Only when I realized how much energy went into maintaining a current in a floating bubble of water did I truly notice how much energy was in the air here. This pond reminded me of the forest, the one where Ai, Mai, Emma, and Regina had camped with me, in that the energy was so plentiful. In most places where I had looked for residual energy, there were far less of the tiny sparkles in the air. Seeing the area through the energy made everything appear more alive to me, as if leaves were suddenly greener and laughs were more mirthful. So entranced was I in the magical practice that I missed Jarod’s return until he was slugging me in the arm. “Heya, boss. So how much of this is your work?” he asked. I pointed and told him “Just the the one in which Aaliyah’s playing over there.” He nodded and responded “I’m surprised that you’re not busy ‘hugging’ the girls some more.” Reading into the implications of his tone, I lost concentration, and the bubble fell. Where a reasonable person would yell in shock, little Aaliyah yelled “WEEEEE!!!” as she cannonballed into the pond.
With how the twins had me working on magic since Jarod had left to change, I never got a chance to come up with any reasonable explanation for how he had found me. “Just look at those back bumpers,” said Jarod, nodding at the back of Ai and Mai, who were grabbing sandwiches off a tray that Jarod must have carried out. I turned away quickly, not wanting to be caught staring. Why didn’t those two have the sense to put on something less frilly before accepting Aaliyah’s offer to swim? Bikinis were bad enough, but wearing lingerie would put most straight guys at a disadvantage when trying not to stare. “You know that referring to things as car parts doesn’t really disguise what you’re saying, right?” I asked. Jarod grinned at me and said, “If they didn’t want you to look, they wouldn’t be dressed like that.” I sighed and stated “Well, I doubt Laura would appreciate you looking.” His grin dropped off far more than I expected. Then he whispered “I’ve been meaning to tell you, but I broke up with Laura a couple weeks ago. She kept asking questions that I couldn’t answer, and I realized things couldn’t work. I know the timing wasn’t great at all, but what could I do? I don’t want her in danger.”
I felt horrible. Some best friend I was. “Jarod, I’m sorry. I um…” I started trying to tell him he could talk with me, but I was interrupted by Emma wolf-whistling at the twins and exclaiming “That food’s looking good!” She gave Jarod and me a wink as she walked by, water sliding from her body as she dried herself with magic. “Hey, could you get me too?” asked Brenna, who apparently thought I had dried Emma. “Sure.” I told her before casting a spell to gather up the water in the area and a second one to toss the water into the pond. She thanked me, and then Jarod was checking her out as she joined the other girls. “I don’t know how you do it, man. You smile and girls melt all over you,“ stated Jarod. “I um…I don’t think it’s quite like that. I don’t know how you made it through the labyrinth. Regina, Emma, and I got lost my first time over here.” I told him. He grinned and said, “When I saw where you were, I just asked Mila for the path. She showed me on the screen. I recognized the pattern when I started memorizing the turns. Ignoring the missing zero, it’s the Fibonacci sequence. First turn, first turn, second turn, third turn, fifth turn, etc. Follow that, and you find that all of the correct paths only have one possible turn.”
I vaguely remembered dealing with that in math at some point, but I had no clue in which class. Jarod was always great at math and anything else he enjoyed though. His grades in english reflected his distaste for the subject, unfortunately. I told him “I really need to take advantage of Mila’s database more. I mainly just use her for driving and finding people in the house.” He nodded and said, “Yeah. The tutorials truly are sweet, despite looking like someone drew them with crayon.” Aaliyah then asked “What’s wrong with crayon?” Jarod knelt down and replied “Nothing, kiddo. I normally relate crayon to poorly colored pictures is all. The things you do look amaaazing. Did you see the food I brought over there?” Aaliyah nodded enthusiastically. Even with her back to me, I could imagine the big smile she gave him. Then she hugged him, soaking his shirt, and said, “Thank you, Jarod! You even brought a blanket!” He grinned in return and told her “Well, someone did say she wanted a picnic. You might want to dry off before sitting on it though.” The last part was said with a look to me, so I obliged him and dried them both off.
At a distance, I hadn’t realized how ornate the large, silver serving tray was or that there was an equally ornate platter on which the sandwiches sat. With the crystal pitcher and glasses as well as plates also on the tray, I felt bad for making Jarod carry everything clear out here. I felt even worse when I started to hear Marco cursing somewhere nearby. Aaliyah darted off into the labyrinth shortly thereafter. We could hear their game of Marco Polo for a couple minutes before they emerged with Marco carrying yet another tray. He smiled and said, “Scusi! I should have followed Jarod immediately. He wasn’t joking about you being in un labirinto. That thing is completely confusing. Thank you, little miss, for your rescue.” Marco truly made even simple meals seem magnificent. He knew just the way to garnish things so they would appear fancier, and the taste never disappointed. He brushed off my apology when I told him “Sorry for having you carry so much this far.” Looking at the floating water over the pond, he told me “You truly do take swimming to a whole new level.” He declined when I invited him to join us and left after being assured everyone was satisfied with the meal.
As soon as we all finished eating, the twins started asking Aaliyah questions about their crafts in Ancient Tribes of Earth. With a tremendous sigh, Aaliyah agreed to go inside, but she insisted that one of the twins remained behind to keep the water going for Jarod and Emma. “James knows how now. Why can’t he do it?” asked Ai. Aaliyah rolled her eyes and said, “The boss-man promised to help Brenna with magic. You should be glad I didn’t mean longer after lunch, since I didn’t give you a precise time. You wouldn’t really want to deprive Jarod of the bubbles, would you?” Ai and Mai looked at one another and shrugged. Then Aaliyah grabbed Ai’s hand and started leading her away while Emma took Mai and Jarod by their arms and started leading them back over to the pond. Brenna and I sat and watched as some sort of plant grew to an enormous size by the pond, lifting Emma into the air. She dove off the plant and into one of the highest bubbles of water in a manner that would have made Aaliyah proud.
Looking over when Brenna touched my arm was a mistake. She was leaning toward me to reach, and my eyes went to the wrong place first. “Um… huh?” I asked. She smiled shyly and inquired, “So where do we begin?” I looked away, took a deep breath, and then positioned myself to face her on the blanket. I guided her to see the residual energy again, which she managed remarkably quickly for only her second time. I showed her the first spell Emma had taught me and helped her create the simple light. Brenna was hesitant and struggled a bit at getting the patterns quite right. She seemed to be able to move the energy more easily than Emma could, though not as easily as me. We practiced for an hour, and then swam for a bit. When we went back to practicing, Emma joined us. She seemed impressed with Brenna’s progress. While she did some work with Brenna, I watched Jarod and Mai climbing the enormous plant again. Those two really seemed to be having fun, but I couldn’t help feeling that Jarod was at a disadvantage when Mai moved the water away from him, leaving him diving farther down than he intended. At least he didn’t have to wonder with which girl he was swimming. If only things could be simple more often.