“I don’t know if they’ll let Aaliyah in here.” stated father as he eyed the line of motorcycles parked along the road. The karaoke event the twins were attending was taking place inside a large bar that seemed slightly out of place in the city. In front of the motorcycles, there was a hitching post like the ones used for horses out of old cowboy movies. There was an enormous wooden awning wrapping around the two visible sides of the building, which, along with the enormous sign simply saying “Saloon”, completed the bar’s out-of-place look. Spying Emma’s pink bug as we parked, I said, “Well, at least we know we’re at the right spot.” Mother turned around to say something, but Aaliyah was already hopping out of the car before she started. My parents and I hurried to catch up as we watched Aaliyah skipping quickly toward the bar, pink backpack bouncing with every skip. By the time we caught up, Aaliyah was handing a card up to the doorman. I was shocked to see that Aaliyah was wearing her antique tiara, since such a priceless piece should be safely locked away. “She’s with us,” said father just as Aaliyah said, “They’re with me!” The doorman, a large, muscle-bound man in an outfit that seemed more appropriate for wrangling cattle, seemed surprised as he gazed at Aaliyah’s card. He said something I didn’t catch, and waved us all through.
Mother and father were obviously as surprised by this as I was. “What is that card?” I asked. Aaliyah handed it up to me, and my confusion wasn’t remotely alleviated. The smooth, black card vaguely resembled an I.D. with a picture of her wearing her tiara in the corner but simply stated
Let Me Pass”
over a strange hologram which read “Slayer, Inc.” and was wrapped in a dragon’s embrace. Father and mother looked over at the card as well, but, by their bewildered expressions, didn’t appear to be getting any more out of it than I was. Aaliyah just grinned at us as she took the card back but didn’t explain a thing, so I turned to my parents and said with a shrug, “She knows people.” Father laughed and mother nodded, but what more could we do. Then I looked around, hoping to see my friends.
The saloon’s cowboy-themed design continued inside, though not so much among the patrons. Sitting along the enormous bar, which stretched the length of a wall, were people in business suits, in flannel shirts, in leather biker gear, and in many other styles. Having rarely even seen inside a bar, I couldn’t say what was typical, but I assumed this wasn’t it. A large part of the opposite wall was taken up by a stage equipped with a very modern-looking speaker system. If not for Emma’s magenta hair and the redheads, I probably would have missed that my friends had a couple tables by the stage. Jarod was sitting between Emma and Ai at one table, and Brandon sat with Brenna at the next one. I introduced my parents to the redheads, which seemed to make the siblings nervous. Brenna straightened out her green dress, though there wasn’t anything out of place. Brandon sat up straight and shook father’s hand. Mother sat next to Brenna with father on the other side, and I took a chair by Brandon, since that put me closest to the other table. Aaliyah scooted a chair over from a nearby table, making a horrible screech against the floor. I would have offered her a hand if she didn’t seem so delighted by it.
“Jaaaaames, I can’t believe you’d let the twerp between us.” complained Mai. “I’m surprised you’re not excited to discuss Ancient Tribes of Earth with her some more.” I told her. She tapped her chin twice in thought before saying, “Fair enough, but couldn’t she just sit on your lap instead of making a scene?” Aaliyah, who was twisting her chair back and forth as if attempting to find the perfect position, looked up gleefully and exclaimed “I get to sit on your lap, boss-man, sir!?” As I started to respond, she tossed her backpack onto her chair and jumped up onto my lap. I fixed her tiara, since it had gone lopsided, and then told her “Sure, you can sit on my lap. I’d ask you to hop up here, but it seems you have.” She hugged me and grinned. Patting her back, I smiled as I imagined Chad vainly trying to scold Aaliyah. I doubted an angry word at her could even escape his lips. “I should have known you would have no trouble getting in,” said Mai, “No one can resist your charm.” I rolled my eyes and explained “I’m really not that charming, but thank you. Aaliyah just showed the man her I.D., and he let us all inside.” Mai looked surprised and asked Aaliyah to see it. Ai turned and grabbed an edge of the card, looking at it intently for a minute before saying it must be a fake. “Wow. That’s completely unfair.” stated Mai as she checked something on her phone. “She has a higher clearance than we do,” explained Ai as she looked over her sister’s shoulder at the phone.
“Higher clearance?” I asked. Aaliyah nodded and said, “The twins and I attended the same school. I might have beaten their scores and worked on certain classified projects for their cousin. Either that or I hacked their system and sent myself a card. Hmm… Which was it?” Ai and Mai looked at one another and then quickly back at Aaliyah as they asked, “You did what!?” Ai grabbed the phone from her sister and started rapidly typing something on it. Father asked me what the commotion was about. He apparently couldn’t hear over all the background noise, so I told him “The twins are just jealous of Aaliyah’s success at their school. Nothing big.” Mother was laughing behind her hand and gazing behind me. When I turned to look, Mai looked completely indignant. I supposed she didn’t care for my explanation very much. “You little brat,” said Ai, “You earned the clearance. Adelmar sends his regards.” Adelmar, the strange man who sent Aaliyah her tiara, must be amazed with the diminutive girl as well, but I had to wonder what sort of work he had her do that earned her such an extravagant present. With Aaliyah, anything seemed to be possible though. I really could not understand how she found the time to get involved with so many things. I mostly just saw her playing games.
My train of thought was derailed when I realized Brandon and Brenna were talking with my parents about their own family. “Yeah, I don’t really remember much about mom, but it’s okay. Dad was great. He had to work a lot of hours at the factory, but he always made time for Brenna and me,” said Brandon. “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened to him?” asked mother. Brenna had to clear her throat as she responded, “He… he was walking home from the bus stop and got mugged. We never found out who or why, but he died in the hospital the next morning.” I felt guilty for never having asked, but I hadn’t wanted to bring up painful memories. I couldn’t imagine watching either of my parents die and not being able to do a thing. Mother was giving Brenna a hug, but I didn’t know what to say to Brandon. Father spoke up, saying, “I’m sorry for your loss. I know nothing can replace a lost loved one, but I hope my son’s making you feel plenty welcome.” Brandon smiled and told him “Yeah. Jame’s… er… the boss-man-guy… is treating me well. Brenna obviously enjoys his company.” Did he really have to say that in such a suggestive way? The poor girl was blushing, and I doubted I was doing any better. Father laughed and responded “Glad to see you have a good sense of humor. You need one around my son.”
We chatted for a while about lighter topics when the twins weren’t stealing my attention. I was talked into signing up for a duet with Emma before she kneeled by my parents to chat. Then Aaliyah had me come with her to sign us up for a song as well. Mai simply informed me that Ai and her were going to sing one with me as well. I was far more happy about father and mother joining in than having to sing myself, not feeling comfortable about my singing voice. Brenna was the only one who refused to get on the list. There were many very talented singers on stage as the night progressed. I realized why when I noticed a sign talking about the competition. The twins had neglected to mention that a prize would be given for the person with the most votes. I had fun singing with Aaliyah, but felt like I was butchering the songs when I sang with the twins or Aaliyah. My parents both had beautiful voices, though they didn’t sound like professionals. I couldn’t help wondering how that skipped me. I was grateful that a waiter was refilling my soda, but I was suspicious of what the twins were drinking. Every time I got up, I was being offered alcohol, though I didn’t feel I even looked old enough to drink.
Aaliyah was the last singer of the night. I was surprised she managed to stay up so late, but she didn’t even seem tired as she climbed the stage. I recognized the song as it started, HIM’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, and I couldn’t stop a shiver from going up my spine. Never before had that song seemed ridiculous, but I hadn’t met Death’s daughter yet when last I heard it. Every reasonable creature should fear the Reaper. Without moving, she could kill us all. Innocent, little Aaliyah sang away though, switching out the lyrics slightly to accommodate a female singer. Somehow, little-by-little, my thoughts left me as the tiny girl stared down at me and continued to sing. She repeated again “We’ll be able to fly… Don’t fear the Reaper…”, and all I could do was wonder at how such a haunting, mystifying sound could come from someone that was utterly adorable. When she finished the song, she received yet another ovation. I was surprised when the bar’s owner took the stage with her and said, “Little Aaliyah here has gotten the most votes tonight, but I’m afraid she can’t win the contest, folks. If any of you missed it, Aaliyah had a single come out today entitled ‘Hmm?’. Unfortunately, being a professional disqualifies her from our little competition, but let’s hear it for her again.”
The crowd gladly obliged the manager, and Aaliyah was all smiles, despite being disqualified for a prize. After Aaliyah left the stage, he continued, saying, “Now unfortunately we have another disqualification here tonight. James Somerset the Third received the second most votes, but he failed to sing anything but duets and trios. The rules clearly state that you must do at least one solo to qualify for a prize. Still folks, let’s hear it for James. Take a bow, son.” I was dumbfounded. My singing was average at best. Why would people vote for me? I awkwardly stood, bowed, and returned to my seat swiftly. “Way to go, boss-dude!” exclaimed Brandon in my ear. “The third most votes went to Ai & Mai Drache, but I’m afraid that this isn’t a team competition. You needed to vote for one or the other, folks, though I can’t honestly tell you which is which. Mind giving us a bow, ladies?” The twins didn’t look pleased, but smiled when they stood and curtsied slightly. “Well, here’s the good news. Fourth place is actually a valid participant. Miss Emma Wilson! Come on up here, girl.” announced the manager. I was surprised again. Emma’s singing was definitely good, but I wouldn’t have said she surpassed some of the others. Perhaps her choice of songs matching her look so well endeared her more than some. Winning the crowd was very important in a vote like this.
My parents were talking and laughing with my friends as we were leaving the bar. Glancing back inside, I realized the place did have a certain elegance in the polished wood and beautiful carvings. I just never would have dreamed a place like this could lead to such a pleasant night. I told my friends I’d see them back at my estate after I dropped my parents off. Father and mother were all smiles the whole way to their home, and I couldn’t be happier. Little Aaliyah, who talked so animatedly at first, fell asleep halfway there, so we were talking in whispers when my parents promised to come visit soon. They both slipped out my door so as not to wake the sleeping princess. I hugged them and asked them to come up with an interesting request to put Marco’s cooking to the test when they arranged to visit. As I drove back to Somerset Estate, I kept glancing at Aaliyah, all curled up on her seat, and feeling slightly saddened that I only had her for one more day. The week with her seemed so very busy, but time flew by all too fast. I knew she looked forward to seeing her father again, but I would be anxiously anticipating when I got to babysit her again. Hopefully soon. Life was always better with a little princess.