Looking past me at Duncan, Alma said, “I noticed that you landed a few hours ago, Duncan. I trust your flight went well.” He sat and replied “Yes, thank you. My flight landed much earlier than they expected due to strong tailwinds.” Alma’s smile was almost imperceptible as she told him “Funny how often that happens for you.” He smiled and nodded at her before raising his hand to call a waiter and saying something in what I guessed to be Italian, given the restaurant. “I deposited a wine here earlier as a gift for you. I hope you enjoy its flavor.” he told her. Ai or Mai seemed to perk up at the mention of wine, and I knew reminding them that they were too young to drink in this country would be pointless. I then found myself wondering again at how old Alma was. I didn’t have a clue. Her face was truly flawless, but I knew her business empire was massive. She couldn’t be too young could she? I was remembering how angry Regina was during our freshman year after a senior girl had asked me out in front of her when the waiter came back with the wine. If Alma was twenty-one, I’d be able to tease her about her age eventually, though I doubted the wisdom of that course. “Nii-san, how long are you going to be staying?” asked Ai and Mai together, bringing me back to the conversation.
Duncan told them “I’ll be staying until the end of the upcoming charity auction. Mother sent a donation.” Ai and Mai stared at one another past Jarod for a moment, neither looking too pleased. “Sixty-one Château Latour?” asked Mai, noticing the bottle. “Can we open it, nii-san?” asked Ai smiling at him. “The wine is Lady Pendreigh’s, so that would be her choice, though I would wait until our meal arrives.” he replied. “Let’s wait then. I’m sure you’ll find the food here equally appealing, Duncan. I asked the finest chef I know to rearrange the menu not long ago. Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to take over as the head chef.” commented Alma. To that Duncan said, “Oh? I’m surprised anyone would refuse one of your offers.” Alma shrugged slightly and explained “He works for James at Somerset Estate. You’ll be able to sample plenty of his excellent cooking during your stay.” I blinked and looked at her. I knew Marco was an incredible chef, but that was still quite the compliment to come from Alma. I was also quite glad that Marco turned down her offer. Replacing Marco seemed like it would be an impossible feat. I still wondered at how Aaliyah managed to secure his employment. I then realized that Alma must own the restaurant to be changing the menu. “I look forward to anything that earns your praise.” replied Duncan.
When the waiter returned again, I realized I had no clue what to have, not being able to read the menu. “What are you going to have, Jarod?” asked Ai. Then Mai said, “We’ll gladly order for you.” To my great surprise, Jarod started speaking Italian. The waiter seemed to know what he was saying, nodding and writing something. The twins on the other hand were grinning at him, nodding when he asked them something. “Trust me to order?” asked Alma to me. “Please do. I can’t say I’ve ever studied Italian.” I admitted, still amazed that Jarod seemed fluent now. When did he have time to learn a different language? Duncan then told her “Please order for me as well. I’ll trust your expertise.” She nodded and spoke to the waiter for a minute while I tried not to stare at her lips. Their shape in profile made me exceptionally curious at what kissing them would be like, not that I was intending to try something so reckless. “James, my sisters tell me that your business started just this year. I find your success to be quite impressive, considering the niche your company fills.” stated Duncan. “Well, we’re managing to stay afloat largely due to my secretary’s amazing organizational skills. Jarod, on the other hand, single-handedly designed an incredible electric engine. The original prototype is what gets me from place-to-place.” I replied.
“Yes, I read about his design. Most impressive.” admitted Duncan, though he seemed a bit begrudging to me. Then he asked “How do you manage to find clients for your company?” I shrugged and said, “I originally relied heavily on my website and viva voce, but Aaliyah, my secretary, seems to use some of her own contacts as well.” Smiling, Duncan said, “Your secretary sounds like an amazing woman. I should like to meet her someday.” To my surprise, Alma immediately told him “You already have.” His jaw seemed to go slack and he stared at her for a moment. Standing and bowing slightly, he said, “Sumimasen. My sisters failed to mention this.” For a moment, I was shocked, and then I realized that Duncan probably knew of Aaliyah’s other profession. “Don’t worry. She gladly tells everyone about working for me. She’s even listed on my website as my secretary.” I told him, trying to assure him that Aaliyah wouldn’t mind. I followed his gaze as he glanced at his sisters and found them smiling beautifully at him. I could only imagine what he went through growing up with them. Poor guy. He started talking with Alma and me about the city and was being painfully obvious about ignoring his sisters and Jarod, though Jarod was merely commenting occasionally about places he had visited when they were mentioned.
When our food arrived, Alma said something to the waiter who then served the wine to everyone, even though I attempted to decline. “You must try this, James. It’s pretty rare.” claimed Mai. “We think you’ll enjoy it if you give it a chance.” added Ai. Jarod didn’t seem to hesitate as he sipped at his drink. “I’ll order you a cola if you wish, but you should at least take a sip.” suggested Alma. I resisted the impulse to lash out. I didn’t enjoy being pressured into things at all. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, which helped a little. Then I went ahead and took a sip but couldn’t really say the drink was anything extraordinarily delicious to me. Turning first to Duncan and then to Alma, I said, “No offense, but I think I’ll have that cola. Alcohol really isn’t something I’m comfortable drinking, being underage here.” Looking surprised, Duncan told me “Ah. Sorry. Sorry. I never thought to ask your age. My family is highly resistant to ill effects from alcohol, so we don’t often consider such things, though my sisters probably could have warned me.” He looked at them toward the end, and the girls made that strange gesture where they pulled down their eyelid while sticking her tongue at him. I guessed that Alma was probably included in that resistance, yet another thing she had over me.
The meal continued to seem awkward for me the whole way through as Duncan largely spoke with me, occasionally spoke to Alma, and practically ignored the other three. When we were finally done, I felt a moment of relief before remembering that Duncan would be coming home with us. The twins hugged him from each side outside the restaurant as we waited for the cars and said, “Nii-san, don’t you want to ride in Jarod’s car with us?” He crossed his arms and said something to them in Japanese, but I was certain he was telling them “no”. When the cars pulled up, the twins each said something else to him before saying, “Let’s go, Jarod!” I was impressed with his speed as he sprinted to the other side of Jarod’s mustang, and I could tell the valets were even more shocked. Mai was forced to move to the back of the car, and I could see Duncan crossing his arms as he sat in the passenger seat. I shook my head as I walked around to the other side of my car arm-in-arm with Alma. “They were telling him that Jarod might keep them out all night on a date, since the three of them would be alone. He obviously didn’t approve. I expect the girls just want their brother to spend some time with Jarod.” explained Alma. I laughed, thinking that was one surefire way to get their brother to come along. I opened the door for Alma and wondered yet again at how strange life was. Hopefully, things would work out.