“Looks like Jarod will be a bit still. I’m sure he won’t mind if we go ahead and start shopping.” I assured the girls after receiving a message from Mila about Jarod’s location. Ai and Mai looked a bit disappointed, so I told them “I’m sure he just got a bit flustered when he was asked to dress up. You know what he’s comfortable wearing.” Alma started guiding me forward as I talked. Apparently she decided to pick out the first store, even though I was supposed to be taking the twins shopping. When we stepped inside, I could guess at the number of digits in the price tags by the sumptuous displays and lack of clothing racks. Attendants were with us quickly, and I soon found myself sitting on a luxurious bench as the girls were shown the latest fashions carried here. Though bored, I really couldn’t complain, considering that the clothes bought for me by the twins had to be equally expensive. I was tempted to fiddle with my phone, but I knew how the twins, at very least, would react if I were to be found busy when they decided to show off a dress they tried. Well, I was also hoping to see Alma in anything she donned, but that was beside the point. The twins tried on numerous outfits before Alma ever went to a dressing room, but she came back in the same outfit she had worn here. Luckily, Jarod arrived to distract me from any imagined disappointment.
“Hey, James. Mila told me you four were in here.” he told me. I smiled and replied “Sorry. I should have thought to text you about it. Why are you wearing your glasses?” He was wearing the glasses that went with his tablet. When he winked instead of replying, I realized he was probably doing something to keep himself entertained while pretending to pay attention. “That will not do.” stated Alma as she stared at him. Jarod fidgeted a bit under her gaze before saying, “Sorry, but I don’t really have much occasion to dress up.” He did at least make an effort, wearing a nice, buttoned shirt and some slacks, though he had black sneakers on his feet. I felt glad I had decided to wear one of the suits Alma purchased for my birthday. “Jarod! Does this look weird?” asked Ai as she came up behind Alma wearing a cream colored suit. Before he could answer, Mai followed her sister’s example, posing in a navy dress that seemed to shimmer as she moved and saying, “I look cute though, right?” Jarod’s grin lit up his face as he told them “You both look great. Sorry that I’m a bit late.” Alma rolled her eyes and said, “I’ll blame James, since the twins were already at fault twice today. Let’s get moving, shall we?” Ai and Mai both pouted before hurrying back to change. “James, please take care of the bill for us.” stated Alma as she was texting on her phone. She had barely put the thing down since leaving the house.
I then realized that I had no clue what my personal credit card’s limit was. I knew the business card could handle the expense with ease, but this purchase had nothing to do with business. I quickly logged into my bank account using my phone, since Aaliyah had assured me numerous times of its security. I stared, blinked, and stared some more. I never bothered looking at my bank account since Aaliyah became my secretary. She assured me I was well financed, and I accepted it. Father would be encouraging me to invest more if he saw these figures, but I was certain that Aaliyah had already invested most of my money. Her financial abilities were as extraordinary as everything else she did, and my account history was plenty of proof on the matter. As I handed off my card and waited to sign, I wondered at how I had so much money. There was no way my business could be making that much money, was there? I knew that the estate’s cost was covered by the rent paid by Alma and the twins. How much was I making off Ancient Tribes of Earth? For a brief moment, I considered how much Aaliyah would then be making as the designer, owner, sole developer, etc. All I could think was that she really must enjoy being a secretary… and an assassin.
After we left the building, Alma guided us several blocks away. I recognized the shop immediately, since I once came here with Regina and her father on the way to a meeting of his. My own father considered the place exorbitantly priced, though he admitted they cut a fine suit. “I’d recommend getting no less than a dozen suits ordered, Jarod. You’ll make a much finer impression at meetings if you dress the part of a millionaire instead of acting the part of a million dollar bum.” stated Alma. Jarod looked like he was going to argue, but Ai and Mai started telling him how great he looked when he dressed up. “Mind helping me pick some stuff out, James?” he asked nervously. I shrugged and told him “Sure thing.” before telling the girls “Please, excuse us.” I walked through the process of suit selection with him, telling him what I could about fit from my limited experience. When we had a moment, I asked “Are you really a millionaire?” Jarod smiled nervously and said, “My engine kinda got a lot of interest. I’m letting Aaliyah take care of my investments, so I’m betting I haven’t lost anything.” Vaguely remembering when Jarod started doing consulting work for car companies, I replied “I read a little about that. I guess I should have read more carefully. Congratulations. Are you retiring any time soon?” Laughing, he told me “Nah. I was thinking of moving into your place officially, if you don’t mind. I promised my parents a new house, so they’ll be moving out soon.”
Wow. I never had thought of Jarod’s parents being anywhere else. I supposed their house had a bit of wear to it, but I felt so comfortable there, never having to worry about busting something on accident. “You practically live there already, so that won’t really be much of a change. Any idea where your parents’ new place will be?” I asked. Grinning, he said, “Right next to your parents, actually. I hope they don’t get upset about the noise come next spring, but Aaliyah managed to catch the lot next to your parents for sale. I figured they get along well enough, and your folks always liked the neighborhood.” Trevor, the assistant tailor, came back to us before I got a chance to respond. He took Jarod’s measurements while I thought over the news. I really didn’t think my parents would mind at all. Their house was nearly soundproof, so the noise wouldn’t even bother them much. I wondered what happened to the neighbors for a house to go on sale. Father would probably know if I asked. I needed to keep in touch with my parents better, but I was always busy anymore. When Trevor finished with Jarod, I said, “Well, I’ll gladly pay everyone to help your parents move whenever the new place is finished. Just let me know.” He grinned, and we walked back around to where the girls waited.
The twins looked mischievous as they each took one of Jarod’s arms and pulled him out the door. I followed Alma out after holding the door for her. We only went one building over and found ourselves in a shop entirely dedicated to men’s clothing. The twins insisted on leaving their bags with me, and then started pulling Jarod around the store, picking out various things for him to try for them. As we waited, Alma said, “I must say that I am quite pleased you aren’t such a handful where clothes are concerned. He’ll surely show up tomorrow in a t-shirt again.” I shrugged and told her “He’s more comfortable in t-shirts. They obviously haven’t hindered his success.” She stared up at me with such intensity that I felt a bit nervous. “James, you know appearances are important. Jarod has started dealing with businessman on a regular basis. If he doesn’t appear to be on their level, they’ll treat him as a mere employee, and both parties will lose out.” she claimed. On one hand, I instinctively wanted to defend my best friend. On the other, Alma made a fair point, and I didn’t like fighting with her. Things had been rather nice lately, and I didn’t want to ruin our peace over a silly argument. No matter what we thought, Jarod would do what he thought best. He was doing amazing things these days and was strong-willed enough to continue without anyone’s approval. Giving in to my nerves, I simply nodded and started looking at a nearby tie.
Alma moved by my side again and said, “I like your current one better. You have great taste.” I still felt uncomfortable around Alma and wasn’t entirely certain why. She didn’t pull the flirtatious antics like the twins occasionally did. She wasn’t conspiring with my mother to control my days like Regina, though she was a master plotter in her own right. Since my nightly lessons from her began… I felt my face flush as I realized how that could be interpreted. Since Alma became my instructor in self-defense, she no longer seemed to be hiding things from me. If I had questions, she’d answer. I was probably just overthinking things. That really could be the cause of my nerves by itself. I tried to relax as I told her “Thank you. I do try not to make a fool of myself where I can help it.” Her smile was more captivating to me than the most perfect sunrise, nearly painful to witness in its perfection. Alma was like a fairy tale princess come to life, and yet she was spending her days with me. Why? I couldn’t be good company for her, not when I didn’t have any hope of reaching her level. Alma was faster than my eye could see in mind and body, and she incarnated power, being able to cast spells vastly beyond me. Why was she looking at me with those incredible eyes?
Ai interrupted my thoughts, saying, “And we present to you” Then Mai continued, saying, “for your viewing pleasure” Together they finished with “Jarod, the lunch-ready-jerk-who-stole-our-shopping-day.” Jarod was blushing as he stood between the twins, their arms pointing to him from each side as they presented him. His new clothes had a nice sheen to them, and the black dress shoes looked slick. I gave him a thumbs up to show my approval, though Alma said, “I suppose that will do.” Then she turned and walked off as the twins assured Jarod he looked fine. I wondered what was with Alma for a moment before considering that she really was always like that. Since Mila couldn’t seat everyone, the twins went with Jarod to his Mustang, leaving me alone with Alma. “So where are we heading? Mila’s great with directions.” I told her. “No need. Go straight, and then turn right at the light.” replied Alma. She continued giving me directions the whole way, talking with me about her business some as well. I was surprised to find out that the twin’s father worked under Alma while their mother was the head of a different branch of the family. Alma’s claim on the girls wasn’t taken well by their mother, but she apparently didn’t argue at the time. The whole situation didn’t really make too much sense to me.
When we arrived, I recognized the restaurant. Migliore del Cielo was the Italian restaurant where I first ate with the twins. I took some comfort in knowing I wasn’t going to be the only one who couldn’t read the menu this time. Alma and I were greeted and shown a table the moment we entered, even though there were several people waiting and neither of us spoke. Ai, Mai, and Jarod arrived mere minutes later. “Please remember to be on your best behavior. This is important for you.” declared Alma, though she seemed to be staring at Jarod instead of the twins. He looked every bit as surprised as I was. Then the twins rose together and shouted “Nii-san!” The guy at whom they were yelling was barely taller than them, had much lighter hair, and was probably related given his Asian appearance. The twins ran over and hugged him from each side. He laughed and said something I couldn’t understand, probably in Japanese. He then bowed to Alma and said, “Thank you for having me, Lady Pendreigh.” Unlike Ai or Mai, he had a thick accent. I rose and offered my hand, which he accepted, and told him “I’m James Michael Somerset III.” Smiling again, he replied “I’m Duncan Daichi Drache. Thank you for taking care of my sisters. They speak highly of you.” Jarod then shook his hand and said, “I’m Jarod Davis. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Duncan shook his hand, but seemed to look at him sternly before saying, “I’ve heard of you as well.” Something was up.