“Here’s a refill. I do hope you’re enjoying your cake.” stated Carl, whose entrance I hadn’t even noticed. He didn’t seem remotely surprised that Aaliyah was now here instead of the beautiful Trix whom Aaliyah had been. “Thank you, Carl! This cake is sooo good! You should steal a piece while you’re here!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she grinned at the elderly man filling her drink. “If you insist, how could I possibly refuse?” he inquired, moving to acquire his own slice. I was amazed how much of the enormous cake was already devoured and couldn’t remember how many slices I had eaten now that I thought about it. A great smile, the type that makes you certain a man is both sincerely delighted and trustworthy, crossed Carl’s face as he bit into the cake. Then without a word, he left us to continue our conversation. Wait. Was there a third plate when he had brought the cake out? “So you see, boss-man, sir, you really don’t have anything to be concerned about. Your amazing secretary is more amazing than you thought, you have the experience of a multitude of dates without consequences, and now you get magnificent company over the most delicious birthday cake you could want!” explained Aaliyah.
Arguing about the cake would be extremely difficult considering the variety of amazing flavors amongst the slices, and my secretary certainly was amazing. I really had to wonder about the lack of consequences though, since I still worried over Chad. I wasn’t going to reveal that Aaliyah was a shapechanger without her consent, and I couldn’t really explain kissing her without mentioning that she looked my age at the time. That would be absolutely beyond explanation, at least beyond any I’d care for someone to contemplate. I was, however, certain that I’d feel guilty every time I talked with the man now. How could I not? “So is the yacht your father’s?” I asked. “Well, it’s ours, but he doesn’t know we own it. He’s never asked when we’ve gone out on it, so I didn’t really have any reason to explain details to him.” she explained. Having such an easygoing father had to be a boon in her line of work. “Where does he think you are right now?” I inquired. “With you, silly. You’re being paid to babysit me!” she happily exclaimed. Great. I kissed someone whom I was being paid to babysit. That was more than a little awkward.
“Don’t look so glum, boss-man, sir! It’s your birthday! Time for happiness and joy! You survived another year even after meeting all sorts of dangerous people.”, said Aaliyah all too giddily. She did have somewhat of a point, but I felt the point might be lessened considering one of the most dangerous of those I met was currently eating cake with me. With how she smiled, I worried a moment that she could read my thoughts. Then she started licking the frosting off her plate, so I decided that her enthusiasm for the cake simply hadn’t subsided. “So how much of the dates did you plan?” I asked, deciding that I truly wanted to know more. “Enough to give you tons of hints and stuff. I needed to find just the right girls in this area to spell out a message with their names for you, and then I wanted ones whose surnames would have a nice flow to them in a couple ways. Plus, I gave consideration to what types of girls you might find attractive at first glance. I really don’t think you could handle dating a girl without magic, by the way. Keeping such a big part of yourself secret wouldn’t sit well with you. In addition, they just wouldn’t be as interesting to you, since there’s all this stuff in which they couldn’t participate.”
As she was talking, I was still thinking of the girls I dated. I took a little while, but I finally did realize they spelled “a princess named” up until Trix. “Okay, so ‘princess’ constantly being mentioned wasn’t a fluke either.” I stated, realizing that the word ‘princess’ came up on at least most of my dates. Aaliyah replied “You got it, boss-man, sir! I’m THE princess, after all. I’m glad you didn’t look at your pay too closely over the past couple weeks. That would’ve been dreadful, since you were paid for all the dates.” I didn’t want to ask, already sure that I had been “babysitting” without realizing it this whole time. “So if I met one of these girls in person…” I started. “Then you’d have an unfair advantage, already knowing stuff about them!” she exclaimed. Some of them probably wouldn’t be bad as friends, but I really didn’t want to risk getting to know them at the moment. Despite Aaliyah’s assurances, I still felt weird over the idea that I magically encouraged people to like me. “Do you think Alma has been doing all of this to me due to my magic?” I asked, unsure if I really wanted to know the answer. Shaking her head, she said, “Nah. She’s barely been affected by you so far. She recognized your power and started thwarting it before you even got her across the street.”
I almost asked how Aaliyah knew about my meeting with Alma, but I remembered that the two seemed to know each other well. “What did you do to Alma that made her dislike babysitting you?” I asked, remembering that being mentioned. Aaliyah sighed dramatically as she set down her fork. Then she told me “I drew Alma a perfectly awesome picture, but she didn’t like how I wrote the ‘V’ when I abbreviated her name, claiming it looked more like a ‘Y’. I called her ‘Alpy’. She took exception to it and started losing her temper. I had some fun with her. Let’s just say that she’s not accustomed to dealing with me.” The explanation was told in such a sing-song manner that I had difficulty taking it seriously, though that would explain the nickname. I might have to ask Alma about it someday. Alma… I really was going to attempt to forgive her. Despite all her scheming and manipulation, I still felt something toward her, something I knew to be special. “Does Alma know you’re the one who’s been going on dates with me?” I asked, somewhat nervously. I couldn’t decide if her knowing would be a good thing or not. How much did Alma know about Aaliyah?
“Ha! That’s a good one, boss-man, sir. You and Carl know the extent I can change my form, boss-man, sir. Our little secret!” she told me with a wink at the end. “So.. Carl knows we were are a date?” I inquired worriedly. Was he going to report me to the authorities? “What’s this ‘were’ talk? We haven’t even finished the cake!” claimed Aaliyah. I jumped when Carl walked past me to cut another slice of cake for Aaliyah. “Don’t worry, James. I would never betray someone whom I’m forced to like.” stated Carl in perfect sincerity. I gazed at him, horrified by the idea, until Aaliyah started giggling. “Carl!” she exclaimed before saying, “He’ll actually believe you if you say it that way.” I looked from the now smiling elderly man to the tiny girl and thought I saw how they really could be friends. I almost protested when he set another slice of cake in front of me, but my stomach growled at that moment. I was setting a new personal record for most eaten, which really was saying something. “Umm.. Thank you.” I muttered before he left again.
Smiling after Carl, Aaliyah said, “He’s not human, boss-man, sir, and no, he doesn’t mind you knowing. In fact, you’ll get your meals for free here starting today!” I wasn’t entirely sure which part to be more shocked about. “That’s one crazy birthday present.” I told her. I couldn’t honestly remember the last time I paid for a meal here. “Does that mean he’s sending me coupons like you, or…” I started asking. Then Aaliyah interrupted, saying, “I get coupons because I think they’re fun! Makes people feel like you’re really getting something special when you get to hand over something other than currency and still get food.” Uh huh. Only Aaliyah. She really was a very unique girl. “Huh. I suddenly don’t feel so bad about getting shown up at Laser Bubbles.” I told her after realizing I was beaten by the game’s creator. “Okay, so I had a slight advantage. Still… I’m glad you liked me, boss-man, sir. Not everyone gets to meet the girl I could have been.”, she said somewhat wistfully. “What do you mean?” I asked her. “Oh. That form was sequenced off my original deoxyribonucleic acid, and the personality, well, let’s say it was extremely accurate for what I would have been had things gone differently.” she explained.
I had a feeling that asking for more explanation would lead into things far beyond me. I really needed to get along with my studies more. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to look into genetics, and Aaliyah probably invented something for determining personalities when she created Ancient Tribes of Earth. The NPCs in that game were easily passable for real people. Imagining something being difficult for Aaliyah was nearly impossible anymore. I shuddered uncomfortably as I remembered Death’s Daughter and hoped the tiny assassin would never meet her. Trying to lighten my mood, I told Aaliyah “Your parents really did well naming you. ‘Trix’ suits you as a nickname.” Grinning at me, she said, “There are a number of meanings associated with Trixibelle, like ‘voyager through life’. I feel that suits me just as well as what you were implying, boss-man, sir.” A girl who didn’t age could voyage through the lives of countless others. “As usual, I can’t really argue with you. So when am I supposed to get you home?” I asked. “I’m heading there shortly, so I can get daddy ready for his day. He’ll be home in no time. Don’t worry. I’ll tell him you had to hurry up and send your greetings.”
As always, Aaliyah seemed to cover all the details before I even considered them. “I think I’ll go for a walk then. I think I’m on some sort of sugar high from all this cake, since I don’t feel tired yet. Maybe I’ll be ready to sleep for a bit afterward. I probably should contact my parents at some point.” I told her. They surely would want to do something for my birthday. Unless Jarod told someone, I doubted the others knew, which was fine by me. I could use some peaceful relaxation today. There was so much to think about, starting with how to start mending things with Alma. “Okay, boss-man, sir. Looks like we’re off, Carl! Thank you for all the wonderful food!”, she said, the last part directed over my shoulder. I stood and shook his hand, saying, “Yes, thank you. That cake was the best in so many slices!” With how he smiled, I was certain he knew I was referring to the different flavors therein. Aaliyah hugged my leg, wished me “happy birthday” again, and vanished before I could respond. “As she told you, you do get to eat here for free.”, said Carl, patting my back as he walked me out. I thanked him and headed out to try getting my head in order. Life was so strange.