As we swam, countless emotions passed over me. I was saddened by the loss of Regina, but I was also pleased to have something grand by which to remember her. The cold, hard tombstone her father had purchased didn’t fit my memories at all, but the lifelike statue seemed to embody her essence so well that I had to restrain myself from hugging it. The plinth under her raised her up just enough to be at eye-level with me. “Boss-man, sir! Do it again!!!” called Aaliyah from where she splashed in the pond. I walked away from the statue and formed a bubble of water above the pond, as I had when we first got here to show Brenna more possibilities with magic. I hadn’t expected Aaliyah to go jumping into the bubble, start swimming around, and finish by diving into the pond from it. I should have, but I didn’t. Brenna and Emma were jealous, so I made a larger bubble and asked Emma if she knew how the twins had made a current in theirs back when we were camping. She didn’t, but we still had fun swimming in the bubble of water, until my spell failed. As I went falling into the pond, I managed to scoop Aaliyah up over my head, so she wouldn’t be smushed under the rest of us.
Before I even had a chance to wonder why my spell failed, I found out. “Jaaaames! We can’t believe you went swimming without us!” complained the twins. “Especially in floating water!” exclaimed Ai. “We were the ones who showed you that!” added Mai. “And you did it wrong in any case!” finished the two in unison. During their tirade, Aaliyah clung onto my back, making me swim for both of us. When I looked over at Brenna, she seemed completely shocked. Emma, however, just seemed amused by the twins’ typical antics. “Well, I am actually working at the moment, but I truly am sorry to have made you two feel left out. The rest of us were having a walk through the gardens, and Emma suggested that we go swimming to cool off.” I explained. The twins, looking completely shocked, then said together, “And here we thought you were a gentleman, yet you exclude us from everything!” Ai shook her head disapprovingly and continued with “If your mother, who loved having us over, knew that you ignored us like this…” Mai then finished, saying, “she would be mortified at having such an inconsiderate boy.” They both sighed dramatically, putting the back of opposite hands to their heads and tilting their head back as if overwhelmed by their own statements.
Brenna then asked “Do you date all of the girls you meet, excluding Tricks?” Being shocked by her inquiry, I took a moment to respond. Unfortunately, Aaliyah had to ask “Why am I excluded? The boss-man and I spend all sorts of time together!” Emma started giggling and attempting to cover her mouth with one hand while still treading water. Brenna didn’t quite seem to know how to reply to Aaliyah’s question, but Ai said, “See. My sister and I are ignored while you spend all your time with the twerp.” I looked over to Emma and asked “Seriously. Does it ever bother you how often Ai talks in the third person?” Water splashed me in the face from nowhere, though I was certain one of the twins had done it, so I grinned at them. I could see that even Brenna smiled at my remark, despite rolling her eyes. “So what brought you two out here?” I asked, realizing Mila couldn’t have told them our location outside the house.
“Mai’s doing some work as a jeweler in Ancient Tribes of Earth and had some questions, so I thought I’d come help her look for the twerp.” stated Ai. Mai rolled her eyes and said, “Ai also wants some tips on metallurgy while you’re at it, since we’re pretty sure she has to make the alloy for the necklace I want.” I blinked, trying to comprehend how the twins of all people became addicted to that game so quickly. Granted that Ancient Tribes of Earth was the single most entertaining game I have ever played, but Ai and Mai weren’t into games at all before. While I attempted to work through my astonishment, Aaliyah told them, “I’ll help you out after lunch if you show the boss-man how to properly do your floating water trick AND swim with us for a bit.” The twins looked at one another, shrugged, and then proceeded to pull their shirts off, much to my chagrin. Aaliyah then asked, sounding quite distraught, “Boss-man, sir, why don’t you yell at the twins for changing in front of you when you yelled at me earlier? I at least had my swimsuit under my clothes. They’ve just got undies.”
I still felt bad about that, so I explained “I didn’t realize you already had your swimsuit on under your clothing, and I am sorry I yelled. You startled me. Ai and Mai definitely know better than to change in front of a guy, but they don’t seem to care. I simply wish to help you learn a sense of propriety where I have no hope for the twins.” I felt Aaliyah squeeze slightly tighter before saying, “It’s okay, boss-man, sir. No one has any hope for the evil twins.” Ai and Mai both exclaimed “HEY!” in unison. “My dear sister, we truly are underappreciated here.” commented Mai. “Yes, sister, I do believe you’re correct, much to my sorrow.” Then together they said, “And yet we still try so very hard to get along with these people.” As they spoke, all of us were lifted into the air in an assortment of water bubbles. Brenna squeaked as she rose while Aaliyah squealed with joy. The latter let go of my back and started swimming between bubbles. I had to remind myself that there was still plenty of water in the pond beneath us if she missed a jump and fell. I was certain that I would miss if I tried such insane stunts.
True to their word, the twins started teaching me how to add the upward current to the water, but I didn’t feel that leaning against me and drawing patterns on my arm as they did was entirely necessary. Poor Brenna seemed uneasy by their behavior, going so far as to close her eyes. Emma, however, pressed against my back, wrapping her arms around me and looking over my shoulder to watch as well. I was trying so hard to concentrate that I missed Aaliyah coming near until she popped up in front of me and grinned. “Did you see that one, boss-man, sir? I was all like ‘I’m a bird!” and then dived past Brenna, but she was too busy staring at magic stuff to notice.” explained Aaliyah excitedly. I often forgot Aliyah couldn’t see magic and probably didn’t understand the danger of surprising someone learning a spell. But wait. How did she know Brenna was staring at magic? WAIT. BRENNA’S STARING AT MAGIC? I looked up to where Brenna was floating in her own bubble to find that the girl wasn’t just staring, but she was moving the energy, albeit not very much.
The twins reacted much more quickly than I did, swimming up to Brenna in a heartbeat. “Wow. Even soulless are learning magic these days. Any idea what you’re doing there?” asked Mai. “Looks to me like part of a fire spell. Perhaps she wants to boil the water she’s in.” commented Ai. Brenna’s concentration left her as a horrified expression sprang to her face. “Don’t be discouraged,” I told her as I joined them, “The twins are just trying warn you about the dangers of experimenting on your own. Magic can be very dangerous, but you weren’t close to burning yourself to death.” Mai shrugged and Ai said, “She could have boiled her toe.” Then Mai added “Or singed off some hair.” I smiled and told her “What I’d like to see you take away from this is that you have the potential to learn it. You’ve taken your very first step.” Brenna smiled sheepishly, but the twins just had to say, “Just don’t let us catch you doing magic on your own until you know what you’re doing, or we may show you how our family teaches.” Ai and Mai were smiling sweetly, but their comment seemed all too sinister for my liking. I remembered well how Emma and I had worried over their possible death when last the twins were tested by their family.
I convinced Brenna to relax after assuring her that I would work with her more after lunch, but I felt very uncomfortable when she impulsively hugged me, mostly because the twins yelled “Group hug!” and joined in. Aaliyah and Emma wouldn’t be left out, and squeezed in as well. Between the bikinis and the underwear, my calm was not faring well at all. “Wow. So this is what you do while I’m at work. Great plan, James!” commented Jarod. He was standing at the pond’s edge, looking up at all the floating water with a grin. I started trying to find the right way to say that things weren’t as they appeared, but Jarod then said, “Marco wanted to know if you were wanting lunch outside today, and I told him I’d find you when he couldn’t reach your phone. The bubbles are a bit hard to miss from the back of the house.” I had to admit that we were a fair distance into the air, well above the labyrinth’s walls, but I still didn’t know what to say. While I still floundered in search of words, Aaliyah exclaimed “It’ll be like a picnic! You’re going to join us, right!?” Jarod, still smiling, told her “I don’t know. I usually only swim through the air on Sundays, but I guess I can make an exception for you. Just let me get changed and tell Marco that I’ll bring lunch out.” I knew Jarod wouldn’t let the situation just die, but I was glad for the opportunity to think on what I would say. Life was always so complicated anymore.