mini ninja when she wanted to be. I went ahead and sent Jarod a picture before strapping on the chest piece. I wasn’t precisely sure where the sensor was for the unit, but I was fairly certain there was a front and back sensor. The thing covered my entire torso.
When I clicked the last strap into place, two bars lit up on my front, probably a health bar and a shield bar. I used the glass of the enormous window as a mirror to see that my back had two bars showing as well. As a test, I shot the laser at my stomach. One of the bars dropped to nothing and a small amount of the other vanished. I wasn’t terribly worried about being at a disadvantage against a small girl, but I was happily surprised when the shield bar started growing back to full. This was going to be fun. I ducked low and started into the dinosaur themed entryway only to get shot in the back twice. A voice echoed throughout the house announcing, “Player one wins the game!” Aaliyah started giggling from right behind me. She was ducked between the couch and the screen separating the jungle off from the entry way. I smiled and shook my head. I should have known better than to underestimate Aaliyah. “It’s on now, princess! How do I reset this thing?” She explained various functions of the gun to me and then quickly skated away as I reset my health bar.
Instead of following her, I ducked through her fairy princess playroom, thinking there was plenty to hide behind in there. Unfortunately, walking through the huge mess was more of an issue than I had initially imagined. I peeked over the wall and didn’t see her anywhere, despite being able to see clearly into the jungle, candyland, dino park, Egypt, and the ocean. She probably doubled back and went upstairs, but she could hide behind the couch in the jungle, the giant cupcake island in the kitchen, or the doors of the gingerbread house. I slipped out the opposite side of the castle from where I had entered, attempting to watch the upper level and lower simultaneously. Then I heard laser fire from overhead, so I ran backwards toward candyland while returning fire. Luckily for me, Aaliyah wasn’t the greatest of shots, since that was a ridiculous move to try pulling off. She only damaged my shield once, and the hit wasn’t nearly as bad as when I had shot myself. The things might consider distance when determining damage.
When I got to the spiral stairs, I caught a glimpse of Aaliyah’s bedroom door opening and shutting, so I thought she might be trying to sneak down behind me. I hurried back across the rooms while doing my best not to be noisy about it. Sure enough, I heard the sound of something scraping against the metal fireman’s pole on the other side of the castle wall. I aimed my gun at the wall between the pole and I, ready to shoot either direction. The wait seemed too long, unless the girl was incredibly patient, so I jumped around and almost fired. She wasn’t there. I quickly ducked behind the castle wall again and attempted to hear where she was. There was the faint sound of someone slowly rolling across the ground toward the other castle opening. I crawled across the ground, looked around the corner, and saw Aaliyah slipping into the castle. I slowly rose over the wall and was about to fire when my phone went off. Jarod just replied to my text.
I opened fire, but she cartwheeled behind her pumpkin carriage and fired back. I was sitting there without shooting, wondering how she landed a cartwheel while wearing rollerblades, when she shot me three times. I ducked quickly and looked down to see half my health was gone. I started firing over the wall and keeping my chest down to buy some time for the shield to charge. I was wounded, but she was cornered. Things could be worse. I was about to charge after her when a foam grenade landed beside me. I took a moment too long to realize that it was a laser tag grenade. “Player one wins the game!” I heard Aaliyah laughing from the other side of her carriage and playfully yelled, “Cheater! You didn’t give me any grenades!” She rolled along over to me, somehow pushing through the mess on the ground. Her big, blue eyes stared up at me with a glisten bespeaking of coming tears. “I wouldn’t cheat! I gave you two grenades!” I walked back over to the coffee table, and then noticed two grenades on the ground.
“Well, you’re too good at this and it’s just not fair.” I stuck my tongue at her, and she laughed. “You just need to practice! You should see daddy play. He’s great at laser tag!” For some reason, I had no doubt that Aaliyah and her father ran around the house regularly, playing whatever game she wanted. The girl was truly a deadly combination of cuteness and skill, likely to grow into the most conniving person alive. I was smiling, but part of me was sad, caught thinking yet again about what never being able to grow up would be like. The moment passed quickly as Aaliyah asked if I wanted to try for three out of five. I picked up the grenades by the coffee table and then casually grabbed the one she had tossed at me. Then I hit the reset on my chest and said, “Sure,” as I started firing at her. I tagged her a few times as she rolled behind the castle wall, triggered a grenade with my other hand, and tossed it. I surely had an expression of shock as the girl managed to jump into the air and bat the grenade back down beside me before it went off.
We probably played far later than we should have, considering that we had to go to her violin lesson in the morning, but she seemed more awake than I did when she jumped onto my bed and woke me up. “Good morning, James!” She was bouncing beside me in what appeared to be pink satin pajamas with ruffles. I looked up at the gear-covered ceiling and thought I should probably be thankful she didn’t have a lever to dump me out of bed. “What time is it?” I asked her. “Nearly six-thirty! You don’t want to miss the day, do you!? Daddy always says that breakfast is important for his princess!” I definitely wouldn’t have let her keep me up so late if I knew we were getting up before the sun. Then I blinked and stared out the window. The sun was partially up. The windows must have been tinted, but I could have sworn they weren’t yesterday. Looking back at Aaliyah, I asked her “What shall we do for breakfast?” Without missing a beat, she exclaimed, “Pancakes! You’ll make me pancakes, won’t you??”
I was certain mother showed me how to make pancakes before, but my foggy mind was desperately hoping that Chad was the type to use a premade batter. “Ok. Let’s head to the kitchen.” The little showoff flipped off the bed without bending her knees and didn’t have the courtesy to even lose a slipper. Even in my tired state, or perhaps due to it, taking the slide downstairs brought a smile to my face. Aaliyah was sitting on the giant cupcake with a huge grin on her face. I never would understand people feeling energetic in the morning. Sleep was too much of a wonderful thing to enjoy abandoning it. A certain amount of dragging after waking was a natural sign of respect, showing a loyal bed that you didn’t truly wish to abandon it. All of this running around and jumping about couldn’t be good on a bed’s ego. “Do you have any sort of ready-to-use batter?” Aaliyah had a thoughtful expression for a moment, and then shook her head negatively while biting her lip. “Mind going somewhere to eat then?”
I told her to clean up and get dressed, and then had the slightly unsettling experience of showering in a giant, glowing ice cube. I knew the ice wasn’t real, but I couldn’t help feeling colder than normal when I stepped out. Aaliyah was sitting on the dinosaur bench when I slid downstairs once more. She was wearing a frilly yellow shirt with a long skirt that went from hot pink to a deep red. One of her socks was vertically striped in pink and black. The other was red with some sort of black pattern. Her shoes at least matched, so I just shook my head as she smiled up at me. “Know anywhere good around here?” She nodded and told me “The top floor’s a restaurant! They’ll make me pancakes!” She stuck her tongue at me, still smiling, and I couldn’t help laughing. “I’m spoiled. Sorry. I don’t get around to cooking very often, so the first several would probably turn out burnt if I tried.”
Aaliyah seemed to forgive my lack of culinary proficiency after I matched her order and devoured the superb blueberry pancakes. She let out a loud belch after finishing her last one and then smiled cutely as I gasped at her. We both broke into fits of laughter. Breakfast was billed to the condo, so I made a note on my phone to mention it to Chad. The building truly was as magnificent as I remembered as we left it for the violin lesson. I had no doubt that Aaliyah would prove to be as talented at violin as she was at everything else. The little girl was truly one of a kind. With Chad coming back for her in a few hours, I would have barely enough time to meet with the limo to attend the dance with my client tonight. Things should go well, but I couldn’t help feeling like there was something about to go horribly wrong.