I barely remembered last night’s jobs when I woke this morning. I did several jobs which all seem blurred together in my mind. For the whole night I was distracted and barely functioning, too stuck on thinking about Nathan’s death at Luke’s hand. The twins had wanted me to take the night off, but I wanted to be distracted for the night. Besides, I wasn’t going to ask Aaliyah to cancel jobs for me, knowing she’d want to know what was wrong. Who could expose such a sweet girl to such a horror? They had talked Emma into following me though. After my last job, I caught sight of the pink bug and gave Emma a call. Ai, Mai, and Regina were all with her. I had claimed they didn’t need to keep track of me, but my argument quickly fell through after they pointed out I forgot to eat entirely. We ended up at a small pizza parlor, drinking soda and talking into the night, which helped. I wasn’t at one hundred percent, but I was feeling better by the end. I was somewhat surprised to find out that Ai and Mai were going to be attending Aaliyah’s party, knowing how they always talked about her. They claimed that not attending would be like letting her win, but I felt they were developing a soft spot for her. Looking at those four girls, I felt extremely happy that they cared enough to give up their nights for my benefit. Having seen again a face of destruction in this city, I realized that letting my guard down truly wasn’t an option.
After a pillow hit my chest, I told myself that even my bed was no longer safe. “James! Why aren’t you dressed yet? Jarod’s probably waiting on us already. GET READY!” exclaimed Regina. Oh. Yeah. I had invited her to tag along last night when we were at the parlor. I rolled over and hugged the pillow she had thrown. Last night’s sleep was interrupted with too many bad dreams. I could use more rest. Jarod wouldn’t care. When Regina reached for my arm, I quickly pulled her onto the bed and hugged her into the pillow. “Sorry. Meant to say that Jarod won’t care if I sleep a bit more.” I told her. Then I realized that wasn’t the pillow I was grabbing. “Sorry!” I exclaimed as I jumped out of bed, knocking Regina to the floor. “Sorry. So sorry. I’m going to get ready now.” I heard her laughing as she said, “And here I thought you were just getting comfortable.” I quickly grabbed some clothes, feeling uncomfortable with her watching me, and rushed to shower. “Girls and their squishy areas… What did she expect to happen when she waylaid me in bed?” I muttered to myself. For a moment I considered that she had expected exactly what did happen, and then I firmly shoved that idea out of my head entirely… for a good three seconds. “Ugh… High school is complicated enough without girls being like that.” Oh. High school was over. There was only a ceremony left.
I had expected Regina to have moved into the kitchen while I was showering. Instead, I found her laying on my bed. When I asked what she was doing, she said, “I didn’t want to risk you falling back asleep when I wasn’t looking. Besides, your bed smells like you. You know you smell great, don’t you, James?” I looked at her for a moment before asking “Have you had breakfast? I probably forgot to mention that Jarod and I were planning to eat together. Shall we go?” She smiled and got out of bed, too slowly for my comfort. I found myself admiring her long legs under those pale green shorts before I turned for the door. We said our farewells to mother and took Mila over to Jarod’s. I wondered how my parents felt with Regina’s car left at the house so often. Then I remembered that I needed to be leaving the house within the month, so that was a moot point now. Mila was doing the driving, so I sent a text to Aaliyah mentioning that I could use help finding a place to live. The girl probably had a great way to look into it. Oh shoot. My first text to Aaliyah on her birthday was about work! I quickly sent her another message wishing her a happy birthday and told her I had a month for the place to live, so there was no rush. Now I really needed to find Aaliyah an amazing present, but what does one get a girl who seemed to have everything she wanted all the time?
“Boys.” stated Regina upon finding out that Jarod was still asleep. I couldn’t blame him. We hadn’t planned on leaving till nine, and my phone said a quarter past eight. I shook Jarod awake, not having anything to toss now that his room was organized. “Huh? I swear I set my alarm. What time is it?” asked a disoriented Jarod. I explained to him that Regina was a bit zealous about leaving early to shop, and I hadn’t thought to look at the time before heading over. Then she and I sat on his bed, talking while he was getting ready. I was glad she wasn’t being as much of a tease as before, talking about how I smell, but she was just as distractingly beautiful. I jumped when Jarod came back in the room, and Regina’s giggle at me jumping did not dissuade him from suggesting we were up to something lewd. He was still assuring me that he didn’t see anything when we got to the mall. The assurances continued well into the first store and the second, which wasn’t helped by the second store. Regina had claimed that Aaliyah might like some jewelry, but I started paying more attention to her after the clerk asked if we were planning on getting married. Regina had wandered over to the engagement rings. “I know they’re shiny, but I really don’t think I should propose to Aaliyah.” I told her, which earned me a laugh and a shake of her head.
Jarod suggested going into Games Nebula and checking out if anything new came out, but I had no doubts that he had been looking at the same game trailer as me in their window. Ancient Tribes of Earth seemed to have stunning graphics and absolutely amazing game play, but I didn’t recognize the company’s logo, the Earth with a tiara on it. I also wondered at which abbreviation would become popular. Neither A.T.E. nor A.T.O.E. seemed like something to brag about playing. The world portrayed in the trailer seemed to be heavy fantasy, filled with all manner of crazy beasts. I shuddered involuntarily as a memory from yesterday came to mind. One of the store’s clerks was claiming that the entire game had been produced in a single month. I found that utterly impossible to believe. Ancient Tribes of Earth promised to be a MMORPG with an enormous world. Even if the trailer was showing every last unique model, placing them throughout the world would take a huge amount of time. Then there’s the tremendous amount of coding to make the whole world function. Creating such a game, even if it didn’t live up to the hype in this store, would take a great number of people and cost a fortune. Jarod asked “Think she’ll like this?” I nodded and said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already tried it though. The game’s been out a week, and I can’t imagine Chad denying her anything.” That didn’t stop Jarod from getting a copy for himself though, and I couldn’t leave him playing alone.
Regina just shook her head in exasperation and asked, “So what are you two going to get Aaliyah?” I didn’t know. We wandered around for a couple hours with the answer staring us in the face. One of the many things abundantly found in malls was food, and Aaliyah seemed to like most everything from what I had seen. Regina tried claiming that Chad would never forgive us for the sugar rush we were purchasing. We bought candies from half the stores that sold it, and then I had a stroke of genius to top off the present: a costume of Vanellope von Schweetz from Wreck It Ralph. We just needed clothes of a similar design that could be modified, a wig, and some craft supplies to do the modifications. I let Chad in on the plan when we realized we needed to know sizes, which he loved the idea, and Regina helped modify the clothes and wig. We ran out of time before the costume was finished, but Regina and Jarod promised before Mila drove them home that they’d get it done in time for the party. As I headed up the elevator to Chad and Aaliyah’s condo, I was all smiles. I doubted even the little princess would expect to be turned into a candy racing queen for her birthday. This should definitely be a birthday Aaliyah would never forget, and I couldn’t be happier to help with it. I already owed the girl so much after such a short time. Today was the day to pay a little back.