“Please, boss-man, sir? I want a dress too!” exclaimed Aaliyah. I shrugged and told her “Sure.” Alma turned to me and said, “James! Really. You shouldn’t give into her begging so easily. Who knows what your amicable attitude will cost you when she’s involved. You know good and well that she can easily afford her own dress, so must you indulge her in such a manner?” Aaliyah was grinning at her, which didn’t seem to help matters. I was tempted to point out that Alma could easily afford her own dress as well, but she did lose one while trying to help me. “Why should you get one from him and not me?” asked Aaliyah, appearing to be asking in perfect earnestness. My gut said otherwise. “You know very well that his little friend cost me one when I was simply trying to persuade her to go home.” replied Alma quite irritably. “I really do appreciate what you did, but I have mentioned before that my friend”, I said, following Alma’s example of discretion despite being in her own store, “knew you wouldn’t get hurt. Frankly, I’m surprised she’s not more intimidated by you, like the rest seem to be.” Perhaps I went too far. Alma seemed a bit touchy where the fey were concerned, and she looked all too calm at the moment, as if she had washed the emotions off her face. “Alma, please don’t be upset.” I told her as I took her hand. She was disturbingly warm.
She turned her head from me, but didn’t take her hand away. “Aaliyah has worked incredibly hard for me, so showing a little gratitude to her isn’t unreasonable. Besides, you know she can look perfectly cute when she’s not completely mismatched.” I reasoned. Aaliyah looked horrified as she exclaimed “Boss-man, sir! Are you saying I’m not always cute?” Even with her turned slightly away, I saw the corner of Alma’s mouth twitch as if she was restraining a smile. “You know you’re always perfectly adorable.” I told Aaliyah. She nodded, but said, “I’m worried about you though, boss-man, sir. Do you think I’m always perfectly adorable?” At times like these, no one who didn’t know Aaliyah would give her vast intellect any credibility. They’d be too busy admiring how endearing the little girl could be even when she was being a stinker. “Oh, enough of that. Let’s just proceed.” demanded Alma. She looked much less imperious a moment later when Aaliyah crawled onto her lap. I really didn’t understand the relationship between those two. Alma never seemed to hold back complaints about Aaliyah, even in front of the little girl, but she always seemed willing to hold Aaliyah, even when obviously annoyed with the girl. Perhaps she found some form of amusement in having the world’s only assassin on her lap.
Jarod would surely cringe if Ai or Mai, whichever whom he ended up dating, took him here. He had felt that getting a bespoke suit was arduous, but a suit was a very simple matter compared with Alma and Aaliyah choosing dress designs. There were several points where one or the other redrew certain parts completely, obviously disheartening the designers working with them. As grateful as I was when Aaliyah changed something to be more fitting for a little girl, I wasn’t entirely thrilled when Alma did the same for herself. I wasn’t against modesty at all, but a more reckless part of my mind did find a certain thrill thinking about Alma’s bare shoulder the night her dress was ruined. In all honesty, I was grateful to be distracted. On the way here, I kept finding myself think about Death’s daughter. Even now, I found myself shivering a bit as she crossed my mind. “James, which style trim do you prefer?” asked Alma, showing me three beautiful designs. I knew one would be the original, one would be Aaliyah’s, and the last would be Alma’s. Looking at the drawings on the tablet didn’t give me any clues as to which was which, and I couldn’t find anything terribly wrong with any of them. “I find them all to be perfectly lovely, so why not trust your own instincts and go with the style that suits you best?” I asked. She rolled her eyes and said, “The twins always spoke about how much they enjoyed shopping with you. Is your current company so much worse that you can’t be more interested?”
“What? No. Of course not. I simply know next to nothing about dress design and would hate to lead you astray.” I argued. “Then let us teach you.” suggested Alma. I was somewhat horrified when she seemed to scrap their work. Over an hour passed as Alma and Aaliyah tried to educate me about what mattered most in a dress. When they didn’t quite seem to agree, I took the matter to be more of taste than something to worry over. By the end, I was quite certain that I knew little about dresses, especially considering the two acknowledged what we covered to be the “basics”. I wondered if father would’ve given up on the situation by now. I certainly considered it until Alma brought back the designs where she and Aaliyah had left off. Some time later, I found myself considering how to make use of this knowledge in my work. Perhaps I might find myself assisting a designer as a friend eventually. With how open my business was to possibilities, extending my knowledge base was never a bad idea. I managed to find a little more enthusiasm before we were done, though the dresses wouldn’t be ready for days. Alma and Aaliyah seemed pleased enough with the situation, so all was well.
There was some debate over where we’d be eating, and I was very much surprised that neither of them even suggested the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce. This was a bit of a first with Aaliyah present. “I’m sure Marco could have something prepared by the time we arrive if you two don’t mind just eating at home.” I suggested. Alma then pointed out “Her home is on the opposite side of the park.” True as that was, Aaliyah was over enough that Somerset Estate might as well be a second home for her. “You don’t really want to go back already, do you boss-man, sir? Alpy’s actually taken time off work for once.” claimed Aaliyah. “Well, more or less.” stated Alma. She had been rather busy with her phone for most of the day so far, but that was just typical for Alma. “I only suggested it because I adore Marco’s cooking. Why don’t we just go to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce?” I asked. “No, sorry. That won’t do.” replied Alma immediately. “There’s a pizza place around the corner that has great reviews!” claimed Aaliyah as she looked at her phone. Alma nodded and said, “Oh, yes. I haven’t tried that one yet.” I wondered how she even could know of it. “What? I’ve memorized every street of this city as well as the suburbs.” stated Alma as she caught me staring at her. “What!? That’s incredible!” I exclaimed. She shook her head and informed me “No. You simply don’t give me enough credit. Knowing your way around is important.
As we ate, I considered whether or not I did give Alma enough credit. I knew she was brilliant, but I couldn’t imagine memorizing quite so many streets, especially with how busy she was. On the other hand, there was no way her phone’s GPS could possibly keep up with her when she moved. Maybe memorizing streets was a matter of convenience for her, so she wouldn’t have to stop and look at directions every few seconds. How was I, a human, supposed to consider what all Alma might be able to do? She really was out of my league, yet here we sat eating pizza together. Looking around, I realized there were people watching us. What stuck out to them? If Alma were taller, she could easily be a supermodel. Were they shocked by the length of her hair, wrapping under her to hang around her stool? Perhaps they caught a glimmer of those violet eyes that captivated me every time I met them with my own. Aaliyah took an enormous bite out of her pizza, and I realized that they might mistake us for a family. Aaliyah was tiny enough to be a toddler. Out of the three of us, I was obviously the most plain, but I could perform feats of magic that I didn’t dare dream were real merely a year ago. Whatever people thought when they saw the three of us, they would definitely be underestimating us, just as I could easily underestimate Alma if I didn’t continually think of her as far more than a beautiful girl. How could I get closer to someone so far away?