By the third game of laser tag, Chad and I were acting as if we were on a team. Aaliyah was far more vicious at laser tag when her father was involved. I remembered when I thought the girl couldn’t shoot straight. I was wrong. Very wrong. She could hit us clear across the condo while doing a cartwheel. She did that. Really. To both of us. In one cartwheel. I was still trying to convince myself that happened when she finished Chad and me off from behind, ending the fifth match. Then she ran to the door, yelling, “CAAAAARL!!!” Chad sighed while I looked at my phone. “We’ll get her next time, James. Figures that it’s almost time for the party. We spent too much time trying to be stealthy last game.” I laughed and said, “No, we won’t, but we’ll have fun trying!” I then sent a text to Regina asking if she could pick up some spare clothes for me. I really worked up a sweat trying to get a hit on Aaliyah. Looking back, I really should have expected that a girl who regularly did this in her own home would be amazing at it. I still couldn’t believe the cartwheel shooting though. Maybe Aaliyah watched too many action films and then somehow pulled off mimicking them in real life. Carl never even had a chance to push the doorbell before Aaliyah opened the door and was bouncing up and down at his feet, telling him about the laser tag matches. “And then daddy was all like ‘Noooo!!!’ as I shot him from above!” was all I caught her say as I approached.
“Hi, Carl. It’s a pleasure to see you again.” He smiled and greeted me as he carried a single, blue crate that appeared to be made out of wood over to the kitchen. The four people who followed him looked to be around my age and seemed a bit bewildered as they took in the condo’s decor. I admitted to myself that there probably wasn’t another home in the world which combined a tropical forest, a castle, an ocean, egypt, candyland, Tron, an iceberg, lava, gears, and the Batcave. “I’m James.” I told them, introducing myself and holding out my hand to the first one, Martin. Then there was Russell, Louise, and Evanna. “I’m here to help out with the party as well, but they haven’t even hinted that I’ll have something to actually do yet.” I told them, and then asked “Do you help Carl cook?” After an assortment of responses me assuring they didn’t cook, Evanna said, “I’m typically a delivery driver. The other three are at least hosts at the restaurant. I have no idea why Carl asked me to come.” Chad, who I hadn’t noticed step up behind me asserted with a laugh “Well, I trust Carl’s cooking. I’m not really worried about the rest. Just try to have a good time and make sure Aaliyah is taken care of. I know she doesn’t look it, but she’s twelve today!” Having to explain Aaliyah’s age versus her appearance to everyone had to get old, but Chad always did it with a smile. Evanna piped in and said, “Lucky girl gets kids prices for years yet then!”
Chad laughed and agreed with her, though the other three caterers looked nervous. “She really enjoys it.” He then went onto talking about his daughter’s doctorates, ability at dance, and other such things which should have earned looks of disbelief, but didn’t. Evanna, still the only one doing any talking, then said, “Sounds like an amazing girl. I see why Carl was so happy to cater. I’ve never heard of him doing this for anyone else, right guys?” The three hosts from the restaurant agreed with her, but still seemed disinclined to converse. “Oh? I didn’t realize the restaurant doesn’t typically cater. It’s probably because Aaliyah does some sort of computer work for Carl when he needs. Probably financial software. She’s brilliant with that stuff. Totally worth it, since he is always giving us free meals. Do you know any of the secret ingredients he uses?” Evanna shrugged. Martin, Russell, and Louise just shook their heads negatively. Conversation was interrupted by the doorbell. Chad answered the door while the rest of us stepped away. I didn’t know how Carl would have food ready in time and was shocked to see a very large amount of food already on the counters when I glanced over there. Before I could attempt to verify that I wasn’t simply losing my mind, Evanna asked, “So James, you said you’re here to work, right?” I looked to her and nodded. “Then how is it that you don’t know what sort of work?”
I started explaining my business to Evanna, which actually got the other three to start talking. I told them about various sorts of jobs I had done for people, leaving out names, of course. Then Russell asked “How do you know Carl then? Has he hired you before?” I explained about going to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce for my first time and how Carl had given me tickets for Aaliyah to have free meals. Evanna started laughing when I was talking about the second time I had met him, but I couldn’t figure out why. “Did I say something funny?” I inquired. She shook her head and said, “Carl just cracks me up. He’s great. Sorry. Looks like I should start serving food here shortly.” Before she could move, I asked “How did he get all of that food prepared already?” She winked and told me “Carl’s a pro in the kitchen.” Then she joined the other three who were picking up trays to carry around. I had been so involved in discussing my business that I missed just how many people were already in the condo. I hoped Regina would be arriving with a change of clothes quickly. My sweat from playing laser tag was still making my clothes stick, and I worried that I might smell. To make matters worse, I didn’t recognize most of the people here, so I wouldn’t be making the best of first impressions at this rate.
“Jaaaames, why are you ignoring us?” asked Mai, causing me to jump. “What has the little creep made you do to have you all sweaty?” inquired Ai as she ran her finger along my arm. I hadn’t realized that they were here. “Well, we..” I started to say, but was interrupted by the twins simultaneously saying, “Nevermind. Take these and go get cleaned up.” I looked into the bag Ai had shoved at me and found clothes. “But I..” I began, but Mai interrupted me and told me “Regina’s busy, so she told us your size and asked us to pick something up.” Ai sighed loudly and said, “I can’t believe that you’re treating us, your kind friends, as servants.” I gave up trying to get a word in and thanked the girls. Then I looked for Chad or Aaliyah in the gathering crowd until I felt a tug on my pants. “You can use my shower. Others might need daddy’s. Now hurry before the evil twins eat all my food!” exclaimed Aaliyah. Either because I wasn’t moving or because of a look of dumbfoundment on my face, Aaliyah sighed and said, “Have you never seen Sherlock? You must deduce things, boss-man, sir. You’re looking around through the crowd with a bag that the twins brought. If the bag had gifts, you’d have probably put them with the others on the table by the window. Since you’re still sweaty and had asked Regina for clothing in a text” ― She held up my phone at this point. ― “anyone would guess you want a place to freshen up. Now go, boss-man, sir! They’re already eating!”
After retrieving my phone, I went upstairs and into Aaliyah’s room, marveling once again at the elegance of the room. I had seen bedrooms smaller than her bathroom, and most were far less elegant. Though I admired the craftsmanship from the cloud-shaped showerhead to the cherubs which appeared to pour water from four corners of the large whirlpool bath, I could never desire a room to be so very pink, even with it appearing to be marble. When I laid out the clothes, I was grateful to find the twins had purchased soap, deodorant, and other such things for me as well, but I winced when I looked at the brands, especially on the clothes. I was likely going to be working for free the next several times they wanted to hire me, assuming they ever did. I frowned. With the twins moving in with me, I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay them back. I truly doubted they would let me simply pay them in money, and I doubted they would really be hiring me again when they’d see me frequently. Why did those two always make everything so completely complicated? I showered and changed with some haste, not wanting to keep Aaliyah waiting too long. The clothes were a perfect fit and felt extremely soft, so I tried pushing thoughts of owing the twins out of my head for now.
I placed my things in the bag and left it on Aaliyah’s bedroom floor and then took the fireman’s pole down into her castle. The colossal mess of toys and clothes in there had gotten me shot by Aaliyah when I had tried pursuing her through it while playing laser tag. How she managed to run through it without tripping was amazing to me. When I stepped out, I spotted Regina, Jarod, and Emma talking with the twins and Aaliyah. When I approached, Aaliyah shouted out “Boss-man, sir, can I open the present??? Regina said that opening it sooner was better than later, so pleeeeaaase.” Her large, blue eyes radiated excitement, and I couldn’t disagree with Regina at all. After I assented, she ripped open the wrapping paper and found a large white box decorated in pictures of candies. Upon removing the lid, she found another white box with similar decoration. When she removed the second lid, her eyes somehow got even bigger, and she yelled “VON SCHWEETZ!!!” Chad had caught sight of his daughter already opening a present and walked over. “Daddy! I’m going to go change!!!” she told him. Chad smiled and assented. “Don’t you want to see what’s under this box?” asked Regina. Aaliyah hesitated only a second before lifting the box out and finding the pile of candy with a gingerbread version of Von Schweetz’s car on top. “Oh my gosh!” she squealed. The princess was happy, and so was I.