I woke to the sound of Aaliyah giggling next to me. She was sitting on a pillow with a clipboard in one hand and a pen in her other. Looking at the leg of her pajama pants, I couldn’t see a sign of where the salsa spilled down it last night. I wasn’t sure whether I should tell Aaliyah how she failed me as a plate holder or not. She might fairly argue that I should have remembered where my plate was when I went to stand, but she might also apologize, which probably would leave me feeling bad. I had been crashing hard, all of the tiredness from the early morning yesterday coming back with a vengeance. Looking back at my day, I wasn’t sure how I functioned so well while visiting my parents. The tiredness seemed to vanish while I was playing Ancient Tribes of Earth that morning. “What’s wrong boss-man, sir? You seem to be thinking pretty hard for ten o’clock,” stated Aaliyah. Startled, I quickly said, “I… well… was thinking of how to explain to you that I used you for a plate holder, forgot you had my plate, and spilled salsa on us both when I went to stand last night. Oh, and I got on your phone while you were sleeping.” Grinning at me, she exclaimed “I know! Mila showed me a replay after Emma told me about it this morning!”
Standing and making motions to demonstrate her speech, Aaliyah continued “Then you made the salsa fly through the air like this! And I was all slumped against you like this! Then you dodged back after stepping on chips! And I nearly fell, but you caught me again! It was so amazing! Next time you should do that when I’m awake! What did you think of the demon!? Was it scary enough? When I saw the text, I was all like ‘surprise face’! I knew that had to be you guys. We left off so close to one earlier today! Then I watched a replay of the event and laughed when the evil twins died. They’re so silly!” She paused for a moment to take a deep breath, but then said, “The twins were already logged into the game again when Emma and I peeked in there an hour-ish ago. I talked with her while she had breakfast, but told Marco I just couldn’t eat without you, since you’re my babysitter, boss-man, sir! I may or may not have been convinced to drink a glass of orange juice after Emma made oranges from seeds and had them squeeze themselves into a glass for me. If I did, I would have been doing so in the name of science and stuff, since knowing how many flavors of orange juice Emma can produce is paramount to our understanding of said juice!”
Having sat up during her explanation, I reached over and patted her head. Then I told her “You truly don’t have to wait for me to eat. I don’t want you to staaarve again.” She looked shocked and replied “But boss-man, sir! You taught me that the food’s best when stolen, and I just couldn’t bring myself to steal from Emma! She’s so sweet! You, having taught me the importance of stolen food, couldn’t possibly complain if I followed your instruction! You are the boss-man, after all!” Feeling that I wasn’t going to win this argument, I asked “What’s on the clipboard?” She flipped the clipboard around and showed me what appeared to be a comic book page while saying, “I took up drawing mangas after daddy taught me Japanese! They’re just so cute!” I did my best not to shudder looking at the page, though the scythe drawn therein was enough to give me flashbacks of Death’s daughter. “Don’t fear the reaper, boss-man, sir. I’ll protect you, like my character Wilhelmina! I based her off the one from Dracula, but made her kawaii enough to dazzle baddies! No one wants to hurt her!” said Aaliyah, banishing my flashback with shock. The sweet girl was so well-meaning, and I was glad she couldn’t possibly know the unbridled terror Death’s daughter invoked.
“Come on. Let’s get some breakfast” I told her as I scooped her up off my bed. “Baaaackpaaaack!” she called, stretching out toward the back by my bed. I bent down, so she could reach it, and then continued down to the kitchen. From the fabulous smell, I could tell that Marco was already working his magic for me, but I was still surprised when I saw it. On one of the food carts sat a tray piled with various types of food skewered by wooden spikes. One looked like egg, blueberries, french toast and strawberries. Another appeared to have pancakes and sausage. Yet another was just assorted meats, such as sausage and bacon. My mouth was watering immensely as I imagined how each must taste. “James! The lovely twins had told me you’d be eating in the ballroom again. Ah, girls! What will we do with them?” explained Marco. Seeing Aaliyah, he said, “Oh dolcezza, I, of course, did not mean you! What do you think of my kebabs? Magnifici, no?” She grinned at him and nodded enthusiastically. “We can eat with the evil twins. Right, boss-man, sir?” she asked. With Marco still filling the cart and my stomach rumbling, I could hardly refuse, so I told him I would push the cart to the ballroom for him.
Moments later when Aaliyah practically begged to “drive the cart”, I thought a hyperintelligent, extraordinarily athletic girl would be able to push a cart in a straight line safely. Instead, I found myself nervously watching as she swerved all over the place, nearly missing decorative vases, plants, and other expensive-looking decor. The “vroooom” sounds she made as I jogged to keep up weren’t helping my peace of mind remotely. Perhaps she just liked making me nervous, but I was fairly certain that she couldn’t see too well with her eyes between the cart’s top shelf and the food below. When she made a hard right to turn into the ballroom, I wished for the first time that my glasses didn’t appear to be expensive crystal. As she jumped and landed with her feet on the last shelf, I was confident that she would roll straight into one of the chairs centered in the ballroom, sending the delicious food and drinks flying, but she somehow made the gap with a hair’s width to spare.
“You trusted the twerp with our food!?” demanded Ai, who hadn’t even bothered trying to stop Aaliyah when she was rocketing toward her chair. “We’re lucky she didn’t eat it all.” stated Mai. “Oh come on,” said Emma as she rose from her chair to get a drink, “Aaliyah’s too tiny to eat all this, and she’s always careful in her own way.” I felt my mouth hanging open as I stared at Emma, and not because she looked stunning as ever in her plaid skirt and off-the shoulder tee. My mind just couldn’t grasp any way that Aaliyah’s driving seemed in the same ballpark as “careful”. Though nothing had actually been spilled, there were enough near-collisions to give any sensible man a heart attack fifty times over. When I realized Aaliyah was staring at me and then looking to Emma, I wasn’t completely surprised that she asked “Whatcha staring at, boss-man, sir?” I purposefully closed my mouth, took a moment to think, and then said, “I just wouldn’t have called your driving ‘careful’ as Emma did.” Emma giggled and told me “Relax, man-slave. The kiddo’s got skill! I’d consider letting her drive my bug if she could reach the pedals.”
Aaliyah gleefully asked “Really, Emma!? I can drive your car!?” Emma smiled, patted her head, and replied “Sure thing, kiddo! As soon as you’re old enough, I’ll teach you to drive.” Aaliyah then enthusiastically informed her “I can legally drive now as long as we stay in the boss-man’s drive! I’m sure Jarod will help me rig extenders for the pedals after he’s awake!” Emma almost spat out her drink as she heard the news. One must really be careful what one says around Aaliyah, but I couldn’t help laughing when I saw Emma’s expression. “Umm… I think we better check if Chad cares first. Don’t want to make your daddy upset, right?” asked Emma, almost pleading in desperation. “I’m sure daddy will be excited by the idea! He knows how much I love your car! It’s so pink!” exclaimed Aaliyah. “And new…” pouted Emma. “You won’t have time today.” declared Ai. “We have a major situation on our hands, and you need to help us!” confirmed Mai.
Aaliyah let out a sigh before saying, “But should I really save the world just because my friends were led in over their heads by evil twins?” Undaunted, Ai informed her “Your game is already the top MMORPG on the market. You’ll lose a fortune if the world dies, considering that all of your players are on it.” Aaliyah shrugged and said, “I’m a secretary. Making the game was a hobby.” Mai then said, “But you don’t really want to lose James his cut, do you?” Aaliyah then looked up at me and asked “What do you think, boss-man, sir? Should I help you save the world?” I was quite confident that Aaliyah could trap the demon again at whim, resetting the event, but I was too much of a gamer to take the easy way out. I told her “No, but I would appreciate your help on saving the world together. I seriously doubt you made this event unbeatable. You enjoy games too much for that.” She smiled and said, “Since the boss-man asked, I suppose I can point the way and help save Ancient Tribes of Earth from the dreaded fate bestowed upon it by the evil twins.” Neither Ai nor Mai looked amused, but I was excited. This didn’t seem like the repeatable “epic quest” in most of the games I played. This was truly an adventure unfolding.