Even though I was up most of the night, I was the third to wake, other than my parents. Father and mother were sitting at the table while Regina and Aaliyah were cooking. Perhaps I was still dreaming. I rubbed my eyes and looked again, but Aaliyah was still on a stepstool stirring something while giving directions to Regina. I didn’t even think Regina knew how to cook and had trouble believing that mother would trust a little girl with breakfast for so many guests. I approached warily, still eyeing the procession with great suspicion when my parents greeted me. “James, you never told us that Aaliyah is such an expert little chef. I was going to have Regina make breakfast with me when Aaliyah started rattling off some of her favorite recipes and begged to show us. I think the girl might just like food as much as you do.” Father was smiling and nodding in agreement, though his eyes were staring into a book. I hoped Aaliyah was truly as good at cooking as Chad claimed, because I was missing mother’s cooking to find out.
“Aaliyah was just telling us that she’s going to be your secretary, James. I hadn’t known you were looking for one,” said father. “My website appears to have been hacked, and I don’t know anyone better with computers than Aaliyah. The secretary part has to be approved by her father first, but I’m not against it.” Aaliyah looked as happy as could be and said, “He’ll approve, and then I’ll be the best secretary ever!” Father smiled and inquired “And how are you going to afford such a talented secretary, James? I thought you were still behind your goal.” I shrugged and said, “Not after last night. Regina’s father was more than generous. Though I would have never dreamed of charging her for a dance, I would have needed to work last night if I hadn’t been hired by her. I can’t really back out of the deal, since I’m forced to meet my deadline.” Father nodded, but I could tell he wasn’t precisely pleased. Mother then turned to Aaliyah and asked, “Don’t you want to finish school before you start working, dear? I’m not even sure the government allows people your age to have jobs.”
Aaliyah didn’t miss a beat even as she was dividing what appeared to be batter into different bowls and adding food coloring to some of them. “I actually have a degree! Well, several. Let’s just say that my school allows for slightly different learning curves. I won’t even be the youngest person to get a job, but I’ll be the first to be a secretary!” Degree? She never said anything about having a degree, much less multiple. I wouldn’t blame my parents if they were having trouble digesting this, which their expressions seemed to confirm, especially with Aaliyah declaring this while maintaining the expression of a mad scientist at work over her mixing bowls. “Boss, sir, James, sir, would you mind getting your daddy’s laptop?” she asked with a grin. I did as she asked, tiptoeing around Jarod and Laura, who were still asleep. Aaliyah was sitting on father’s lap when I got back. She let him put in his password, and then opened up the website for the Institute of Autodidacticism. My parents and I couldn’t believe what we were seeing under Aaliyah’s portfolio, a large list of published papers all by the tiny girl in our kitchen, Dr. Aaliyah T. Syphers.
Father was still reading through summaries and occasionally asking questions as the rest of us were enjoying an incredibly strange breakfast. Aaliyah had sat on the counter while telling Regina what to do and letting Regina’s artistic instincts guide the colors as three-dimensional pancakes were constructed. Jarod and Laura had matching expressions of astonishment and joy when Aaliyah woke them with the smell of their food next to their faces. Laura received a fanciful bouquet of flowers, complete with a bee. Jarod received a red sports car, although I couldn’t guess at the model. Mother was delighted by her easel complete with a picture on it. Father failed to notice the depiction of him at his laptop the girls had made for him. For me, the girls created a bed, mixing together two of my favorite things: food and sleep. I jumped when father started laughing. He was looking at his pancake, but said, “Yes, I can get a little too involved when I’m reading. I don’t have the background to understand half of this stuff, but I’m fairly certain that Aaliyah compared moral behavior to a good cheesecake for a philosophical dissertation.”
Jarod was looking over father’s shoulder while chewing on his pancake. “I’m pretty sure she made some of these words up. Who would use that many words over seven characters long in a row?” Aaliyah gave him one of those enormous grins, and told him “Devouring pancakes maximizes consumptive fulfillment, Chiroptera-man!” Jarod, still in his Batman pajamas, started counting letters on his fingers at that point while the rest of us laughed. “Kids these days. When I was her age, I was proud of building a treehouse, not debating philosophy or furthering technology.” father declared with a wave of his hand at his laptop. Jarod shrugged and said, “I was busy restoring cars with my dad when he had the time.” I felt I had a fairly busy childhood. I couldn’t imagine how Aaliyah had found the time to do so very much already. Who would ever dream that a little girl was capable of such enormous feats? I was really curious what life inside of her head was like. Was she screaming in her head, wishing that someone else understood the things she did?
“Daddy!” yelled Aaliyah as she ran to the door. I looked up at the clock and realized that twelve o’clock had already passed unnoticed. “Hey, kiddo. I stopped by your school and picked up that bag you wanted.” Aaliyah was hugging his leg and smiling up at him. She usually seemed happy enough. I just didn’t know how she managed her crazy life so very well at such a young age. Of course, her house had dinosaurs, lava, clockwork gadgets, and an ice cave. That had to help. I smiled, stood, and shook Chad’s hand after he walked over to join us with his daughter skipping at his side. “Aaliyah was just letting us look over some of her papers from school. Very impressive from what I can see, but I really don’t get most of it,” said father. Chad laughed and told us “I don’t either, but her teachers assure me that she is having fun and still learning.” Mother joined the conversation then and mentioned that Aaliyah was interested in being my secretary. “Oh. Well. That will be different. As long as James doesn’t mind. He should know by now that she can be quite a handful.”
“Ugh. Daddy! Behave.” pouted Aaliyah. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t help laughing. She was simply adorable when she wasn’t talking over everyone’s head. Well, she was often adorable then too really. “I’m sure we’ll work things out, but I honestly can’t afford anywhere near what her qualifications are worth.” Chad stopped to consider that a moment. “I honestly hadn’t thought about that yet. Whatever makes her happy is fine by me, honestly.” I looked over at her only to find that she had somehow pickpocketed my cell phone and was dismantling it. “Umm… Aaliyah. I’m going to need that. What are you doing?” Without stopping to look up at me, she said, “Since I’m your secretary, I’m updating your security. Daddy picked up some of my toys from school, so I’m updating your phone’s hardware with a chip I designed. Then I’ll upgrade the software and do something similar to your computer. After I’m finished with the website, I’ll synchronize the hardware, and no one will be able to access the website’s administrative functions except us.”
I had a feeling that getting the complete details of how all of this worked would take a while and bore most of the people there, so I said, “Would you mind sending me a little packet on what all you’re doing sometime?” She rummaged around the bag for a moment before pulling out a phone that seemed identical to mine in size and shape, but her phone was pink with a gold tiara on the back. “Basically, when you attempt to enter your website, everything regarding the site will be sent through the chip instead of using your phone carrier’s service. The chip encrypts the information and sends it through a secure network to which few people have access. No one will be able to access administrative functions for your website without one of these. The software I’m installing will also prevent unauthorized programs from accessing site related data, so you won’t be getting a virus causing you problems. And other stuff.” The last part was said with a grin that made me worry slightly about what “other stuff” might entail. “We’ll probably have to write up a work contract, specifying everything involving your job clearly.”
She gave me that mischievous smile again and handed my phone to me. “I’ve been thinking about getting a job for a while now, so I have a contract prepared. I’ll walk you through where to sign, ok?” Looking at my screen, I saw a web document with thousands of pages. Perusing through the first few paragraphs, I felt that I would need an exceptionally acute lawyer to walk me through this if I were to have any hope of deciphering the legal jargon. “Is this really necessary?” She just nodded. Father whistled when I showed him the document. He then started reading through it. “Basically, son, you can write up your own contract and see if she agrees to it, get her to explain this beast to you in layman’s terms as you sign your way through it, or trust that she has your best interest at heart while signing your life away. Personally, I would take this as a sign that nothing will get past your secretary but still get a walkthrough.” I just nodded as I imagined what this monstrosity would look like in paper. I probably should get a copy printed and stored away in a vault.
Aaliyah and Chad left not long after she finished working on my desktop and testing that everything was working. She was still happily chatting away to Chad about how excited she was at having a job as my secretary while they walked out the door. Regina kissed my cheek and whispered that she’d see me tomorrow for training while Jarod was talking with Laura. Then Regina and Laura left, so I could start getting ready for my job tonight. Jarod had declined a ride from them, saying he wanted to talk with me for a bit. I decided to put off telling him about my suspicions regarding Alma until tomorrow, so I could get Emma’s advice before he got too excited over the prospect. After he left, I sat in my room and thought about all of the strange events of the weekend. I felt like the world had been spinning out control around me without me ever noticing. Now that I was beginning to catch the motion, I wondered how much influence I could actually exert even with help. The world was just so big. I logged into my website to double-check the time for tonight’s job and noticed a picture had been added to the bottom. Aaliyah had drawn a picture in crayon of herself getting a piggyback ride from me and wrote “The Princess has your back!!!” at the bottom.