The dancing continued with me being passed between virtually every girl I knew, even Aaliyah wanted a dance. Dancing with her was exceptionally unique for me due to her extremely small size. I never really had danced with a kid before, but Aaliyah’s dancing was every bit as impressive as everything else she did. I wondered at why she was still enrolled in dance lessons. Perhaps she enjoyed the recitals? When we finished, Chad walked over to us, clapping as he came. “Maybe you should be giving my daughter dance lessons. Her instructors don’t feel they can keep up with her.” he told me. I laughed and said, “I can’t really either” Grinning, he said, “You seemed to do just fine from what I saw, but I don’t really know dance myself. Thank you for babysitting Aaliyah so much lately. Work’s kept me really busy.” I suddenly felt extremely uncomfortable, knowing I couldn’t tell Chad that I hadn’t even known I was spending time with Aaliyah until last night. Forcing a chuckle, I said, “I almost feel more like we’re just hanging out anymore, really.” He could never ever know what else happened. “Oh, I can understand that. She’s definitely something, aren’t you sweetie?” replied Chad, looking down to his daughter at the end.
“I’m so glad we met James, daddy. He’s the bestest babysitter ever! We had so much fun together! James was really impressed with our yacht!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she smiled at her father. The love between those two was always evident, but why did Aaliyah have to mention the yacht? “I can’t blame him. I still don’t know how you got that thing so cheap, much less how you got a license for it. If you ever have kids, James, you’ll be amazed what they can be licensed for these days.” Nodding, I told him “Yeah, but I doubt mine will be able to keep up with Aaliyah. I certainly can’t.” Laughing, Chad said, “Me neither. I’m surprised you got any sleep. It’s easy to lose track of time out on the water, just watching the sky.” I still didn’t understand how I wasn’t tired yet or how I was hungry again. “He actually hasn’t slept yet.” replied Aaliyah. “Oh. Wow. You look so alert even after all that dancing. Age must already be getting to me. I’d be ready to drop if I tried that,” said Chad. “Yeah. I don’t get it either.” I told him. “I slipped him something.” stated Aaliyah with a wink. Chad laughed and shook his head, but I had to wonder if she really did. There’s no way I’d manage to catch her at it unless she wanted me to see. She was just too fast.
“Alma!” exclaimed Chad before speaking in what I guessed to be French. She replied, smiling gorgeously at him. She was so beautiful. “What’s this about James not sleeping?” she asked. “I kept him up all night long!” exclaimed Aaliyah, not helping the situation at all. “Oh?” inquired Alma with an unreadable expression as she stared down at the diminutive girl. Being small next to Alma would have been quite a feat, although I wasn’t certain Aaliyah would be any taller in her older form. “James? Is the sleep deprivation finally getting to you, bud?” asked Chad. “Huh?” I asked dumbly. “You’re blushing.” stated Alma with a steady gaze up at me. “Can you blame me for being hot? I’ve been dancing for hours. It’s not like I’m some sort of superhuman.” I told her, hoping she bought the excuse. I really couldn’t tell a thing from her face. Of course, she was superhuman. Then again, Aaliyah was too. I did my best to banish the image of her older self from my mind. Comparing two beautiful girls was the last thing I needed to do at the moment. This conversation was far too dangerous for my liking. “Well, I was going to ask if you cared for another dance, but I suppose a rest would be agreeable.” claimed Alma. I doubted she was remotely tired either.
“Will you be accompanying them on the trip this next week?” asked Chad. “Trip?” inquired Alma in response as she looked from me to Aaliyah, who was grinning up at her. Then the tiny girl told her “Oh, yes. I’ve hired the boss-man and the others to help me promote Ancient Tribes of Earth at the convention this week. Would you like to join us? I still need to ask the twins as well. I have costumes for everyone, so they can dress up as their character!” Alma wasn’t responding. Maybe she hadn’t tried the game. Come to think of it, did Alma like video games? “I suppose that can be arranged, but I’ll need to see this costume before agreeing to wear it.” replied Alma. “Wait. Why would you have a costume? Do you play?” I asked, feeling surprised. Alma hesitated a moment, but Chad said, “Oh yeah. Alma plays Eseld. I thought you knew, being the guild leader and all.” Eseld was Alma? The Eseld with whom I spent countless hours talking since we met in the game? I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want there to be yet another lie between us, another snare in which she caught me. The pieces fell in place in my mind even as I tried to stop them. The surpassingly brilliant general in my guild who helped us succeed in countless battles was Alma.
Violet eyes were staring up at me, and I felt Alma’s hand touch my arm. I had spent so many days wondering what meeting Eseld in person would be like, and she was living in my home. Now I knew why visiting me would be difficult for her. I had banned her from stepping foot inside my domain. “I’m actually in your guild under Alma, but I didn’t want to say too much with how busy you are. I know I could just get help from my little princess, but I wanted to experience the game like a normal player without too many hints or favoritism. Aaliyah can go a little overboard in her explanations at times.” explained Chad. Aaliyah stuck her tongue out at him. “You are a wonderful asset, and I’m quite glad to have you on my team.” replied Alma. I should have known that she was Eseld. There were hints. I just didn’t want to acknowledge them. I gently brushed my hand through her hair before I realized what I was doing. Alma looked surprised, but she didn’t pull away. “I hadn’t realized that Alma was Eseld until now, but I suppose I should have known given that she’s the best general I have.” I told them all.
“What have you two been doing lately, other than babysitting my girl? The guild’s never quite the same when you’re not on there. I can’t say what it is exactly, but there always seems to be something missing when you’re not there,” said Chad. “James has been going on daaates.” stated Aaliyah all too happily. Alma seemed to stiffen slightly under my touch. Chad grabbed his daughter and put his hand over her mouth. “Oh. Well then. Just don’t forget to hop on when you can. If you don’t mind excusing us, I’d like Aaliyah’s help figuring out what’s what on the snack table over there,” said Chad before carrying his daughter off. Alma and I looked at each other, and we started speaking at the same time. I told her to go first after a pause. Her face was a mask of serenity as she said, “I planned on telling you. I just hadn’t decided on how yet.” I continued fiddling with her hair and told her “Considering how great our conversations were, I’ll forgive this. Just please don’t manipulate me anymore.” Perfectly seriously, she arched her eyebrow and replied “You do know I’m a woman, right?” I laughed and enjoyed the smile she gave me in turn. Getting to know Alma wasn’t going to be entirely bad, especially since I had a better head start than I had thought. Still, I wondered what else was being kept from me, other than Aaliyah who I could see reaching toward me over Chad’s shoulder. Alma and I resumed dancing, which brought the others wanting more turns as well. Though long, at least this day was enjoyable so far.