Alma held Aaliyah at arm’s reach, looked her in the eye, and asked “Must you do that?” Aaliyah, whose arms were still outstretched, reaching for a hug, grinned and said, “Hugs are like cake. They’re necessary. They make you feel warm and loved, and they simply make the world a better place.” Alma sighed, embraced Aaliyah with one arm, and patted her back with the other, looking more resigned than entertained. “You may rise, James. We are quite obviously done here for the day.” stated Alma. As she spoke, the fires stretching from her back like wings went out. Then I saw the twins and Emma floating over to her as if they were carried by unseen stretchers. “Are they dead?” I asked, feeling my gut tighten as I looked at them. My voice sounded far too hoarse. “Dude, what’s going on?” asked Jarod through the communicator in my ear. I ignored him as Alma turned to look at me incredulously and said, “These two are my cousins, and Emma is the daughter of a valued employee. Why, precisely, would I wish them dead?” I carefully chose my footing on the ruined cement floor and approached her before saying, “We came here to kill you, and you seemed like you were trying to kill us as well.” The pure, beautiful sound of her laugh echoed off the walls, distinctly at ends with my unease.
“Oh, darling, that’s rich. This was simply a training exercise, so I might see how well my cousins have learned these past several months. They are awake, you know.” claimed Alma. “Alpy!” yelled the twins, as they dropped to the ground. The glare they received in return had them quickly standing, curtsying, and saying in unison, “Sorry, Lady Pendreigh.” Alma’s regal bearing only seemed slightly downplayed by the wiggling, giggling girl she held. She then said, “My dear cousins truly mean well, even if their manners need some polish. Speaking of which, won’t someone introduce me to the gawkers in the corner? I have been looking forward to meeting your employees, James.” I took a moment figuring out to whom she was referring, but I eventually spotted Jarod and Brandon peeking out from behind a pallet. I waved them over, despite feeling uneasy still. If Alma wanted any of us dead, we obviously would be. Mai, who quickly leaned against Jarod said, “Jarod Roland Davis, I would like to introduce you to my esteemed cousin, Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V, daughter of Duke Gruffydd Aiden Pendreigh.” Ai casually pointed at Brandon with his thumb and said, “And this is one of the redheads, soulless of Somerset Estate. No clue what he did with his sister.”
Jarod awkwardly waved with his free arm, since Mai was holding his other. Brandon seemed to be extremely confused, looking from Alma to the wreck of a warehouse. As Alma was greeting them, I walked around them over to Emma, who was just waking up. “How are you feeling?” I asked. “Other than a pounding headache and a really sore spot, I’m fine. I see Alma’s in fine form.” she told me. “You knew!? You really are working for her?” I yelled. I hadn’t meant to be so harsh and felt guilty when Emma winced, but I felt a terrible anger bubbling up inside of me. My rage continued bursting out as I said, “All this time that I’ve been talking about hunting down Alma you were working with her? Did you not listen to me when I told you about the people she killed?” Emma looked miserable, but before she could say anything, Alma said, “I killed Georgina Martin. I killed those girls at the dance you attended. I’ve killed countless people for you ever since I arrived.” Her calm confession only heightened my anger. My fists were tight and muscles were taut. I could feel my body trembling. “For me? Why would I want any of those people dead? Georgina was a client of mine, a friend.” I yelled. I knew I should keep my voice down, but I wanted revenge. There was nothing I could do to harm Alma, but she deserved to pay for all the lives she took.
Alma’s vibrant, violet eyes seemed so calm as she said, “They were going to kill you, James. Georgina was obviously hairy at the heel, but you carelessly let her drug you. She planned to sacrifice you in a spell to increase her power. The girls at the school were on the verge of killing off everyone at the dance. There have been many others who were out to kill you. You know the world is a dangerous place, yet you still stumble around looking for a right royal night out without considering what could happen.” Her speech shocked me. I never had considered Georgina to be dangerous. I found myself staring at little Aaliyah who was gazing at me while still holding onto Alma’s neck. She looked sad. “I suppose you knew as well.” I told her, managing to sound a little more calm. “Boss-man, sir, every transaction Alma has made with Best Friend For Hire is written in the books. She’s hired you anonymously numerous times. Even tonight is being paid for at her expense as training. You’ve never turned her down.” she explained. I really couldn’t blame Aaliyah at all. She always did her job to the letter. Since Aaliyah became my secretary, I was too lazy to ever read through my own company’s ledger. “Let’s go home, princess.” I told her, offering her my hand. Alma let her drop down, and Aaliyah squeezed two of my fingers in her small grip.
I walked along with Aaliyah toward the car and knew the others followed me by the numerous footsteps I could hear. “Hey, Jarod, why didn’t you flee?” I asked. He laughed half-heartedly and said, “We started to but only got half a block before we heard Aaliyah, so we decided to pull up here instead. “You abandoned our bikes!?” yelled the twins. I turned toward them and realized I was glaring when they grimaced. “Well, we’ve been had, guys. I’m sorry. Alma is right about me needing to pay more attention. I’ll try to do better,” I said. “Hey, man, Aaliyah said we’re getting paid, and everyone needs a friend at times, right?” observed Brandon. I gave him a smile though I still felt anger burning within me. Ai, Mai, and Emma felt like real friends to me all this time, so finding out that they were working for someone this entire time left me feeling betrayed. How could I ever know how many of the laughs and smiles we shared were just them putting on a show for their job? I need time to think things through. Perhaps I should be looking for other people willing to rent wings in my home.
Brenna was standing nervously by the car as she watched us approach. She would have heard everything through the communicators, so I couldn’t blame her. Things certainly took a shocking turn. I opened the door for her to get back in the car. I turned to Emma and asked “Are you coming? I’m not going to leave you stranded while you’re staying in my house.” Her smile was small, but present. “I’ll get a ride from Mai. Thank you though.” she told me. I shrugged, lifted Aaliyah, and passed her off to Brenna. “Make sure she stays buckled up,” I said. Brandon shrunk slightly from his normal size, leaving his clothes sagging a bit as he stepped into the back. Then Jarod hopped in the passenger side. “Aren’t you going to offer me a lift, James?” inquired Alma. She was tiny, beautiful, and absolutely horrible. “Sorry. Full car,” I said, before stepping inside and driving away. I looked in my rearview mirror as I drove and saw her arms crossed as she tapped her foot. She truly might have saved my life on numerous occasions, but I could hardly regard someone who spent months at deceiving me as a friend. I was far too tired to deal with another lecture. I wanted nothing more than to get home, put Aaliyah back to bed, and go to sleep. Life was crazy enough without someone else forcing crazy upon you.