Aaliyah’s violin lesson was held in a local music store, probably the most mundane thing I knew about her life when considering what I had seen and heard over the past day. She had only been playing for a little over a month, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the occasional screech as her bow passed over strings. In fact, I was almost relieved to find that there was something the girl didn’t do perfectly yet. She didn’t hit me every time she fired her gun in laser tag, but that didn’t feel like it counted to me with her winning every match. With how exceedingly talented she was at such a broad range of things, she seemed almost inhuman, like an otherworldly being from some work of fiction. When she made a mistake, I could remember that she truly was a human girl with her own flaws and issues, a girl who truly did need a babysitter.
Partway through the lesson, I stepped outside to answer a phone call. “Hey, James! How is everything going,” asked Chad. “Going well. Aaliyah’s at her lesson as we speak. She kicked my butt at laser tag last night. Do you ever win a match?” He laughed and said, “Not really, but we have fun. I’m glad you were able to get everywhere alright. Is there any way you can watch her for another night? We’ve ran into some problems with negotiations, and I won’t be able to return home until Sunday.” This wasn’t good. I had another job tonight, but I had heard a touch of concern in Chad’s voice when he asked. I wasn’t going to let him down. “Does she have anywhere she has to be? I have another job tonight, but I’m certain my parents would love to have her over for a while if you wouldn’t mind.” The relief was plain in his voice as he told me “I don’t mind at all. Your parents seem like wonderful people, and Aaliyah doesn’t have to be anywhere until school on Monday. You’re a lifesaver, James! Feel free to take the car to your parents.”
We talked for a few minutes longer, and he asked me if Aaliyah had made me breakfast, since she’s “quite the little cook.” I shook my head and wondered if the girl had simply wanted to go to the restaurant. “No, she asked me to cook pancakes for her, and I couldn’t honestly remember how to do it from scratch. We ended up eating at the building’s restaurant. I hope you don’t mind.” Luckily, he didn’t. He just laughed and told me how much Aaliyah loved that place. Then he excused himself, saying work was calling, asked me to give his love to Aaliyah, and hung up. I called mother to make sure she didn’t have any big plans for father tonight. “Don’t worry about a thing, dear. Your father won’t complain one bit about us watching Aaliyah. He’s been wanting to beat her at a game ever since he lost to her at air hockey and the games at the amusement park.” I thanked her and said that we would be there in a couple hours.
Aaliyah was biting her tongue in concentration and playing “Ode to Joy” nearly perfectly when I walked back into the practice room. She gave me a toothy grin when she finished and said, “Moran says I’m doing great, so I’ll be getting more difficult songs for next week! Daddy’s going to be so proud!” I smiled and told her that she was sounding wonderful. Moran, her instructor, marked a few more things in her book before saying that their time was up for the week. I was somewhat surprised there were violins made small enough for Aaliyah to play. “What inspired you to learn violin, and where did you end up finding one that you liked?” She smiled at me, obviously happy that I was taking interest, and said, “Daddy loves the sound of violins, so I told him I’d learn it for him. Moran measured my arms and told us what to order from the store, a one-sixteenth violin.”
We hopped into the Mercedes, her far more literally than she probably should have, and started heading back to the condo. “Chad called while you were in your lesson. He sends his love, but I’m afraid that work’s keeping him out of town till tomorrow. How would you feel about spending some time with my parents tonight?” I saw Aaliyah’s mouth drop open and her big, blue eyes looking slightly watery, despite looking through a mirror. “You’re leaving me?” I couldn’t help feeling bad, but I really needed the money. “I have another job tonight, but I’ll be home afterward. Then we can hang out tomorrow until Chad gets home.” I could see her head hanging down out of the corner of my eye as she asked what I was doing. “I’m escorting a girl to her school’s Prom.” I glanced over at her to see the most skeptical look I had ever seen cross a child’s face.
“That doesn’t sound like a job to me. Sounds like a date.” I thought for a moment on how to respond to her, not really wanting to admit that it could be seen that way. “This is different. For one, I’m being paid. When two people go on a date, there are generally romantic intentions. My only intention is to help the girl enjoy her school function.” She still didn’t seem convinced. “But you’re suppose to be babysitting me now. Daddy’s paying you to watch me, right? Shouldn’t you cancel your date?” She definitely wasn’t convinced. “Weren’t you the one who told the twins and Emma that I would never be a bad person? Can you imagine how horrible the girl would feel if I abandoned her on her Prom night? You don’t truly want me to hurt the girl’s feelings and ruin her night, do you?”
Aaliyah was thinking about that for far too long. “What’s her name?” I stopped and thought, but couldn’t remember actually being told. “I’m not honestly certain. I somehow neglected to find out when I accepted the job.” Though not knowing the name of my soon-to-be-friend-who-was-definitely-not-a-date was a bit embarrassing, I was fairly certain that I could pull off asking without looking like a complete fool. “Do you really want to abandon me for some girl whose name you didn’t even bother to ask? You know you would have far more fun staying with me!” I could easily imagine the pleading look Aaliyah surely wore, so I kept my eyes glued to the road, not wanting to risk seeing what was certainly a heart-wrenching plea. “If I wasn’t already committed to this job tonight, I would gladly spend time with you, but I truly don’t want to break my word or be the cause of a girl’s Prom falling to ruin. Besides, my parents are already excited about seeing you again. Father plans on beating you at some game from what I was told.”
The exaggerated sigh that Aaliyah let out was ranked in my mind as one of the cutest things I had seen her do yet, which was quite the accomplishment. “Fine, but we’re watching a movie when you get home. I get to pick, and I refuse to go to bed without it.” I smiled and glanced at her through the mirror, finding that she was crossing her arms and staring up at me with what must have been her business face. “Deal,” I said. We arrived not long after at the condominium complex, headed to the Sypher’s home, and set to work on packing. I sat on the stairs of her pumpkin carriage bed as she shouted down through the fireman hole for me to see if I could spot various articles of clothing that were supposedly in the mess. Then she’d huff off to search through her closet for the missing attire. When she finally slid down the pole, she wore her pink backpack and announced, “Ok. We can go now.” I grabbed my bag, and we headed out.
I had no clue what station was playing while I drove to my parents, but Aaliyah obviously knew every song as she danced in her booster seat and sang along. I missed her unbuckling until she snatched my phone from the cup holder where it was sitting. “Aaliyah, please buckle up.” She did as I instructed and then started taking pictures of herself with my phone. I heard the engine sound of a text arriving from Jarod within moments. “What did he say?” I saw her smiling in the mirror as she told me that Jarod liked the picture and was wondering where I was. She continued texting with him the rest of the way to my home, supposedly telling him about her day and how I was driving Chad’s car. I wasn’t surprised that he was standing in the driveway when we arrived, already wearing his tux for the night. “Dude! This thing is amazing! Hey, Aaliyah. Do you think your dad would mind hiring me to babysit you sometime? What about letting me borrow it to pick up Laura?” I rolled my eyes as Aaliyah tapped her chin with her finger as if thinking about it. I didn’t even bother responding as I carried my bag inside.
Jarod ran inside with Aaliyah on his back moments later. I gave my parents each a hug and apologized for having to rush off. Mother had picked my tuxedo up for me yesterday, saying that it was on her way to a meeting. Though I was surprised, I couldn’t complain about getting help with how busy my weekend was. I went to my room and got ready for the night’s job. Mother insisted on taking pictures of Jarod and me before I could leave. Aaliyah had changed into a dress she apparently had packed, and mother took pictures of her dancing with us. The girl already loved being the center of attention, so I couldn’t help wondering what she was going to be like when the time came for her own Prom. Would she still be so completely tiny? Already running slightly late, I said my farewells and hustled over to the bus stop, resisting the urge to run. Luckily, the bus was running slightly late. The limousine was already waiting for me when I arrived but without a driver named “David” for once. I stepped inside with an apology on my lips only to find that I already knew my client: Regina Gretchen Smith.