Jarod’s party was in full swing, and I had, thus far, managed to avoid drinking anything that tasted remotely alcoholic, despite the twins offering to get me a drink on multiple occasions. Aaliyah was being very shy, hiding behind me at first and then, after expressing worry over being stepped upon, asking me to carry her. Now I sat on the sofa with her sleeping against my chest where I was fairly certain she was drooling. I had attempted to set her in Mai’s bed at one point after getting permission, but she woke up and clung on tight before I managed to set her down. There would be no dancing for me at this party, which wasn’t too bad; I didn’t want to steal attention away from Jarod. The little darling had been disappointed earlier when Jarod didn’t leap to open presents right off the bat. I was a bit anxious to find out what we bought Jarod as well, since Aaliyah never did tell me or even let me hold the package. The food provided, and no doubt prepared, by the twins was going over exceedingly well. They truly did know how to cook, perhaps even as well as mother. Regina was kind enough to bring me snacks off and on, and took to feeding them to me after she caught Emma stealing my plate. Emma only went after my food when I didn’t give up Aaliyah, whom I didn’t feel right passing off when I was being paid to watch her.
Emma had been attempting to dodge some of the attention she was getting from the mass of guys at the party, so she had sat cross-legged on the sofa with her back to the guy who had quickly joined her. With old friends and new mixing, the whole social balance was far different than normal. Regina, being gorgeous, wealthy, and involved with everything, was accustomed to all events from our public school revolving around her. Ai and Mai easily rivaled her in beauty and probably in wealth, and Emma was easily as gorgeous without the unattainability some people perceived in the wealthy. With Laura largely hanging on Jarod, the mutual friends she had with Regina were testing new waters between the twins and Emma. I had never seen Regina seem quite so lost in a crowd, having freedom to move around without a tight circle of company, not that she was ignored by any means. Some of the friends Jarod had from shop class hit on Regina every chance they could, especially in front of me. He had been attempting to do me a favor by making sure people knew Regina and I weren’t actually dating, though only a handful seemed to believe him. I was surprised by the number of people who came to talk with me around the sofa.
Some of them had been under the impression that Aaliyah was somehow my daughter, which apparently stemmed somehow from Regina assuring them I was an only child. There was great difficulty amongst the lot in believing a guy could be a babysitter, which led me to speaking about my business. Due to confidentiality, I didn’t refer to anyone by name, but I did give some vague stories about the sorts of jobs I took. I glanced back between stories and had to take pause when I realized Luke was here, dancing with Ai and Mai. I had to fight a pang of jealousy, knowing I had no claim on them, as I saw how sensually they danced with him. Those two were obviously well-studied in dance, and Luke was athletic to say the least. “Earth to James! What were you saying about being paid to shop?” Jill, a friend of Regina and Laura, seemed very keen on the idea of shopping for profit, so I explained that I was paid more for my ability to carry bags than anything. “When did Luke arrive? I didn’t think he even liked parties.” Nathan, who had snuck up on me, said, “Oh yeah. You’ve missed a lot after dropping the team. Luke apparently got into it with his dad one day. Got kicked out, so my parents let him move in with us till he and I head off to college. I think he agreed to come with me here just to get out of the house. I think he feels a bit overwhelmed by my parents trying to look after him.” I heard about kids getting kicked out before, but I had trouble imagining what could lead up to such an act.
Instead of pursuing the subject further, I got caught up with how the team was doing. Not to my surprise, Nathan was still eating Luke’s dust on all of the sprints. “I miss having you around. No one else gets close enough to try my dust.” laughed Nathan. I smiled and said, “Though you served some of the best, I preferred choking on Luke’s while letting you savor mine. You know you loved it.” He laughed and went to pat my shoulder, stopping when Aaliyah lifted her head. “Cake?” she asked, sniffing the air. She had drooled. I was about to tell her “Not yet.” when the lights went dim. I stood up, holding her gently against my chest, and joined in after people started singing “Happy Birthday” to Jarod. A lamp was being used as a spotlight on him as Mai pushed an enormous birthday cake on a cart toward him. The cake, which was surrounded by candles instead of punctured by them, was made to look like the Batmobile out of the Dark Knight movies. I missed Jarod blowing out the candles as my eyes strained to see Ai in the crowd. The twins never did anything alone, so seeing only one of them showing off the cake made me feel uneasy. Even when the lights turned on, I couldn’t find Ai in the crowd… or Luke. As I waited in line, I could’ve swore I heard a roar, as if some large animal was upset outside the building. Emma started the music again shortly thereafter. If she heard anything, she didn’t seem remotely concerned.
Aaliyah was literally bouncing in my arms with excitement over the cake. My protestation when Mai gave Aaliyah a bigger slice than me went ignored by both of them. Several of the girls found tiny Aaliyah with the huge slice of cake to be utterly adorable, even more so when she tried hiding by hanging over my shoulder to eat the cake behind my back. I nearly dropped my slice when I hurried to grab her legs to stop her from falling. Adding to the spectacle, Regina started feeding me my cake while Emma slipped behind me to help Aaliyah eat hers. “And this” I announced to the assembled crowd “is why I know better than to have children soon.” My comment received several laughs, but the girls continued to remark about how cute Aaliyah was. I couldn’t argue, but I was still shocked that any of them had thought me a father so young. I wasn’t even able to decide if I should or shouldn’t be dating someone. Being a father was not remotely close to happening. With all of the chatter, Regina hadn’t managed to feed me even half of my cake by the time the twins were announcing that Jarod would be opening his presents. I missed Ai rejoining the party and didn’t see Luke around anywhere, though I became a bit distracted when Aaliyah maneuvered around to steal my plate from Regina. I tried telling her she had eaten more than enough already when she stuck some in my mouth. Emma, who was holding Aaliyah’s empty plate, giggled at me and shook her head as I chewed.
Jarod opened present after present, receiving shirts, gift cards, and other typical party gifts. Regina somehow acquired an autographed set of CGC graded comic books that were probably worth a pretty penny by how Jarod gasped upon seeing them. The twins had given Jarod designer clothing which he knew nothing about, model cars which obviously pleased him, and a DVD of the old Teen Wolf movie, which made him laugh. I couldn’t imagine the werewolves we had faced ever playing basketball, but they did go to high school, just like us. Aaliyah wiggled out of my arms to fetch Jarod’s present from her backpack which I set by Mai’s bed when I tried laying Aaliyah down, but she made me carry her through the crowd to have him open it. When at last Jarod tore back the wrapping paper, a plain box of the typical brown variety was revealed. Inside of that box was another wrapped package. After several layers of boxes were removed, he at last pulled out a black tablet with Batman’s logo on it. I mentally subtracted a few hundred dollars from my account. He pushed the button I would have thought turned the tablet on only to find nothing happening. Seeming slightly disappointed, he said, “Thanks, guys. Where’s the cord, so I can get this beauty charging?” Aaliyah rolled her eyes and leaned out of my arms to push the tablet up by his face. When she hit the button, the device stated “Retinal scan verified. Sidekick, Batman, recognized.”
Despite how acquainted I would expect him to be with Aaliyah’s flamboyant technology, Jarod seemed shocked and excited. “I AM BATMAN!” he yelled, lifting the tablet over his head. The crowd cheered and laughed, returning to the festivities shortly thereafter, since Jarod was obviously busy playing with his new toy. The more he played with his tablet, the more money I mentally subtracted from my account. Aaliyah hopped out of my arms once more to show off features to Jarod. There was a hidden stand that allowed the tablet to remain upright on its own. After changing a setting, the tablet projected a keyboard on the ground where Jarod sat. Then Aaliyah pulled a ring and a pair of glasses out that Jarod had missed in earlier boxes. The tablet seemed to track his hand, moving the cursor as he waved it around. Aaliyah explained how to set hand gestures for clicking as well as pointing out the left and right click on the projected keyboard. Several of the more tech-oriented guests joined us, watching the crazy contraption with awe. Not surprising, there were several comments about how they hadn’t seen technology like that before. The eyeglasses turned out to be multipurpose: they could act as a video camera for the tablet, they had hidden earphones, and they could be used instead of the tablet’s screen for what Aaliyah called “stealth mode.” Beyond an amazing birthday present, I suspected Aaliyah intended for us to use the tablet in our pursuit of the supernatural. Let the games begin.