Jarod insisted on taking me for a spin to explain the differences in driving without any of the girls tagging along, despite Aaliyah’s indignation. “So the clutch isn’t really necessary, but I left it in and added a resistance system because I feel odd shifting without one. The clutch will lock and unlock the shifter, and feels pretty natural to me.” As I listened to the engine rumble when he accelerated and shifted, I commented “When you talked about electric engines before, you always said they were so very quiet. This thing has a great sound to it.” Jarod fidgeted a bit before telling me “That’s actually something Aaliyah rigged for me. As much as I love the mechanics of electric vehicles, I missed the sound when I was testing things out, so she designed a speaker system that makes appropriate engine-y noises out of the right areas. You can disengage the sound for silent running. Should throw people for a loop if you gun it when they think the car’s off.” I laughed and shook my head. Jarod and Aaliyah went way above and beyond with their work.
“What’s bugging you, Jarod?” He was still seeming nervous for some reason. “I kinda feel bad that I hadn’t asked you before I completely altered your car. Aaliyah was rather persuasive, and her ability to procure the craziest stuff is so cool! If there’s anything you don’t like, I’ll change it right away. Seriously. Anything at all, ok?” I did my best to look serious despite being as giddy as I ever was. Then I told him “Well, Jarod. There is one thing.” His nervousness was priceless. “Oh yeah?” I sat quietly for a good thirty seconds, letting the tension build. “I can’t believe neither of you added a drink dispenser in this thing. What am I going to do if I get thirsty?” Jarod’s goofy grin spread across his face immediately as he joined me in laughing. Then I said, “Honestly, the only thing that’s bothering me is the outrageous debt you two probably acquired for me. How much did all of this cost?” He adjusted the collar of his t-shirt as if it was too tight before telling me “Aaliyah probably wouldn’t want me to tell you, but she sold some patent on one of the parts to cover everything. Selling your old parts would just be paying her back partway.”
Lovely. The little stinker put me in debt to her. In some ways, that was better than owing a bank the money, but how would I know when I paid her back in full? I sighed, feeling I just needed to trust her to take care of the figures in the books. Aaliyah would always be Aaliyah, a talented girl mixed up with far too many things beyond her years. How old should a person be before witnessing magic and fighting though? I didn’t even fully understand the world in which I was now involved. I just knew that I was insanely unprepared after sparring with the twins. I thought Emma’s martial abilities were completely astounding before that little match. Ai and Mai made me realize how inept even my previous teacher was, and I wondered at the age they started learning their skills. Perhaps Aaliyah was truthfully the perfect age for training, and I, at 18, was already too old to ever fully catch up. Having doubt in oneself was never a good sign, but I was determined all the same to prepare for the world ahead of me with all I had. The tricked out car was truly a step in the right direction, despite the debt I incurred, whatever the amount might be.
Jarod finally pulled over and let me drive my baby. I would have surely ran into something had Jarod not parked in a relatively empty street; the acceleration was far greater than I expected. I had hit the pedal a bit hard, wanting to take off, but I doubled the speed limit in the blink of an eye, the power of the beauty throwing me against my seat. “You might want to take it a bit easier until you get the hang of things. If you switch to the digital display, Aaliyah made a shifting guide to help. The thing will show you how efficiently you’re using energy, comparisons on acceleration, and other fun info.” I took Jarod’s advice, switched to the digital display, and tested out the handling for longer than I should have. What sounded like Aaliyah’s voice started talking as a picture of the twins posing together appeared on the dash. “Boss-man, sir, you have an incoming call from the evil twins. Do you wish to accept it?” I glanced over at Jarod who already had a grin to match the one forming on my face before saying, “Yes, please.”
“James! You’re late! What did we do to deserve such abandonment!? We’re paying customers! Have you started being so neglectful with your clientele? You’ll go out of business at this rate!” I knew that my phone could handle video calls, but I never actually used the feature. Seeing the twins talking from my dash when I hadn’t even expected my phone to route through the car had me giddy all over again. “You laugh at our pain now! Oh, James. Has Emma corrupted you so thoroughly? Was it Regina?” I could see Emma smiling behind the twins while Regina, who looked quite indignant, said, “If anyone corrupted him, I would think you two were the ones, flirting with him incessantly.” They turned back to look at her and continued speaking simultaneously. “Oh? What about you kissing him while we were out of the country? That’s not fair play at all.” Regina actually blushed but told them “He was mine first.” to which the twins responded “He’s ours now.” Then Emma just had to comment with a grin, saying “Not if I get him first, though I’m claiming Regina as well.” Jarod was still smiling, but I was feeling distinctly uncomfortable, perhaps not as uncomfortable as Regina, who had been making a retort to the twins.
Then Aaliyah’s voice spoke up from inside the car again. “Boss-man, sir, secretarial override initiated.” The first video call was greatly reduced in volume as a second video appeared on the screen, showing Aaliyah looking rather serious. “I hope you do realize that being late incurs a penalty to our earnings as stated in the policy you wrote, boss-man, sir.” I frowned, remembering that little section. “Thank you, Aaliyah, but should you really be interrupting calls with our clients?” She started pouting and told me “But boss-man, sir, I’m suppose to be taking the calls in the first place! It’s in our contract, remember? This is definitely a business call.” The girl was too cute when she pouted, probably from tremendous practice. “True enough. Can I transfer the call to you, or do I need to have them call your number instead.” The pout instantly transformed into a grin, and she said, “Just drag the video onto our call, and I’ll take it, boss-man, sir! See you when you get here!” I did as she instructed, and both calls cut out.
“Like the car yet?” inquired Jarod whose smile was the epitome of self-gratification. I couldn’t refrain from smiling as I said, “I think I can get accustomed to it, though the features are rather exiguous.” He was still laughing when we pulled up, probably because the DB5 without the insane additions was practically featureless compared with a modern vehicle, lacking power steering, air conditioning, power windows, mp3 players, and other common perks. I reverted the dash back to the standard look before taking the key out of the ignition, another aesthetic touch Jarod insisted on leaving that didn’t bother me at all. The twins started in on me again the moment my door opened. “James, how could you!? You left us talking with her after already being late! She was standing right beside us!” I smiled and took a hand from each of them in an attempt to throw them off before saying, “My deepest apologies, ladies, but my secretary was well within her rights to demand to take the call as per my business contract with her. I’ll do my best to make amends for this dreadful lapse in punctuality during the remainder of the night. What would you like to do first?”
The twins looked appeased, but Regina stood behind them with an undeniable look of displeasure on her face and a crossed-arm stance that made me wince inside. Was every day of practice going to be this touchy now? “We need to clean up, so you may take us home first. Do you have something to change into?” I had planned on stopping by home after practice, not realizing how unusual the day would be. “I’m afraid not. Mind if we stop at my place first?” They sighed dramatically but gave their assent. I attempted to give a quick farewell to the other girls and Jarod, but Regina pressed up against me and kissed me, which derailed my train of thought completely. She seemed so very happy as she pulled away from me and said, “Call me when you get home.” Then I turned to Emma, who jumped at me, so I instinctively caught her. She wrapped her arms around my neck and planted a quick kiss on my lips before saying, “Don’t let Ai and Mai give you too much grief.” Regina was staring daggers until Emma turned to her, touched her arm, and told her “Mmm.. cherry. I wondered what your flavor of the day was. Perhaps we can skip the middleman next time.” Regina blushed and looked completely shocked, and I couldn’t blame her at all.
I started to make my escape as Aaliyah was rattling off my schedule for the week at my side. Then she hugged my leg and whispered up to me “I can get a bat and stand guard for you. You don’t have to be attacked by these conniving girls, boss-man, sir.” She looked so adorable, staring up at me. I knelt down and gave her a hug, and, to my surprise, she kissed my cheek. At that moment, I remembered that Aaliyah was a conniving female as well, despite being the youngest in the room. I needed to be careful around her in case she was somehow developing a crush. Luckily, girls at her age seemed to crush on a different boy each week as I remembered it, so I shouldn’t have to worry for long. Jarod was grinning and shaking his head when I told him I would catch him tomorrow, and I was glad that I couldn’t read his mind, knowing his usual take on things. I opened each door and helped the twins into my car, my very own car, and then drove us to my home where I was instructed just to grab clothing, since Ai and Mai would allow me to freshen up at their place. Part of me worried at what the twins were planning to put me through this time, but I was too taken by the experience of driving my own DB5 to worry excessively. Life was good. Actually, life was great!