Over the past week, Alma hardly left my side. She even accompanied me to jobs, reappearing the moment I was through, but she was evasive about why. Whoever had created the zombies that killed people in the theme park hadn’t been caught yet, but there was no other news on him either. At least, Alma hadn’t told me if there was. I desperately wanted her to open up more, but I could see why that might be difficult for her, considering what I knew of her upbringing. Plus, I was only human. Yes, I could use magic and had some unusual abilities, but I wasn’t anywhere close to her level. Even as she sat next to me, holding my hand, I knew we were miles apart. “James, is something bothering you?” asked Alma. “Not really. I hope Brandon and Brenna aren’t getting into any trouble.” I told her with a smirk. Perhaps I should be more honest with her, but telling someone that they’re too good for you wasn’t a kindness. Plus, I really did hope Brandon and Brenna were staying out of trouble.
Brandon was two years older than his sister, but both were born on Halloween. I gave them their presents first thing this morning, and they had been out driving their new cars for the past half hour. Instead of simply looking into what type of car to get them as I had asked, Aaliyah designed two, had someone fabricate the parts, and then hired Jarod to assemble them with Mila’s assistance. Some of the hardware in the new cars was for Mila to interact with them, allowing Brandon and Brenna to get assistance from her as needed. I didn’t even bother asking how much the cars had cost me. Getting a straight answer out of Aaliyah was too difficult to bother trying, and I trusted that she had my finances in order. Her organizational skills were out of this world.
I hadn’t even considered giving anyone other than Brandon and Brenna the day off, but Aaliyah took the liberty of freeing up almost everyone’s schedule for the celebration, not wanting any of them to miss out on the cake Marco had made for later. Marco seemed perfectly happy being the only one of my employees working, but he truly did love cooking. Even mother, who always had loved to cook, didn’t seem to compete with Marco’s passion for it. With the number of extraordinary dishes I was able to eat thanks to him, I was extremely thankful to have him. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t the only one in the house working. Alma, though holding my hand, was obviously busy with something. She was texting with one hand, and two laptops floated next to her, each engaged in something. “I wonder if their parents can make it today. Aaliyah never got back to me on whether or not she managed to contact them.” I muttered as I pulled out my phone to text her.
“They’re deceased, James.” stated Alma. Oh. Now that she mentioned it, I remembered Brandon saying his father had died shortly before he and his sister started working for me. “Wait. How did you know?” I asked. Alma didn’t even pause in her texting as she looked at me and said, “I, of course, did a full investigation into all of your employees.” I nodded, not particularly surprised. Alma had reason to be paranoid with how her family seemed to operate. As I wondered why Aaliyah didn’t bother to remind me that Brandon and Brenna were orphans, Mila announced that Brandon and Brenna were coming up the drive. Alma and I stood and walked back outside with her laptops floating along at her side. I was determined to make sure the siblings had a birthday to be remembered.
“Do you like your car?” I asked as Brenna approached us. She nodded excitedly and said, “That drives so much better than our wagon.” Brandon, who had moseyed up behind her, said, “Yeah. I can’t wait to see how many tickets she gets driving like that.” She hit him, but he kept on grinning. Brandon then told me “Seriously, man, thank you. You just saved me a bundle. I had been planning on getting something soon, so Brenna could have the wagon.” Smiling at her brother, Brenna said, “Even my brother has a good bone or two in his body, but yes, thank you, James!” I smiled and told them “I’m glad you like them. What would you like to do next?” Brandon mouthed the word “next”, obviously confused. “There’s more?” asked Brenna. I shrugged and explained “Well, today is both of your birthdays. I figured I’d spend the day with you two if you don’t mind.”
Chad’s car pulled up the drive as Brandon and Brenna discussed their options. “Hey! Happy birthday, you two. Aaliyah insisted on carrying your gifts.” explained Chad as his tiny daughter bumped into him with the two large boxes that blocked her view. “Boss-man, sir! You already gave them the cars!? Shouldn’t presents come after the cake?” asked Aaliyah. I laughed and told her “My mistake. I’ll remember to check my schedule first next time.” I didn’t remember her being so worried about waiting for presents on her birthday, but I was a bit off that evening. “Well, I need to get going to catch my flight. Thanks for looking after my princess again.” exclaimed Chad before kissing his daughter’s head. As he started walking back to his car, Aaliyah shoved the presents at me, ran after her father, and hugged his leg. I didn’t hear what she said, but I saw his smile as he knelt down to hug her. Despite all of the time I spent with those two, I was still captivated by the tremendous love between them.
“I don’t know, boss. Sis and I aren’t really agreeing on much.” stated Brandon. “Neither of us really expected to have the day off.” added Brenna. As she skipped back to us, Aaliyah exclaimed “Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered! We just have to be back by five, so we can get all of the prep for the Halloween party done on time.” I was a bit confused. “Halloween party?” asked Brandon. “What Halloween party?” asked Brenna. Still working, Alma said, “There’s an open house tonight at seven followed by a masquerade ball at ten. The invitations went out weeks ago.” Aaliyah stared up at me with her big blue eyes as she inquired “You didn’t forget, did you, boss-man, sir?” I remembered her having me sign something a while back that mentioned a ball, but I rarely actually read through most of the stuff she had me sign. “I might not have mentioned it to anyone due to circumstances and stuff.” I told her, not really even trying to hide the fact that I had no clue what I signed.
Aaliyah sighed and said, “Don’t worry, boss-man, sir. I’m sure we’ll manage. Mila, will you get everyone to the ballroom?” The last part was said into my phone, which I had missed Aaliyah stealing again. Only the twins made a fuss about being summoned once everyone was gathered, but Alma quickly silenced them as Aaliyah went over her agenda. No one was surprised that Aaliyah had made everyone costumes for tonight, but I found mine a bit disturbing. The entire outfit was crimson with golden trim, save for the white mask which resembled a skull. I did my best not to draw any correlations from the outfit, but Death’s daughter still came to mind. I hoped no one else would associate me with her if they saw the outfit. Alma didn’t seem thrilled with the outfit either until she saw that her outfit was of a similar style, though without the skull mask. I couldn’t refuse when she asked me to wear mine tonight.
Time flew by as we followed Aaliyah’s plan for Brandon and Brenna’s celebrations. They both seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, much to my relief. Aaliyah could be a little overzealous where parties were involved. When we returned home, slightly behind Aaliyah’s schedule, there were a number of semis in the drive and crews setting up decorations in the yard. When I went to the kitchen for a drink, I found Marco was busy directing a number of people, preparing food for guests even though the tables and counters already seemed laden. Still, he directed me to try the punch, somehow spotting me despite all the bustle. I was thankful that Alma volunteered to decorate the lower floor. We were running behind. With just a glance at Mila’s displays, Alma could rearrange a room to match in seconds. My little fairy friend wanted to stay with me, but Aaliyah convinced her to stay in the forest tonight, impressing upon her that a great number of people were coming.
The sun was fully set when our first guests appeared, walking up the drive. I had to admit that my home made for a great haunted house, especially with how Mila had full control of many decorations as well as sound effects. She had a great sense of timing for startling people. I lost track of the hours as I welcomed people to my home. Since there was no admission fee, thousands passed through the haunted trail set up on my property as well as the haunted house in my home. I was very grateful for good plumbing and a very large number of restrooms. I was also grateful for Mila’s assistance in security. Aaliyah had hired a large number of off-duty police officers for security, but Mila managed to direct them toward potential problems before anything major happened. When the front gates closed, hundreds were still around for the dancing, which took place in the backyard around a large bonfire as a live band played on the stage. I was thankful no one seemed to question how the fire never needed more wood.
“I think you win for scariest costume, boss. That skull is freaky by the fire.” declared Brandon. I laughed but was glad I couldn’t see it, not interested in death tonight. “Did you have a good birthday?” I asked. Laughing, Brandon told me “This has been the wildest birthday I can remember. Thanks a million. Brenna’s been having a great time as well, not that I’ve caught her much with all the guys trying to dance with her.” Brenna was dressed as a belly dancer and seemed to know the steps, so I wasn’t surprised that she caught attention. Brandon wore his caveman outfit proudly and had changed his body to emphasize his strength, so I was sure he managed to catch the attention of a few girls when he was dancing. “I’m just glad you managed to have a good time. This was a bit more than I was expecting.” I told him. Brandon nodded and grinned. He danced for a few more songs before the band wrapped up for the night. I danced with a few of my friends throughout the night, but Alma was my partner more often than not.
When the last of the guests left, I thanked the security team for their time before seeing them to the gate myself. Then, at Alma’s request, I walked with her through the yard to look over the mess. I doubted cleanup would take too long tomorrow, not if everyone pitched in after Aaliyah’s crew gathered up her equipment. Emma could probably clean up the yard in seconds by herself. “James…” started Alma. “Yes?” I asked. Her grip on my hand was firmer than normal, like silk-wrapped steel binding my fingers. “Would you be interested in dating me?” she asked. I stopped moving, wondering if I just heard her right. The night was dark in the shadow of my home, and I could barely see her this close to the wall. “You… want to date me?” I asked her. “If you are interested, I would very much like to formally declare that we are dating exclusively.” she told me. I was stunned. Despite the vast distance between us, she wanted to date? I couldn’t keep up with her, not even close. “I…” I started, not knowing where I was going. “No.” came a voice. “What? Why are you here?” asked Alma. “He’s not ready.” stated Aaliyah, walking out of the shadows. “How dare you!? I’m perfectly capable of deciding whether or not someone is worthy to date me.” declared Alma, sounding dangerously angry.
“And I said ‘no’. James, you’re not her equal.” stated Aaliyah as she walked into the light of the moon, so I could see her earnest face staring up at me. That might well have been the most blunt statement Aaliyah had ever told me. I couldn’t even be offended, knowing how right she was. “You don’t understand what dating her entails. Her family has rites of which you haven’t been made aware. You’ll face dangers that you can’t surmount as you are. You’re not ready, no matter what she says.” continued the tiny girl. “Alma? What’s she talking about?” I asked. I couldn’t see her in the darkness and didn’t understand her silence now. I turned on my phone’s flashlight to see if she was even there. I froze as my eyes met Alma’s. Tears streamed down her cheek as she stood pinned against the wall with a large blade a hair’s breadth from her neck. My phone’s quivering light couldn’t pierce the darkness of that blade or the shaft beneath it. My hand was trembling harder. I knew that scythe. Aaliyah gripped my hand, and I was calm. “Don’t fear the reaper, James. I won’t harm you.” stated Aaliyah.
“All this time, you’ve been terrifying me? You’re Death’s daughter?” I asked. She calmly replied “I’m known by many names throughout all of time and space. Death’s daughter is just one.” I was incapable of doubting her for I could hear the truth of her words. I could feel the truth. “Then who is Chad?” I asked. “My daddy. Even Death had to come from somewhere.” she told me with a small smile. If she was lying, she was fooling my ability to sense it. “I’m not lying, boss-man, sir. There’s just a bit you don’t know about me.” she claimed, but I could sense “a bit” wasn’t quite true. I was confused. The twins claimed that Death’s daughter was ancient. “I am ancient and young. Don’t worry about defining me, boss-man, sir. I’m your friend and your secretary. Well, technically I’m also the little girl you’re babysitting till daddy’s home. As your friend, I want to help you.” she told me. I dropped to the ground, unable to stand, yet my hands weren’t shaking as I turned off my phone’s light. I couldn’t handle seeing Alma cry. “Help me how?” I asked, looking into the enormous blue eyes of my tiny secretary. “If you truly want to date Alma, drink this.” she told me, proffering a small, black vial. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s not pumpkin juice.” she replied with a wink. “What will it do to me?” I inquired. “It will give you the strength you need to stand at Alma’s side.” she claimed. I took the vial, pulled off the top, and stared into glowing substance, drinking it a second later. The world went black as I heard Aaliyah ask “Or was that the poison?”