I woke to music from The Legend of Zelda being played on the violin. I opened my eyes and looked around my room to find Aaliyah dancing while she played. I laid back down and yawned, enjoying the warmth of my bed. I wasn’t sure how long I had been awake after dreaming of Death… er… Death’s daughter guiding Regina away. I remembered laughing and talking with Aaliyah, but I had no clue when I dozed off again. The music came to an abrupt stop, and I heard more than felt Aaliyah leap onto my bed. “Boss-man, sir! You’re finally awake!” she exclaimed joyfully. I almost asked if she had slept at all, but having been drooled on numerous times when sleep suddenly overtook her, I was certain that she wouldn’t be so energetic if she hadn’t. “Are you certain? I think I may still be dreaming. When did you learn to play that?” I asked. She gazed up at the ceiling and tapped her finger on her chin before answering me. She shrugged and told me “This morning. Want to hear me play the theme from Final Fantasy Two?” I was certainly still dreaming. Aaliyah had barely started taking violin lessons when I met her. I opened one eye and looked at her as she started to play the Final Fantasy theme perfectly. Well, this was Aaliyah, so I probably was awake.
I hugged my pillow, pushing it away a moment later when my cheek found what was likely Aaliyah’s latest drool spot. “When are you making breakfast, boss-man, sir, my wonderful babysitter who wouldn’t let a young girl staaaaaaaaaarve?” she asked as she looked at me and started playing music from The Hunger Games movie. “We had a fun day when we all went and saw that, didn’t we.” I commented. “Staaaaaaaaaaarving” was all she said before falling backward onto the bed with her violin held over her head. “Why didn’t you just ask Marco to cook you something? You hired him to cook after all. You even made sure that a little magic wouldn’t put him off,” I said with another yawn. I didn’t know where she set her violin and bow, but she was standing and tugging on one of my arms with all her might “Fooooood, boss-man, sir. Foooooood.” I knew there was no winning, so I sat up quickly and lifted her over my shoulder before getting out of bed. She giggled and wiggled at first, but then she went limp as we reached the first floor and exclaimed, “Emma! I’ve collapsed from starvation, so James has to carry me all the way to the kitchen! He’s going to make us pancakes!!!”
I turned to find that Emma was being displayed on the mirror by the stairs, apparently from the kitchen. “Oh,” she said, “what happened to Marco?” Aaliyah let out a big sigh before saying, “Doesn’t anyone get the memos? Marco had asked for this morning off. He has a date, so I scheduled James for cooking breakfast and the twins for making lunch. Marco should be back for dinner, but I scheduled Emma to order pizza just in case.” Emma looked amused as she asked, “Can you cook now, James?” I opened my mouth to speak but hesitated as I remembered Regina and Aaliyah making three-dimensional pancakes together. Something was different today. I was still missing Regina, but I didn’t hurt as I had; no tears sprang to my face. “James?” asked Emma. “Oh. Sorry,” I said. I smiled and told her “I can’t do three-d pancakes, but I can manage if I look up a recipe and find the ingredients.” After telling her we’d be there shortly, Aaliyah suggested that we get Jarod on the way. I hadn’t even known Jarod was over again. “And to think he was worried about staying over too often. I bet this is his third time this week.” I said.
“Umm… boss-man, sir, you know it’s July, right?” asked Aaliyah. I stopped walking. Oddly enough, I had forgotten my phone in my room. I never left my phone behind. “Mila, would you bring up the date for us?” I asked. “July 16, 2012” displayed on the nearest mirror in the hands of Mila’s very Alma-like avatar. What happened to June!? I wondered what I had been doing on the fourth. When did I last see my parents? “Staaaaaaaarving… Must get foooood. Jarod first. But then fooooood…” came the voice from my back. Mila showed us the way to Jarod, which wasn’t anywhere near a bedroom. In fact, I hadn’t even known I had a basement of any sort. To get to him, I had to press a panel into the wall, opening a hidden door. Aaliyah managed to drop off from my shoulder, too excited to be held. Given that Mila’s touchscreen mirrors continued down the sloping ramp of the passage, I didn’t buy Aaliyah’s surprise at all, but I couldn’t deny that her enthusiasm was as contagious as it was adorable. What I saw when I rounded the bend made butterflies form in my stomach.
Jarod was laying in the center of a round room, which was covered in symbols I didn’t recognize, although some resembled the patterns of spells. I moved to grab Aaliyah, but she had started running to Jarod while I was still taking in the room. “Jarod! BREAKFAST TIME!” she yelled, which echoed loudly off the stone walls. Much to my relief, Jarod sat up and looked around without any horrible magic being released. “Are you alright?” I asked him. “Hey, dude. What’s up?” he responded with a yawn. “First off, how did you end up sleeping down here?” I inquired. He just sat there, staring at me for a while. As I started to ask what was wrong, he said, “You’re looking better. Finally get some rest?” I nodded and told him that I slept a crazy amount last night. He said, “That’s good. You needed it. Did you know Mila has a floor plan of this place? I started looking at it a while back and noticed there were places I hadn’t seen, so I’ve been investigating them, not that you’ve given me much spare time lately.” I frowned. I vaguely remembered having Aaliyah push my workload off on Jarod. “Luckily,” he continued, “the new guys you got have made this past week easier, or I never would have stumbled across articles on the ghost sightings involving this place.”
“New hires? Ghost sightings? What is he talking about, Aaliyah?” I asked. She gazed up at me with an enormous grin and said, “Isn’t it so neat!? Ghosts, boss-man, sir!!! Ghosts! You didn’t protest when I told you that you were getting this place cheap!” I did my best to assume a stern expression when I said, “Somebody forgot to mention that little detail.” Going by Jarod’s smile, my stern face wasn’t working at all. “Hey, Aaliyah,” he asked, “don’t you think we should all have a ghost hunt one night while you’re here?” Her eyes were filled with excitement as she exclaimed, “YEAAAAAAAAH!!!!” Then she was suddenly serious and said, “If I don’t become one of them, haunting you for starving me to death, first.” She started trying to make ghost sounds as she lifted her hands into the air while Jarod and I were laughing. “Care to have some pancakes, Jarod? I can’t guarantee they’ll be edible, since I’m cooking, but they’ll be warm.” He took on a considering expression and said, “Risk poisoning or attempt to outwait a ghost on an empty stomach. Hmm… Poisoning works.” I laughed and rolled my eyes. Then I asked Aaliyah and Jarod to explain the talk of new hires to me as we walked, not expecting them to be in the kitchen when we arrived. “Uh.. hi! I’m James, your boss. Care to be poisoned for breakfast?” Judging by their confused expressions, I was in for a long day.