Regina was looking over my shoulder as I stared at my phone in shock while more messages were flooding in from my email and text client. The buzzing hadn’t stopped yet when she grabbed the phone from my hand and tossed it over to my mother who had been watching us with father and Aaliyah. I saw a tear rolling down Aaliyah’s cheek as her head moved with the motion of the phone through the air, but the camera remained perfectly fixed on me even as Regina pulled on my hand, wanting me to return to the dance floor. “You’re still mine for tonight, James. You can deal with that mess later.” She seemed even more disturbed than I about my slew of messages. “What’s wrong?” I asked her. She looked at me, and I could tell she was going to lie by the way her eyes squinched together, a tell she’s had as long as I’ve known her. I pulled her toward me and kissed her forehead. “No lies. Please? We don’t need them with each other.”
She hesitated a moment before telling me “I’m worried that my luck just wore out. The moment we kissed you received all of those messages. All of those people are trying to steal you away from me before our night’s even over. What are the odds of that?” I smiled, brushed a hair away from her eye, and said, “What if all of those people suddenly realized I have value to someone, so they’re striving to see why?” She rolled her eyes and returned my smile. “You’re Prom king, remember? Everyone likes you.” I shook my head and told her “Everyone likes you. They all wanted to thank you for what you’ve given them.” I hadn’t seen Jarod and Laura near us until he spoke. “Nah. They all just wanted to see if you two would make a scene if forced near each other. Bet they were shocked when you arrived together!” My amazement at how someone’s grin could literally split their face never ceased when Jarod was around. Laura was having a fit of giggles over Jarod’s obvious self-gratification, being completely delighted by his own comment.
We all danced together till the end and still found Aaliyah, somehow awake, following every moment with the camera when we came to collect my parents. “Do you need help cleaning up,” asked father, probably tired of having nothing to do. “No, thank you. Dad actually arranged for a cleaning service to take care of everything for me tomorrow.” He shrugged and offered mother his arm. “We’re heading straight to bed when we get home, but I left some snacks for all of you. Aaliyah knows where, but you probably shouldn’t let her stay up too late.” Wait. All of us? Who else was sleeping over? The seemingly endless conspiracy had me so engrossed that I nearly forgot to get my phone back and had to run after my parents to get it. When I returned to the group, I found Regina asking Aaliyah if she was ready for a party. “PARTY!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she jumped off the table, flipped, and twisted in the air to face us. “Whoa. I’ve gotta see the footage of that,” said Jarod, who was applauding Aaliyah’s gymnastic skills. I hadn’t even noticed that the camera was still rolling.
“You weren’t lying, James. She’s talented.” stated Regina who was holding my arm as we followed Aaliyah, who was walking backward as she filmed us, out to the car. Aaliyah didn’t even miss a step when she backed into the limo. “You know that you can probably stop filming now, right? We’re just going to my house.” Aaliyah nodded but said, “Your daddy put me in charge of the camera, so I get to decide when the movie’s done!” I just rolled my eyes as the limo started moving. Then Jarod surprised us all when he yelled out “You guys won’t believe this! A fire destroyed an entire building while we were in the dance!” Regina shrugged. “Fires happen all the time.” Laura looked confused with her head on Jarod’s shoulder as she read the article on his phone. “They don’t happen like this. The entire building was torched, yet there wasn’t any damage to the surrounding buildings. The best part is the entire fire, which incinerated everything within the building, was said to engulf the building and then disappear within minutes.”
Regina and I shared a look. Jarod was obviously believing this fire was in some way magical, and I had to admit that what he was saying did sound supernatural. I pointed at Laura and mouthed “Later.” to him before saying, “That definitely sounds incredible, but which tabloid posted this?” His enthusiasm died down only slightly as he told me “Hey. This is still newsworthy even if you question the accuracy of the report.” I realized I might have to edit Aaliyah’s video slightly before my parents watched all of it as I saw her still pointing the camera at me. If Aaliyah had recorded what I did, my parents would probably catch that I was keeping something from Laura and wonder why. She, however, seemed completely engrossed in the article. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this is all over the web tomorrow. You shouldn’t poke fun at Jarod’s obsessions.” He said, “Yeah!” Then looked over at her and exclaimed “Wait. Obsessions? I’m not obsessed! I just enjoy good stories.”
“I bet somebody got it on camera. You should check the tube!” stated Aaliyah who had been so quiet with her recording. We were almost at my house, so I told her I would bring it up on the tv after we got settled. The chauffeur opened the trunk after we stepped out of the vehicle to unladen it of luggage. Even Jarod had a gym bag to collect. I really was kept well out of the loop on this one. I couldn’t help thinking as we went inside that I no longer could afford missing so many details around me. Now that I knew monsters did lurk in the dark and was being taught magic to keep myself safe, I had an obligation to keep others safe as well. Realizing what was happening around me before getting smacked in the face with it could make the difference between saving a life or watching someone die. “And cut!” yelled Aaliyah before all of us shushed her. She smiled up at us all, rocking on her feet, and said, “Sorry. I’ll be quiet. You need to change for the next scene: Quiet party time!”
The girls went to change in the restroom while Jarod and I went to my room. I couldn’t help laughing when I finished changing and noticed what Jarod was wearing. He somehow had found a black Batman onesie sized for men complete with a cape and bat-eared hood. I was just wearing flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt. “What, man? This thing’s awesome! You know you want one.” I told him “I’m just feeling underdressed and don’t know how to step it up while still being ready for bed is all.” He smiled and struck a pose before saying in a guttural voice, “I know. I’m Batman.” We sat on the couch in the living room for a while before the girls came out. Aaliyah was wearing her pink satin pajamas again, Laura was in black pajama bottoms covered by pink hearts and a black tanktop, and Regina wore a buttoned pink shirt with black polka dots and matching pants. “And there they are, Jarod, showing me up nearly as well as you.”
Regina and Laura bursted with laughter as Jarod pulled his hood up and jumped to the floor, striking a pose for the girls. Aaliyah exclaimed, “That’s so cool!!! I’ll be the female Robin from an alternate reality where she’s the hero and he’s the sidekick!” Jarod opened his mouth to protest but didn’t seem to know where to start. “How about making your first mission be showing Batman where the snacks are, so we don’t wither away from starvation?” I inquired with one hand over my stomach and my other over my head as I pretended to go through death throes on the couch. Aaliyah excitedly took her part, ordering her reluctant sidekick to reach everything she couldn’t, which was practically all of the food. Mother apparently knew better than to leave things in easy reach, although I could easily imagine Aaliyah performing great acrobatic feats to reach anything she really wanted.
Regina hit me. She used a pillow, but she still hit me. I should have seen it coming, but I was enjoying the couch. I pouted at her and pointed at my cheek where the offending pillow involuntarily abused me. “Aww… Did the lazy boy who didn’t bother bringing out blankets or pillows get an owie?” She kissed my cheek and smiled at me. “Is that better?” I wasn’t accustomed to Regina being quite so affectionate, but I couldn’t protest. I was going to say, “Yes,” but I got distracted by a small weight on my legs. “Where’s the tube?” asked Aaliyah from her spot on my legs. She completely ignored me as I gently lifted her into the air, being careful not to throw her off. “Batman! Pass me the multifunction, light-emitting communication device!” Jarod only looked confused for a second before setting the snacks he held on top of me and looking for the universal remote. “Do you really consider this a communication device?” he asked as he handed it to her.
“Of course. It tells the T.V. what I want it to do. That’s communication just like my mouth telling you that the floor doesn’t look comfy enough yet. To work, Batman! Lives are at stake!” Regina and Laura looked as amused as I felt by the whole exchange. Jarod was obediently laying out blankets for all of us to lie upon. Aaliyah had apparently mastered my family’s entertainment system. She turned everything on and even connected father’s laptop, which he had apparently left out. I was expecting her to ask me to enter his password, but she was already to the desktop when the display came up on the television. “Did he take his password protection off for you earlier?” I inquired. She smiled at me and said, “I’m Robin. No password can stop me!” I definitely would have to get her to teach me whatever trick she just used, assuming she wasn’t just messing with me.
By the time everyone was stretched out on the floor, Aaliyah had already found footage of the fire. Whoever recorded it managed to get over a minute of footage. The fire, which had seemed a mighty inferno, truly did vanish in a flash toward the end. When we were watching a second time, I noticed something more disturbing to me. In the last second of the video, the camera was lowered before it was turned off. That brief moment captured part of a girl’s leg; a girl who had auburn hair hanging loose down to her calf. Alma. I couldn’t believe there just happened to be another girl with hair like hers roaming the city. What was she doing at yet another fire? Regina, who was using my arm as a pillow instead of the one she brought out, must have felt me tense. “Is something wrong?” she whispered. I whispered in reply “I’ll tell you later.” A tug on my other arm, which Aaliyah was hugging, was followed by “No whispers, you two. This is quiet party time! I need more chips!”