“Wow. That looks amazing!” exclaimed Portentia. I quickly looked behind me, but didn’t notice anything that really stood out until I caught the sign. A man in a pinstriped suit was holding out a plate of food. The window had text over it, saying, “I’m gonna make you a breakfast you can’t refuse.” I never heard of Papa Stefano’s before. “Are you hungry?” I asked. Portentia hesitated a moment before saying, “I really don’t need to eat at all.” She was. “Mila, how are the reviews on that place?” I inquired. In a sultry tone, she told me “Oh, master, the restaurant has a four-point-three star average rating out of five, and reviews claim the food is ‘to die for’. If I had lips, I’d shared a bite with you there over and over.” I refrained from sighing, since Mila couldn’t seem to help Emma’s influence from getting to her. “Please drop off us there.” I replied. “Certainly, master, but you’ll require a change of clothes. The princess has directed me to take you around the block where you both can acquire said clothing and change. She’s arranging reservations as I speak.” Portentia, who was reading text projected on Mila’s windshield, looked disturbed and questioningly said, “The princess? That’s the second time Mila’s mentioned her.”
“Oh. That’s a nickname for my secretary. She’s not royalty, at least to my knowledge.” I explained. “Okaaay. As long as she’s not an assassin, we’re good,” said Portentia. I blinked and, unfortunately, stuttered when I asked “An assassin?” She nodded and told me “Yeah. As a superhero, I hear some crazy tales. Supposedly, there’s an assassin out there that goes by ‘the princess’. She’s on my list of people to stop. Goin’ around and killin’ just ain’t right, especially for profit.” Oh boy. Mila was certainly reporting this to Aaliyah. Wait. Aaliyah was arranging clothing for both of us, so… she didn’t mind? I really hoped this wasn’t part of some elaborate assassination plan. “Sounds pretty scary. Aren’t you worried that she might kill you if you met?” I asked. Portentia laughed and said, “I can’t die, remember? I’ve been shot, stabbed, beaten, dropped from high buildings, blown up…” The list continued until we got out of the car. Then Portentia stopped to ask “Is this the right spot? This place looks insanely expensive.” Considering the suits and dresses on the manikins, I wasn’t going to argue, but I wasn’t going to argue with Aaliyah about what we needed to wear for Papa Stefano’s either.
As we walked inside, there were several women there to greet us. “Mr. Somerset, we’re so pleased to have you here. We have a room set for each of you if you don’t mind coming this way,” said the tallest of the women. “What kind of secretary do you have?” whispered Portentia. I couldn’t blame her for being shocked, but I couldn’t really even attempt to explain Aaliyah. “A twelve-year-old with a big imagination.” I told her, trying not to think of the previous night. Portentia tried forming words numerous times, but she didn’t manage to actually say anything before one of the women guided her off. My attendant guided me in a different direction and into a room with a comfortable looking chair and a small table holding refreshments in the center. Mirrors lined the wall, providing a dizzying view of myself. “Gentleman,” said the attendant as she clapped. Five guys, each wearing a slightly different suit, walked out into the room, stopping in front of me and posing a few ways before forming a line. “Are any of these to your liking? If not, we’ll need only a moment to show you the next set.” stated the attendant. I wasn’t accustomed to shopping like this at all.
“Umm… The second from the left is my favorite of these.” I told her, surprised when the man took a step forward and posed again. The lady waved her hand toward the door, and the guys all headed that way. “We’ll show you our favorite color options momentarily,” she said, smiling at me. The woman’s slim figure was very apparent in the tight dress she wore, and the mirrors didn’t make finding a place to look any easier. I resigned myself to staring at my water as I waited, wondering how a place carried only suits I liked. Picking a “favorite” might as well have been a coin flip for me, since I picked off the lack of a tie more than anything. I didn’t really feel like wearing a tie today. A vest could get hot under a jacket, but I could leave the jacket in Mila. I was running out of thoughts on the suits and feeling more nervous under the attendant’s gaze when the gentleman finally came back, now wearing different colors of the suits. I only hesitated a moment before picking the navy blue suit. When the attendant offered to show me a variety of shoes, I assured her that the one’s the man was wearing would be perfectly fine. After she guided me to the dressing room, I felt the thin fabric of the curtain between us wasn’t nearly enough, so I changed as quickly as I could manage.
I was shocked at how well the suit fit, up until I noticed my surname embroidered inside the jacket. I wasn’t going to ask how well Aaliyah knew my measurements or how she found out, but I knew this was her doing. After briefly trying on the jacket, I walked out with it over my shoulder and inquired “How many suits did I order again?” Without needing to check, the woman said, “Sixteen. Is this one to your satisfaction?” I nodded, and the woman then asked “Would you like to try on any of the others before we ship them to you?” I declined and did my best to ignore the idea that this woman wanted to help. “Let’s see how Portentia’s doing.” I told her. The attendant didn’t look pleased, but showed me the way nonetheless. When we arrived, Portentia was reclined with a sheet over her, and numerous women were fussing over her. At least, she wasn’t assassinated. “What’s this?” I asked, utterly confused by what I was seeing. “I tried to tell you, but she’s not ready yet. You might as well go back to your suits.” she stated with great exasperation evident in her voice. “No, please. Please stay.” came Portentia’s voice from somewhere behind the women.
With an exaggerated sigh and turn, my attendant left. Before I managed to become too awkward, standing in the doorway, a couple gentleman came carrying a chair for me, so I took a seat facing one of the mirrors. I wasn’t certain why they had placed the chair facing that direction, since a mirror really didn’t stop me from seeing anything. I did find it easier not to stare at numerous posteriors this way, so I just sat and waited. “There. Let’s have a look at you,” said one of the women after an indefinite period. I looked up to see Portentia stand, wearing a short, blue dress. There were tints of blue throughout her hair, and she wore somewhat fanciful matching makeup. She really didn’t appear human to me so much as a beautiful piece of art. “Does it look alright? I normally wear red.” she commented. “I noticed,” I said with a grin, “but you do look lovely in blue.” She laughed and said, “I suppose you must have.” The women around her seemed to approve as well with all of their “oohs” and “aahs”. “Shall we go then?” I asked, offering her my arm. Portentia seemed to feel awkward as she took it, especially as we walked out. “I’m really not used to heels. It’s been a while, since I tried to wear them.” she confided. “We look forward to having you again, Mr. Somerset. Please come back soon,” said the attendant I had as we walked out, her smile making me nervous.
Once we were back inside Mila, Portentia seemed to relax, blurting out “I can’t believe that place. The women are so creepy, and the clothes are completely impractical. This was the only thing they had for me that allowed me to move well at all. What do they do if they get in a fight? Even in this one, I’ll be scared to tear it, and how would I get the blood out?” I laughed. I couldn’t help it. The idea of her having to fight should have been horrible, but her rant made the idea quite comical in my mind. “You could try not getting hit.” I suggested with a smile. “Oh, yeah. Like that’s easy. Have you ever tried fighting four guys at once?” she inquired. “Well, just the other day, actually.” I admitted. “Huh? Really? You win?” she asked enthusiastically. “Well, I prevented them from hurting me.” I told her. “Oh? So you didn’t get hit once?” she said, poking my side. “No. I’ve had training. They obviously hadn’t, and they gave up fairly quickly.” I explained. “Training? Like what? What do you do, anyways? You really do seem like some sort of special agent.” she insisted. “No, I’m really not. My business is called Best Friend For Hire. My employees and I are hired out as best friends to help people with whatever they need.” I explained.
“Yeah, like that makes you sound any less agent-tee. Seriously, what sort of best friend needs to be able to fight and use magic?” asked Portentia, her smile quite enchanting. “Please, don’t mention magic out in public. People we’ll think we’re nuts, or worse, take us seriously.”I pleaded. “Yeah-yeah. Don’t worry about it. I know better than to go around telling everyone I’m a superhero. Denying it to you would have been a bit rough with how you found me is all. I know how to keep a low profile.” she claimed. Grinning, I told her “I can see that,” and pointedly eyed her up and down before stepping out of the car again. She punched my arm when I reached the sidewalk, surprisingly hard, and said, “Oh, shut up.” Walking into Papa Stefano’s arm-in-arm, we found that the place really was elegant, reminding me of the classier places in old mobster movies where everyone dressed to impress. All of the tables and booths were made of finely finished wood, embellished with decorative carvings. Individually lit paintings hung between each of the red windows, and even the ceiling was a mix of stained glass backed by lighting and more intricately carved wood. Unlike most places I frequented, the benches here were all joined together, curving toward the wall and back out with the center of each curve hosting a table. The entire center of the restaurant was a round bar surrounded by countless chairs.
“Is it really alright if we eat here?” inquired Portentia as she nervously gripped my arm, her strength making me fear I might bruise. “Don’t worry about it. You’re a superhero, remember?” I whispered. She pursed her lips and glared at me, but that quickly broke into a smile. A somewhat rotund, well-dress man came up to us and asked “You kids have a reservation?” I nodded and said, “Check under ‘Somerset’, please.” The man looked surprised for a moment before saying, “Marco’s boss? Hey, guys, this is the kid Marco’s always talking about.” I quickly found myself shaking numerous hands while trying to remember names. From the stories I was being told, this was apparently one of Marco’s favorite places to try picking up girls, and I really didn’t want to know as much detail as I was getting. Poor Portentia was blushing as bad as I surely was at some of them. Still, these seemed like pretty good men, the type that would have your back if needed. “So how did you meet Marco?” I asked eventually.
“He never told you? Well, listen here. I was running this place as normal when this putz comes in here already half-loaded and orders my penne all’arrabbiata. When he gets it, he takes one bite and spits it out, right in front of me. Then he goes on about how ‘this is not a arrabbiata sauce’ and storms into the kitchen before anyone can grab him. Slippery chef you got there, by the way. My guy, Louis, is terrified of this raging drunk at first, but stopped us when we ran back there. Despite being drunk, Marco was whirling around the kitchen like a man possessed. When he finished, he shoved a spoonful of sauce in front of me and said, ‘Now this. This is arrabbiata.’ Then he promptly passed out. We put him in a corner till he came to. Then he was all apologetic and taught Louis a few recipes to make up for all the fuss. We won an award off his pasta last month, and it’s been great for business. Anyways, Marco still comes around and helps out once in a while. My regulars like him, so I got no complaints. He’s a great guy as long as you don’t mess up his food.” explained Stephen, who supposedly went by “Stefano” to make his place seem more authentic.
When I went to pay the bill, Stephen told me “Hey, now. Put that away. I can’t let Marco’s boss pay, especially when it’s your birthday. It’d be bad for business.” I thanked him. As we walked out, Portentia said, “I didn’t catch half of what was being said in there, but now I really feel bad. I can’t believe you’re doing all this for me on your birthday. Why didn’t you tell me!?” I told her not to worry about it and assured her that I was enjoying the company, which she didn’t take well, telling me that she was going to pay me back sometime. I could hardly believe how high the sun was already, and I hadn’t even slept yet, not that I felt tired. Still, I was looking forward to relaxing for a bit after showing Portentia the house, but I was met with another surprise as Mila pulled up the drive. The number of cars filling up the lot was astounding, and I was a bit impressed that there was still room for Mila to slip through. I turned back to Portentia, planning to explain that I had no clue what was going on here, but she was staring up at the house. Just above a whisper, she told me “Okay. You win. I’ll be your sidekick.”