Portentia and I walked into the house while Mila parked herself. “James! You’re finally here. Happy birthday!” exclaimed mother as she embraced me. “Happy birthday, son. Who is this charming lady?” asked father, shaking my hand after mother was finished hugging me. “Huh? Oh. This is Portentia. Portentia, these are my parents.” I told him. As she nervously greeted them, Mother grabbed onto my arm and whispered into my ear “James, I don’t know how you keep finding these girls, but you really should settle on one before they really start fighting. I can’t keep up with this.” I sighed. Only mother. “Do you happen to know what is going on here?” I inquired. “Your birthday party, of course. Aaliyah asked us to stand in as greeters after we arrived. She’s ran off into the crowd somewhere.” explained father. “So you don’t live here?” asked Portentia, somewhat surprised. “Oh, no. Rachel and I are a bit less flamboyant than my son.” laughed my father. Rolling my eyes, I excused myself and guided Portentia toward the ballroom with me. The decorations were more plainly visible as we approached, and there were large piles of presents on tables near the door. I never imagined how spectacular the mirrored room would look when filled with people.
“Do you really know all of these people?” asked Portentia as we greeted our way through the crowd. “Umm.. most, actually. Some are clients. Others went to school with me. Then there are friends of the family and some of my parents’ business contacts.” I told her. “Who is that little girl? She’s adorable,” said Portentia as we drew closer to the stage that was set up against one of the eight walls. “That’s my secretary, Aaliyah. We’ll have to catch her between sets if I’m going to find out what’s going on here. She never mentioned a birthday party.” I explained. “Oh. Really? I swear I’ve seen her somewhere before. Is she famous?” asked Portentia. I slowly nodded and said, “I suppose so.” Then Portentia turned to me inquisitively and said, “You claim to be just a ‘kid whose business is going fairly well’, yet you live in a mansion and have a celebrity as your secretary?” I didn’t feel this was the time to explain that Aaliyah was probably more famous for other things. Instead, I greeted someone from my track team. “And now if you could clear the floor for my wonderful boss, he can kick off the dancing!” exclaimed Aaliyah from the stage.
A large spotlight was shining down from the ceiling as the rest of the lights dimmed. Portentia and I were caught in the center of the floor. I smile and waved, not knowing what else to do. Portentia urgently whispered “James, what’s going on?” Between my teeth, I told her “Just follow my lead. You’ll be fine.” Aaliyah started singing a slow song I didn’t recognize, and the band played along with her as I listened to the song, a wide circle of onlookers around us. I felt for Portentia, swept into this situation which was obviously making her nervous. How did people normally view her? She looked surreal with her perfectly white skin and royal blue dress, the makeup and tints in her hair adding to the effect. “What are you doing?” she asked when I placed my hand on her hip. “Dancing,” I said. She looked horrified, and only then did I remember that she was deaf. “Look, I’m going to be counting the beats. Try to follow my motion and move with my counting,” I said. I really needed to face her when speaking. Then I quickly added “The lights! See the flashing? That’s in time with the music. As long as you step with the lighting, you’ll be fine.” Nonetheless, I counted anyways as I took the first step.
Dancing with Portentia was different for me, requiring far more focus than I generally gave anything, really. She slipped occasionally, but I covered for her. Aaliyah’s choice of song seemed almost cruel with its varying rhythms, but overall, I felt we were doing well. When the song finally ended, I was sweating, but Portentia’s hand was perfectly cool. The crowd’s cheer was a loud barrage that she couldn’t hear. She was smiling though, even as she clung to me. “Ai and Mai will be singing the next number. Please dance and have fun!” announced Aaliyah as the twins took the stage. Portentia and I walked toward the end of the stage where Aaliyah exited. “That was.. sorta fun, really. Next time, could you teach me first?” asked Portentia. Her cheeks were slightly rosy, pink blossoms on a field of snow. “Of course. Sorry about that. Aaliyah can be a bit over-the-top at times,” I said, feeling I might be understating things. When we finally reached the diminutive girl, she hugged my leg and said, “Happy birthday again, boss-man, sir!” Then she smiled up at Portentia and signed something as she told her “Nice to meet you!”
Portentia was obviously surprised and started signing back without saying a word. I felt at a complete loss during the exchange. “How did you know she was deaf?” I asked. Aaliyah rolled her eyes and said, “I just got done explaining that, boss-man, sir. Pay attention! How do you like the party!? Isn’t it great?” she happily yelled over the music. I felt guilty for not paying more attention to Ai and Mai’s performance, but I still got myself to ask “Why didn’t I know about there being a party today?” Aaliyah shrugged and told me “Not my fault if you don’t read the memos, boss-man, sir. You really should invite Alma to the party, since she’s the one paying for everything.” My heart was thudding loudly. Alma did this? Even after everything, Alma threw me a birthday party? “Why?” I muttered. Still smiling, Aaliyah told me “You know why, boss-man, sir. Go ahead. I’ll take care of Portentia!” The twins were starting another song, some pop song I didn’t know by the sound. I was tempted to stay for it, but there was a vision in my head I couldn’t ignore. I saw Alma sitting alone in her enormous wing while a party she instigated was in full swing. Beautiful Alma who did all this for me when I did nothing but yell at her the few times I saw her. I banned her from most of my home, and she threw me a party. Then I remembered dancing with her and suddenly needed to do so again. I was running.
When I arrived at her door, I went to knock, but the door opened before my fist touched it. “Hello?” I asked the darkness. Lights appeared before me, floating by each wall and illuminating a path. Never before had I stepped into this wing, and I was surprised to see how closely in style it was to the rest of the house. Where the twins did massive changes to their wing, this hallway had the engraved ceiling seen in other parts. The large tapestries along the walls were a unique touch, but there were still numerous mirrors where I could surely access Mila if needed. All of the doorways were closed along my path, but I could see paintings down several of the other halls. When at last I reached the room at the end, the door opened for me, and I wasn’t prepared for the sight. Alma sat at a desk with six different monitors glowing at her, each primarily filled with conversations. A phone floated by her head, and I heard her talking to someone. There was a frozen pizza which appeared to be cooking itself in midair while another floated in slices, one of which appeared to be waiting for Alma to take a bite. As I stepped closer, Alma seemed to go stiff and said, “Something just came up. I’ll call you back. Responses appeared across several monitors at a time, all reading “We’re adjourned for now.”
“James? Why aren’t you at the party? Did you not care for it?” she asked, turning her chair to face me. Despite her small size, she looked more like a queen on a throne than someone in a desk chair, especially with how luxurious hers appeared. “Why aren’t you?” I replied. She rolled her eyes and said, “Someone banned me from that part of the house. Pizza?” She motioned toward a slice floating by me. I was surprisingly hungry still. “Sure.” I replied. A table flew beside me, followed by a plate where the pizza then landed, and a chair next to the table. A nearby teapot poured itself into a cup that took its place next to my plate. After sitting and taking a bite, I told her “As wonderful as this is, there’s a bit more variety at the party, and I would be quite happy if you attended.” She blinked, and I wondered what thoughts were flying behind those captivating violet eyes. “Mila, show me the party on monitor four,” she said, looking to her computers. My heart was racing just looking at her. I never felt quite like this around anyone else. “Face the wall, and know you’ll die if you peek for even a moment.” she demanded. I was turned, my chair floating for a moment with me in it. Before I could say a word, Alma told me “You may look now.”
She was now wearing a floor-length, lavender dress with sheer sleeves. Turning to the monitors again, she told me “I suppose this will have to do. You are the most infuriating boy I have ever met. If I would have known that you’d drop your ban so casually, I would have had something prepared.” Smiling, I replied “You look gorgeous.” The sound of a lion roaring broke the mood. I turned, fearing a werelion. “Alberich, come say ‘hello’ to James,” said Alma, kneeling down to pet the odd, little creature. Staring up at me, was a white lion with an enormous mane, considering the cat was barely the size of a typical house cat. Bending down for a closer look, the cat’s face was most definitely that of a lion. “How is this possible?” I asked, wondering what sort of magic turned the king of the jungle into a cute pet. “No idea. Alberich was a gift from Aaliyah not long after meeting her a couple years ago. If she wanted me to know, she would have told me.” replied Alma. Looking into the lion’s eyes, I said, “He reminds me of someone else I just met.” Before I finished, Alma told me “I assume you mean the albino next to Aaliyah. White lions are not albino. Who is she?” Looking up at the monitor, I saw the two of them. Oops. I hadn’t really meant to draw more attention to Portentia.
“I met her earlier this morning. Her name’s Portentia. She needed some help, so I offered her a place to stay.” I explained. “Really. You just happened to come across a beautiful girl in distress who was dressed for a party.” Alma stated flatly. “Please don’t get upset. Come dance with me, meet some people, and try to enjoy the party.” I pleaded. She looked at me for a moment, sighed, and took my hand. Alberich made a noise to which Alma replied “No, Alberich. You stay here. Be careful around Alberich if you’re ever watching him for me, James. He’s as strong as a typical lion and as smart as an average human.” The last was said as we started walking toward the hall, and I couldn’t help glancing back at the cat. If she was being serious ― and I was inclined to believe she was ― Alberich was a very unique companion. I could hardly think of a creature that intelligent as a “pet” and worried that Alma did. “You’re taller than I remembered.” I commented as we walked. I winced and leaned against the wall after she stomped on my foot. “I’m in heels. Are you going to be a proper gentleman, or should I go back to work?” she asked, arms crossed as she glared up at me. “You really get offended too easily. I just thought my memory was off.” I told her, trying to rub my foot through my shoe.
“My apologies. The past week was exceptionally stressful due to a certain boy going off with countless women. I may have gotten slightly jealous.” she told me without looking remotely apologetic. “Were you there yesterday? I looked for you, but I didn’t see you anywhere.” I confided. Taking my arm again, she said, “I’d rather not talk about it. We’re here now, and I believe this will be an exceptional gathering.” I wasn’t certain what I was going to do with her. She could be sweet, she was often fiery, and she turned my world upside down without seeming to care. Her haughty demeanor was only outmatched by her extraordinary abilities. Yet still, for some indescribable reason, I was certain I wanted to spend more time with her. I spent so very many months thinking about her more often than not, and I still barely knew her. All I was certain about was her beauty, her power, and her talent for setting me on edge. Beyond those things, she was still a mystery to me, but I knew that I was looking forward to solving that mystery. “You are not wanting to date that albino, are you?” asked Alma before we stepped out of her wing. Oh, this was going to be a painful mystery to solve, but I was confident that Alma was worth the effort.