Entering Emma’s wing, I heard laughter down the hall. Brenna and Emma were watching as Aaliyah was telling some sort of story, acting out the parts in her gleeful fashion. I sometimes wondered if girls wore bikinis purely to distract guys, ensnaring the poor men in some twisted plot. I couldn’t help feeling things when I looked at them, and I truly did try. Emma appeared every bit as toned as the twins when I had seen them all together and filled out her bikini well. Though Brenna lacked Emma’s muscle tone, she was no less eye-appealing. As I greeted them, I did my best to keep my eyes on their faces, but I couldn’t escape being aware of how much wasn’t covered. “You took soooo long, boss-man, sir. Emma already stuck her feet out of the door and finished the gardening. You should have seen the grass! It was all like ‘I am the tall grass of doom! I will entangle you!’, but then it was like ‘Just kidding! Please don’t hurt me!’ as it shrunk away! It was amaaaazing!” exclaimed Aaliyah. “I honestly don’t know what Tricks is talking about,” stated Brenna, “The grass looks the same to me.” Aaliyah gaped at her with eyes wide and contended “But Brenna! You weren’t even watching!” She shrugged from where she reclined and explained “It’s not my fault that Emma has such comfortable furniture. Who would want to get up after sitting down in this?”
“So just Aaliyah and Emma are joining me in the pond then? I had thought you were excited about swimming.” I stated with a smile. She responded with “Hey, now. All I was saying is that giving up such a comfortable chair to watch the grass grow backward is a horrible plan, especially since none of you have even grabbed a towel yet.” I paused a moment before telling her “I can’t honestly remember the last time I used a towel.” I feared I was starting to blush as I remembered hiding myself just that morning from Mila, but finished saying, “Ai and Mai have gotten me in such a habit of using magic to dry off that I don’t really think about it, despite having some.” Brenna then mumbled “I really need to learn this stuff.” as she stood and threw the towel over her shoulder. Emma hugged her and said, “Aww.. don’t worry. The man-slave is just a show off.” Aaliyah looked at Emma curiously and asked “Where’s your towel then?” I was certain that Emma was just wanting an excuse to hug Brenna, but I was too embarrassed to object when she replied, after a moment’s hesitation, “The man-slave looks too good when he’s showing off for me to steal away his opportunities.” Though her and Brenna’s eyes were making me double-check if my shirt was indeed there, I was glad to see the return of Emma’s impish grin.
After clearing my throat a little, I managed to say, “Since you’re done gardening, will you show us around the yard for a bit before our swim? I seem to recall you wanting to show me some gardens before.” Emma let go of Brenna, smiled, and replied “About time you want to look at your property! I work sooo hard every day at making the place look amazing, and you haven’t even bothered to admire my work.” I rolled my eyes and told her “You’ve been hanging out with the twins a bit too much lately.” Before she could reply again, Aaliyah interjected, saying, “Upsy-daisy,” and grinning at me. “Hey, Tricks, didn’t you go on about being twelve like ten minutes ago?” asked Brenna. Aaliyah stuck her tongue at Brenna as I lifted her up. Then she said, “I have to take over THREE steps for every step of the boss-man, so this is just efficient use of resources. PLUS, he’s babysitting me! You don’t have to be jealous. I’m sure he’d babysit you too if you asked nicely enough.” Brenna started laughing, and continued even more after Emma exclaimed, “Babysit me, man-slave! I want piggyback rides!” Though I didn’t think carrying Emma around would be difficult at all, I really couldn’t trust her to behave if I was. In addition, her wearing a swimsuit while I carried her would definitely make me uncomfortable.
“Look at the man-slave blushing! Letting me sleep with him is fine, but the idea of giving me a piggyback ride makes him blush. I just don’t get boys.” stated Emma. Brenna was gaping at us and said, “You two are…” Emma started giggling as I was attempting to find words. Aaliyah then inquired, “Why are you all sweaty, boss-man, sir? Are you feeling ill?” I walked out the back door in a rush. There was no way I could explain to Aaliyah what Emma had just implied, and attempting to clarify things for Brenna might lead to more awkward questions from Aaliyah. “Isn’t he precious?” commented Emma as she and Brenna followed me. “Are you two… er… were you two… dating?” asked Brenna. Emma laughed and told her “Maybe the man-slave’s right about me spending too much time with the twins. I just love seeing him blush. But no, we haven’t dated yet. We just spent some time in bed together if you know what I mean.” I had glanced back when she stated that and caught her giving a suggestive wink. “I like sleeping with James too! He doesn’t snore, and he keeps the bed all warm! Remember when the twins joined us, Emma!” exclaimed Aaliyah from my back. If only the girl had a clue how horrible that sounded, she might learn not to say such things.
Feeling the need to say something before this got even more out of hand, I quickly told Brenna “They literally mean sleep, and you may have noticed that Aaliyah can fall asleep anywhere at anytime, though I don’t believe she has narcolepsy.” Aaliyah squeezed tighter around my neck and asked “Are you implying that I’m lazy, boss-man, sir? I do TONS of work! I can show you.” I laughed hard and replied as I could “No, Aaliyah. I’m just saying that you have a talent for sleeping when you want. Reading a single one of your contracts seems like more work than most people do in a month, so I have absolutely no doubt that you keep busy writing the things on top of your other projects.” For whatever reason, Brenna looked relieved to me, but I supposed that could simply be me not knowing her well yet. I certainly felt relieved when Emma gave up the innuendo to start acting as a tour guide.
Ignoring the labyrinth, there were numerous flower gardens decorated with bushes and stonework. Emma caused flowered circlets to grow in the first garden, and placed one on Aaliyah, Brenna, and herself. Then little Aaliyah insisted that I needed one as well, at which I reminded myself that I was technically on the clock. Fruit-laden trees could be found scattered throughout the yard with no apparent regard to climate or season. The vegetable garden turned out to be just outside the kitchen, between Emma and Alpy’s wing, and I had to admit its excellence. Though my knowledge of gardening was quite limited, I was fairly certain that most gardens weren’t quite so orderly. Each plant looked identical to others of its type down to the leaf, and every last plant looked ready for picking. Even Brenna seemed quite impressed with the display and asked if she was allowed to pick some occasionally. Emma laughed with delight and told her “ Take what you want whenever the mood strikes you.” When we reached the large grove of trees on the opposite side of the labyrinth from the house, Emma asked if that was mine as well. Before I could tell her “no” Aaliyah replied “Everything up to the streets is the boss-man’s. I thought he’d want room to expand, and I got him a really good deal! The forest is supposedly haunted too!”
My yard was far more immense than I had imagined, but all the talk of hauntings bothered me a bit. I still had no clue who that strange girl we saw in my home was. If there were ghosts, how did Ai and Mai’s family, a family that had hunted the supernatural for generations, not know of them? The twins insisted that ghosts weren’t real. If the girl wasn’t a ghost, what did the rest of us see? Gazing into the grove, I shivered, feeling as if eyes were watching me. Part of me felt relieved when Emma voiced my thoughts, yet I felt all the more worried about the haunting being true. I looked to Brenna and found that she seemed worried as well. Only tiny Aaliyah seemed unfazed by such ideas, commenting loudly “I’m hot. Can we go swimming yet? Ghost hunting in the woods wouldn’t be fun during the day anyways.” Brenna and Emma concurred with her almost in unison, so we headed into the labyrinth. The feeling of being watched never quite left me even as we receded from the grove. That was, at least, until we arrived at the pond. Among the heroic and mythical statues at the labyrinth’s center, there now was one which stood out to me like no other could. Perfectly captured in stone as if Medusa had frozen her flesh, Regina had her place with other great heroes, a figure of beauty and strength that surpassed all the rest in my eyes. I smiled with a tear rolling down my cheek as I heard Aaliyah whisper “Welcome home, Regina. You’ll be remembered here forevermore.” Forevermore.