As I sat next to Raine, waiting for her tears to stop, my little fairy friend came out of the woodwork to chastise me for not fetching her sooner. She told me of her day without me, flying through the trees and playing with the other fey. If not for the faint feeling of loneliness in the images, I would think she had a wonderful time, but the loneliness was obviously directed at me. In every image there was a space where I felt I was supposed to be but was not. I did my best to keep my amusement at the tiny creature’s possessiveness out of my reply, where I showed her some of my day.
“James! There’s a… a fairy! A real-life fairy!” exclaimed Raine in a tiny whisper as she clutched my arm.
“Is there?” I asked, unable to stop the smile tugging at the corner of my mouth.
Raine’s tear-streaked face was staring out from her cat-hood in open wonder at my little friend. She tentatively reached out toward the fairy, and I was surprised when an image came to mind of a housecat chasing the little fairy through the woods. The color of Raine’s fur was wrong in the image, but my little friend obviously recognized her kind somehow.
“Looks like she wants to play with you.” I commented with a smile.
“What? How can you tell?” asked Raine in an excited whisper.
“Didn’t you see that image?” I inquired.
She looked at me, confusion plain on her face, quickly averted her eyes, and asked “What image?”
“Huh. Perhaps you’re unintentionally blocking her out as I had done, but the fey communicate directly with your mind, placing images, feelings, scents, et cetera directly into your mind.” I explained.
“What? But… but I want to hear her…” claimed Raine, staring again at my little friend.
“I did too, but I… well, I suffered from too much attention when I was young and grew accustomed to ignoring a great many things. Now I fight the urge to bottle myself up every hour of every day, because my little friend here grows quite annoyed with me when we can’t communicate.” I admitted. “You have to open yourself to her, really want her inside your head.”
Raine cringed back away from me. “I… I can’t.” she whispered, sadness infusing her tone.
She believed what she said. I quickly leaned close enough to place my hand on her shoulder, saying, “Raine, don’t run. You still have an interview, and I have a feeling you’ll fit in nicely here. There are other fey you’ll be able to meet if you work for me.”
“Other fey? More fairies?” she asked, not meeting my eyes.
“No, the others don’t appear as fairies. They come in all shapes and sizes with an equally great range of abilities.” I told her.
“The snow melted!” exclaimed Raine, suddenly jumping to her feet.
Shrugging, I said, “Oh. Sorry. I was worried about you catching a cold, so I heated the area around us and got the water out of our clothes.”
“You… you can use magic? You’re so… so fast too… What… what are you?” she asked.
“Human, surprisingly. Apparently, one of us pops up with gifts here and there.” I explained, not feeling she needed the whole truth of the matter at this moment. Still, I went on to say, “Most of the others living here are not human, so you really don’t have to worry about species.”
Even as I said the words, they felt strange to me. A year ago, I never would have believed in magic without hard evidence. Now I lived in a mansion with all manner of people and had fey living in my yard.
“But… but…” she started, suddenly stopping and cocking her head to the side. She slowly turned around to stare at the diminutive girl in the distance.
I was impressed that she heard Aaliyah skipping toward us through the snow. I’d guess we were a good five hundred yards away. Of course, Aaliyah was singing, and her voice was as incredible as ever, though the song seemed rather depressing.
“That’s… that’s the princess!” exclaimed Raine.
As my little fairy friend darted off toward Aaliyah, I did my best to control my panic. How did Raine know about Aaliyah?
Raine seemed extra flustered as she said, “Can… can I… I mean… please, will you…”
Was she worried Aaliyah was coming to kill her? I didn’t know what to say. Could I really risk saying anything without knowing how much Raine knew?
“Autograph, please.” stated Raine.
I stared at her, completely taken off-guard. “You want her autograph?” I asked.
Nodding rapidly, Raine said, “I… I’m… I’m in your g-guild.”
Guild? Oh! Ancient Tribes of Earth. That princess. Relief swept over me. I quickly told her “I really doubt she’ll mind. Aaliyah acts as the secretary here, although I’m certain she’s underpaid.”
Raine lifted her head to look at me, but not high enough to meet my eye. “But… I thought… You don’t… don’t work for… her?” asked Raine.
“I do at times. Well, generally I’m technically working for her father, but that might as well be working for Aaliyah too. You’ll see. She’s quite the brilliant little girl.” I claimed, drastically understating Aaliyah. “Oh! If you play Ancient Tribes of Earth, you’ll love the setup we have here. We have the fastest computers I’ve ever seen.” Well, perhaps not faster than those running the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce, but I didn’t need to go into that now.
“Can I… can I really work… for… for you?” asked Raine, almost meeting my eye.
Shrugging, I said, “Well, I’m technically supposed to be giving you an interview, but I’m leaning toward ‘yes’, though we’ll have to work on your shyness. What brought you here today?”
“Mom… my mom…” started Raine, but her voice caught in her throat as she started sobbing.
Oh no… I really hoped Alma wasn’t to blame again. I gently hugged Raine’s shoulders.
“Were-… werewolves… they… they killed her.” whispered Raine, still sobbing. “I… I need…”
I hugged her tighter but felt somewhat relieved that my girlfriend wasn’t the culprit.
“Home.” muttered Raine.
We stayed like that for over a minute as Aaliyah and my little fairy friend approached us.
“Boss-man, sir, I see your interviews are as intimate as ever.” stated Aaliyah.
“This being my first one, I can hardly say that’s the case.” I retorted.
“Boss-man, sir! Don’t you remember interviewing me!?” asked Aaliyah, appearing hurt that I could forget.
“Perhaps my memory’s fuzzy, but I recall you more or less giving me an ultimatum.” I teased.
“Boss-man, sir! That’s not nice. I’m telling your mommy on you.” claimed Aaliyah, placing her hands on her hips as she glared at me.
“I’d worry, but you know I was only teasing. Did you know Raine here is in our guild?” I asked.
“Well, duh, boss-man, sir. She plays Nekopawpaw, the catgirl crafter. Everyone knows her.” claimed Aaliyah.
“Oh! You’re that crafter!? Wow. I’m glad you didn’t end up leaving. Are things going well under Emma’s command?” I asked.
“You… you… noticed me!?” exclaimed Raine.
“Of course. I couldn’t have one of our best crafters leave the guild. I’m surprised that you don’t do more fighting. You have to have great reflexes.” I told her.
She shook her head, making her cat-hood bounce.
“Well, we’re glad to have you. What do you think, Aaliyah? Will Raine here be a fine best friend for hire?” I asked.
“You totally should hire her, boss-man, sir! I came over to help you find the paperwork, since Mila’s… still dead.” claimed Aaliyah. “How’s your back? I heard you were shot.”
Raine jumped in my arm. “Shot!? Who… why… James!?” she asked.
“Stung a bit, but it’s really not a big deal. I’m fine.” I told her, though I wasn’t actually comfortable with the idea that someone tried to kill me.
“Can I see the holes!?” asked Aaliyah excitedly.
I sighed, let go of Raine, and turned around for them to see.
“You… you’re… fine?” asked Raine in disbelief.
“He’s not the average human.” claimed Aaliyah with a wink. “Did you ask if she eats people yet? Marco will want to know who to cook for her if she does.”
I turned back around as Raine shrunk away.
“I’d… NO! I’d never.” stated Raine, practically screaming the “NO” while barely whispering the rest. Sadness was plain in her voice.
“Sorry, Raine. I haven’t honestly had much luck with the therianthropes I’ve met. We had to know.” I explained.
I stood and offered her my hand while saying, “Welcome to Best Friend For Hire. Sorry about the contract. Aaliyah gets carried away writing them.”
Aaliyah gazed up at me indignantly as Raine accepted my hand. Things were going to be as interesting as ever.