“James, did you eat some of my share!?” demanded Alma, staring intently into my eyes.
“Of course not. Dessert just goes all too quickly.” I assured her.
“That was…” she started to say, pausing as if her vast mind couldn’t pull the right word for it.
“Out of this world?” I teased.
“I suppose that would be one way of putting it, yes.” she agreed.
Evanna smirked. Carl had made her come cater for us. Toward the beginning of my meal, I had found myself wondering how much of her life was taken up serving me food. She was practically my exclusive host at the restaurant, and older versions of her seemed to have seen me a great deal, enough to tell the difference between Alma and Mila relatively quickly. I had let the worries slide away as she smiled throughout the meal. She seemed too happy to be troubled by me.
“Are you human?” asked Alma suddenly.
Evanna laughed and said, “Of course. What else would I be?”
“Can’t you tell?” I teased.
Alma sighed and said, “I can tell she appears human, but the phone in her pocket is not any model I’ve seen. Neither was the one she had at Aaliyah’s party, so tell me who would carry such an advanced device and trade it within a year?”
“Evanna, obviously.” I replied.
Evanna laughed again, rolling her eyes.
“Are you flirting with her?” asked Alma, looking between the two of us.
I hugged her and said, “Don’t be foolish. Evanna’s a friend and probably would like us to leave, so she can finish cleaning up.”
“But James…” protested Alma.
I quickly placed my finger over her lips as I said, “You’ll find out all you need to know soon enough. I promise.”
“Not really much to find out.” insisted Evanna. “If anyone’s strange around here, you two are, but I’ve found that the strange ones are the ones most worth knowing.”
I smiled and told her “Thank you. Please give my compliments to Carl.” He had shown up a few times through the meal, chatting away with me while time seemed frozen for everyone else, but I doubted Evanna knew.
Alma looked between the two of us and sighed as she stood. Then she said, “Thank you for the meal. My compliments to the chef.”
“How would you feel about a gondola ride?” I asked.
“Wha-t?” she asked, finding herself in Venice partway through the world.
“I asked Aaliyah for a favor.” I admitted.
“But what about Evanna. We were standing right next to her!” she exclaimed.
“Evanna’s fine. She’s seen Stranger Things, I assure you.” I replied, knowing that Alma couldn’t get the reference. The show wouldn’t air for a few years, but Aaliyah had insisted I watch it with her a while ago.
The gondola ride was made all the more enjoyable by finally being able to understand Italian. I had been meaning to learn it for a while. I can’t say that Alma looked particularly comfortable, since she seemed to tense when people passed us.
As we walked the streets afterward, I asked “What’s bothering you?”
“I’m a prominent member of my family, so I might be recognized. If rumor gets around that I’m here, Adelmar might start asking me questions I can’t answer. Even if he doesn’t care to check, some of my own subordinates might panic if they believe I’ve arrived in Italy, thinking I might be looking in on them.” she explained. “Then there’s those of my family who might feel snubbed if they find I was here and didn’t pay a social call.”
“Just laugh at their ridiculousness, mistaking Mila for you. She can be many places at once.” I suggested.
“I suppose that’s true.” she admitted. “Oh.” she stated, looking around. “Switzerland?” she asked.
“I thought we should have some chocolate, given the day.” I told her.
“James, this is so completely unfair. We’ve hopped through time twice as well as altering our location. The things you could do on whim are frightening to consider.” she stated.
“Scared of me then?” I teased.
“No, but… don’t you feel this is an abuse of power?” she suggested.
“I can’t abuse power I don’t have, and I trust Aaliyah’s judgement of what’s fine.” I told her.
“But I swear that she would do anything for you.” replied Alma.
“She does tend to tell me that.” I agreed.
“She’s the most powerful being in the world. Having her do as you please makes you the most powerful man.” she explained.
“Not really. The power’s all hers, so I’m just the guy lucky enough to be her friend.” I insisted.
“You do have remarkable abilities of your own, my darling.” she stated.
“Perhaps, but the things I can personally do aren’t really relevant to this conversation, given that you’re worrying over what I might convince Aaliyah to do for me. She’s also the most intelligent and wisest being on the planet, so not trusting her judgement is ridiculous.” I assured her.
“Given some of the things she’s done, I don’t know that I’ll ever trust her.” she argued.
“You will.” I asserted. “I have no clue why you’ll come to trust her, but I’m confident that she’ll convince you. She really does like you.”
“She could be lying.” stated Alma.
“And there wouldn’t be a thing we could do, so there’s no use worrying.” I told her.
She laughed and said, “Coming from you, that’s hysterical. You, my dear, worry about things far more than even I do.”
“The lack of use for worrying doesn’t negate the worries, unfortunately. I was attempting to be comforting.” I replied somewhat defensively.
I considered saying more, but we were almost to the shop. I purchased enough boxes to share with everyone once we returned.
“I’ll take those, master.” stated Mila as she reached for the bags the moment we left the store.
“Thank you, Mila.” I told her, passing the bags over. I couldn’t hear her footsteps the moment she rounded the corner, so I was certain she was home.
“Mind one last surprise?” I asked, holding my hand out to Alma.
Smiling, she said, “I’d hate to think what would happen if I refused you.”
I started to protest, but she pulled me down and kissed me, gasping a moment later as she quickly looked around.
“James, where are we?” she asked.
“A beach.” I assured her.
“Yes, obviously. Where in the world though?” she inquired.
I could see why she was a bit startled. I didn’t recognize what I saw of the coastline either, and the air seemed incredibly fresh. “Perhaps we should be asking when are we first. I had requested somewhere private for a swim.” Seeing tents, I pointed and told her “You’ll find a choice of swimwear in the tent over there.”
Alma looked like she wanted to say more, but she turned and walked toward one of the tents. I took to the other and quickly changed.
“You wouldn’t believe what Aaliyah had suggested.” I told her.
“Yes, I can. She probably wanted to know why we needed swimwear.” stated Alma.
There was a slight tremor to her voice, but I couldn’t discern the meaning behind it. To my surprise, I beat her out.
“Just give me a moment.” she stated, apparently realizing that I was staring at her tent.
“We have all the time you want.” I assured her, frowning when I noticed the waves stopped moving. Aaliyah was messing with us now.
The bikini Alma had settled on wearing seemed daring compared with the one she had chosen for the Bahamas. Not wanting to stare, I jumped several hundred feet into the ocean. She followed, splashing beside me. We swam for quite a while, seeing all sorts of exotic-looking creatures. The one that really seemed to shock Alma looked like an enormous dolphin. As the sun started to set, we came back to the beach to watch, sitting on the sand hand-in-hand.