For a moment, I considered borrowing Aaliyah to show us the way to the vault again, but I realized as I thought of the path that I seemed to remember the turns, not that I’d trust my memory of it entirely. Then I considered that Mila probably knew the way as well, and could easily lead the way now that she had a body. Of course, I supposed she could have used my phone to provide instructions even if she were still more limited.
“Well, I always knew that Jarod was brilliant, but I never expected him to come up with something quite like this, even if only in part.” replied father to Mila’s praise of Jarod.
“Then you’d probably be a bit shocked about how much he’s made off his engine design.” I commented with a wink.
“Oh, I was. Mr. Davis wasn’t specific, but he did hint that his son’s a millionaire now. Most impressive. I’d offer my assistance with finding good investment brokers, but I imagine little Aaliyah is already taking care of him.” stated father.
“He mentioned that she was, but that was a while ago. The twins might have him under their sway now. Keeping up with everything around here can be a bit tricky.” I confessed.
Smiling, mother asked “Has he managed to figure out which one he’s interested in dating yet?”
Alma’s mouth twitched just a hair. She was obviously amused by the question, and I had a better idea why now. How much did the twins share through their telepathy?
“Not to my knowledge, no. Don’t worry, mother. I’m sure Jarod will figure things out.” I assured her, though I couldn’t really wrap my head around the idea of dating a girl quite that close to her sister, especially when he couldn’t tell them apart.
“James, might we move along to somewhere other than your entryway? As splendid as I find it, I can’t say this is the most comfortable place to converse, not when you have so many fine furnishings.” suggested Alma.
“Oh. Of course. I was actually going to show my parents the vault. You haven’t seen it yet either, have you?” I asked, turning to Alma.
“No, actually. I must admit that I was a bit curious as to its location. There seem to be many parts of this mansion not shown on the maps.” stated Alma.
“Master, the path to the vault is long. Shall I get refreshments and fetch the key for you?” offered Mila.
“Yes, please. Thank you, Mila.” I replied, glad that she remembered the key, since I hadn’t thought of it. I hoped Mila knew the combinations as well, but she probably did since she knew of the key.
Watching as Mila left, father stated “She really is quite marvelous, isn’t she. She could easily pass for human, albeit an eccentric one.”
“Quite, though I do wish she’d choose a different form.” commented Alma.
Laughing, mother said, “I do understand that must be a bit disturbing, but isn’t mimicry supposed to be the greatest form of flattery? She must have been quite taken with you to want to look so much like you.”
Even as mother laughed, father seemed almost wary of Alma. What had she done?
“I do appreciate the sentiment, but I worry about the trouble such a close copy of me could cause. Still, the decision is hers.” claimed Alma.
She didn’t really seem sincere about that last part though.
“Shall we be off then?” I asked.
Hesitating, mother inquired “What about Mila, dear? Shouldn’t we wait for her?”
“I’m sure she’ll catch us. You’d be amazed at how quick she is.” I replied, taking the lead.
Alma took my hand and matched my stride within the first couple steps, and I worried what my parents would think of it. Did I want to appear too close to this girl if she truly was at odds with my parents in some way? I couldn’t imagine what was causing the tension. They all seemed to get along quite well at the gala. When would Alma have even seen them since then?
Perhaps I should have waited for Mila, so I could go ahead and ask Alma what was happening. A little patience surely wouldn’t kill me, but I didn’t enjoy this mood at all. I then realized that I could actually talk to Alma even now without my parents hearing a word. I didn’t even need magic. Alma’s hearing was surely as good as my own, and mine was quite remarkable now.
Giving in to my impatience, I spoke as softly as I could, saying, “My parents seem tense today, ever since I mentioned you. What happened?”
“Nothing you need to worry about.” replied Alma, also whispering.
“I still can’t believe how beautiful your halls are, James. The engravings on your ceilings are so striking.” commented mother.
“You wouldn’t believe how guilty I feel at not looking up often enough to truly appreciate them. You are right though. They’re incredible.” I told her as I glanced up at the ceiling. I truly did want to examine them all more carefully eventually. There seemed to be a story in each section.
Alma surprised me by saying, “I do admire them as well. They continue throughout the wing I’m renting and seem to depict a most unique mythology. See how the woman spreading her arms above us seems to hold the sun in one hand and the moon in the other? I believe she’s supposed to be some sort of goddess, since she has worshipers in some of the engravings.”
“Interesting. I was under the impression that you didn’t notice small details, simply mowing them over as you pass through.” stated father, somewhat tartly.
“What is that about?” I whispered.
“Sour grapes.” claimed Alma as she whispered back.
“Dear, please. Not now.” begged mother.
Father sighed and said, “My apologies, Lady Pendreigh.”
“Please call me Alma. There really is no need for titles between us.” replied Alma.
I turned around and demanded, “What is going on here? I seem to be left out of the loop on something important.”
Mother looked worried.
Father frowned and told me “Son, your girlfriend is attempting to force me into selling to her.”
“Huh? We’re not dating. Sell her what precisely?” I asked.
Alma grimaced when I said we weren’t dating, but her face was perfectly smooth again as she said, “His hotels, obviously.”
“Oh.” I stated, looking between the two. To say father loved his business was a gross understatement. I couldn’t imagine what he’d do with his days if he wasn’t working. “Why, might I ask, would you do this to my father?”
Alma shrugged slightly as she said, “I can’t let personal matters get between me and family business, James. You must realize this.”
“I’m sorry. There’s no need for you two to quarrel. She’s right, son. I’m sure this is simply business for her.” stated father, though he was practically staring daggers when he looked at Alma.
Father didn’t realize what Alma’s family did beyond buy up everything that interested them. He would never know if I had anything to do with it. The emphasis she had put on “family business” had to mean she believed his hotels to be harboring some sort of supernatural creatures. If she really felt they were dangerous, couldn’t she just clear them out without causing my father distress?
“How long has this been in progress?” I asked. Seeing father’s surprise, I said, I remember you mentioning that competitors were out to purchase your business before I ever moved out.”
“I suppose things did start before you two were living together.” he admitted.
Mila came running up behind my parents, wearing a backpack fit for hiking. “Master, I have the documents prepared for your father!” she exclaimed.
“What documents?” I asked.
“The princess wrote up a proposal last week for Best Friend For Hire to purchase Somerset Suites. I took the liberty of printing it, so Mr. Somerset could take it home today.” she replied.
“Son, you know how I feel about making a purchase without looking into it. I’m not going to review a proposal you obviously had no hand in making.” stated father.
“I’ll look over it tonight as well. Look around you, father. Aaliyah’s business suggestions are very lucrative. I don’t doubt her math.” I assured him.
There was doubt in father’s eyes, but there was also hope. Alma, however, didn’t look too happy by this turn of events, but I thought I could bring her around. Surely we could work something out if there were unsavory types residing in any of the hotels. This might well solve problems for both of them.