Best Friend For Hire, Entry 309

A week had passed, but Dejon was still here. I would love to say that he was fitting in nicely with the others, but I hadn’t been persuaded to hire him and could only guess what he thought of my friends.

Why was he still here? I had initially said he could stay one night, but each day I kept coming up with another reason to let him stay longer. Thanks to Alma’s “errands”, he surely had the funds to rent a place. She always was generous in her pay. Mila had informed me that he was looking at possible places daily, but he hadn’t gone to visit any yet. He hadn’t left the house at all, usually not even leaving his room.

Over the weekend, Dejon had mostly kept to himself despite being in the ballroom, only speaking when someone spoke to him. The more relaxed he appeared, the more disinterested in everything around him he became, at least at a glance. He was watching and listening. Of that, I was certain.

He obviously avoided Kayla, shrinking into his chair more whenever she came bounding into the same room as him. I thought he was going to use his magic on her at one point when she tried talking with him, but he managed to restrain himself, probably because I was present. He was perfectly polite with Jemal, though he simply seemed curious about how Jemal felt about the job when he found out that Jemal was new here.

Brandon and Brenna were as nice as ever around Dejon, but they didn’t really make too much effort to try making conversation. Portentia wasn’t very proactive in trying to befriend him, but I didn’t really expect her to be. She had a pretty large secret to keep. Raine had avoided Dejon entirely up until Wednesday where she snuck into the room, dashing to the seat farthest from him with such insane speed that I took a moment to realize she was there. She hadn’t spoken with him yet.

Emma, however, seemed frustrated that she couldn’t even get Dejon to crack a smile. She kept trying daily, but she tried in vain. Despite her beauty and flirtations, he was nothing more than politely indulgent towards her. Perhaps he saw, like I did, that she wasn’t really interested in him.

The most reaction I saw from him since the day he arrived was when Aaliyah first came strolling into the room. He logged out of Ancient Tribes of Earth the moment she stepped into the room, obviously recognizing her. He didn’t try talking with her though, watching as she discussed my schedule and asked for a number of signatures for business deals she was making on the company’s behalf. When she waved and smiled at him, he waved back, logging into the game after she left the room.

Later, I asked Aaliyah if they knew each other. She smiled and told me that she knows everyone, which I didn’t doubt. Her “job” required it. I was almost tempted to press her further, but I knew she would’ve told me anything else she wanted me to know if there was something.

Was I keeping him around because I was curious about him? Perhaps. I wasn’t certain that he would fit here, but I had trouble picturing him in any job. Cosette had offered to keep an eye on him for me. Vampires were “highly resistant”, as she put it, to having their minds affected by magic. I turned her down, feeling Mila could keep tabs on him with even greater ease. I did wonder how Dejon would react to finding out there was a vampire living here. He probably didn’t believe in them anymore than he had believed in magic.

“Who’s that?” asked Deyanira after strolling into the room with Brandon.

“Dejon. He’s not actually working here, just freeloading at the moment.” replied Brandon.

“What!? Why hasn’t James tossed him out?” she asked.

Brandon shrugged.

“I think he’s still deciding on whether or not to hire me.” stated Dejon as he stood and faced them. Then, holding his hand out to Deyanira, he said, “As Brandon said, I’m Dejon Powers.”

Deyanira snorted as she replied “Powers!? Seriously? You’ve got to fit in here. I’m Deyanira.” She shook his hand, still smirking. “So what powers do you have, Powers?”

“Excuse me?” he asked. “What do you mean?”

Pretending not to be paying attention, I quickly put a protective spell on Brandon and Deyanira, just in case.

“He can mess with your head if you make eye contact.” explained Brandon.

Annoyance flickered across Dejon’s face but quickly disappeared. “And what can you do?” he asked. “I feel like I’m the only one being kept in the dark.”

“Sorry, buddy, but you don’t work here.” stated Brandon, shrugging again.

I hadn’t told anyone they had to keep Dejon from learning their abilities. They simply did.

“Tell me.” ordered Dejon.

I was surprised that he didn’t attempt to use his power.

Deyanira playfully gave Brandon a shove and said, “Oh, Brandon. Give him a break.” Then she turned to Dejon and told him “I’m just an ordinary person. No fancy magic. Brandon can transfo…”

Brandon quickly covered her mouth, yelping a moment later. “You bit me!” he exclaimed.

“Serves you right for trying to shush me up!” she retorted. Then she quickly said, “He can alter his size and shape. Pretty nifty, huh?”

“Really? So does he use that energy stuff?” asked Dejon.

“Nah. I’m like you. Fey magic.” replied Brandon.

Looking curious, Dejon inquired “Fey?”

“Yep. Magical folk.” Brandon smugly stated with a nod.

Unless Alma had tested Dejon’s DNA, the source of his magic was still just a guess, albeit a good one, given that he wasn’t descended from the Slayer family. Alma had checked with Adelmar, given the usefulness of his gift.

“Care to meet one?” I asked.

Dejon turned to me and questioned “Can I?”

“Yes. I’ve decided that I’m too curious what she’ll think of you to not know.” I told him, creating a series of flashing lights behind my home with a spell. My little friend would notice and come to me. Keeping her away from Dejon had been somewhat of a chore this past week.

“Is Mila fetching her or something?” he asked.

“No, but she’s coming. Don’t worry.” I assured him.

“Do you still want to work here?” I asked, after I observed him getting nervous.

“Of course.” he replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“Good pay, flexible hours, and an abundance of perks.” he told me.

“What about the people?” I asked.

Looking somewhat curious, he inquired “What about them?”

“You really don’t care with whom you work?” I questioned.

“Come on, James. You have a great group here.” stated Deyanira. “Dejon’s gotta like them, right?”

“I really don’t think he does.” argued Brandon.

“I could try finding out.” offered Cosette with an unnervingly dangerous smile.

I assumed she was offering to use a vampiric form of compulsion on him, since she had mentioned knowing one before. Her typical silence in things was probably a measured step in making her words have greater impact when she wanted to make a point. Alma had mentioned to me several times that Cosette seemed very well educated, and Alma tended to be a harsh judge on such things.

“You’re all fine.” stated Dejon, looking around to everyone. “Maybe a bit noisy, but the rooms are soundproof.”

Only to his ears. Raine would argue the point even more easily than I would, and I often heard things echoing from the halls.

“A little noise helps you realize you’re not alone.” encouraged Deyanira.

“I know.” he replied glumly.

Did he really prefer being alone? “What would be appealing about working as a best friend for hire if you prefer being alone?” I inquired.

“I like people in a general sort of way. Now and then, I just need time alone is all.” he stated.

He was being honest, which surprised me. I really had been getting the impression that he didn’t care for company at all, coming out here just to study us. Jemal and Kayla stopped in the doorway, looking into the air as my little fairy friend flew past them. I nearly laughed when Dejon suddenly went slack-jawed as she started projecting her day into all of our minds. Deyanira was grinning. She always seemed to enjoy the sensation.

“What… what are you doing to me?” asked Dejon.

“That is how the fey communicate.” I told him. “Unique, isn’t it?”

Dejon’s mouth was hanging open again as he nodded.

My little fairy friend was showing us a fairly typical day, flying quickly through the trees as she dodged leaves and branches, chasing after other fey, and using her magic at whim.

“Those creatures… what are they? What is that place!?” he inquired in a hushed whisper.

“The land of the fey!” exclaimed Deyanira.

“Also known as part of my backyard. As you’ve been told before, don’t enter the forest alone. You might never leave if you do.” I cautioned, though I’d go looking for him if he somehow managed to get himself into the forest.

“This is all real?” he asked.

“This place takes some adjustment. Trust me, man. I know exactly how hard that was to believe.” stated Jemal. “The forest is like a thousand times more intense. You really don’t want to be there without James.”

“Emma never seems to mind.” I argued.

“Yeah, but that’s Emma. She’s… you know. One with them.” he insisted.

I laughed, easily understanding Jemal’s point of view. Seeing Emma’s magic for the first time impressed me greatly, and her abilities have grown greatly with greater use. Watching her ancestor and her at play could convince most people that Emma truly was wholly one of the fey.

“I really do want to work here.” stated Dejon.

“Let me think about it for a while longer. I’ll let you continue to stay here while I’m considering.” I replied. He had submitted a formal application as well as an apology the day after he arrived, but would he really be able to convince someone he was their friend without using his gift? “Friendly” certainly wasn’t the first adjective which popped into my mind when I considered him. I needed to put him to the test.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 304

The decorations for tonight’s party didn’t take too long, since I didn’t hold back much in my haste, stopping only once in the forest for a quick recharge. Alma seemed amused when I had finished.

“I still am not accustomed to your speed these days.” she admitted.

“H-he’s f-fast.” mumbled Raine.

“Not compared with you.” I insisted. “Emma’s going to be disappointed if she doesn’t catch you today.”

“C-catch me?” asked Raine, looking confused.

Nodding, I told her “Today’s Emma’s birthday, and she apparently has a tradition of giving everyone a kiss. She got Marco when returning her plate after breakfast, and most of the rest of us beforehand.”

“I was her first target. She jumped me in the hall before she reached the kitchen.” added Mila.

Raine looked a little startled as she said, “I-I b-bought her a p-present. I-I wasn’t av-avoiding her.”

“I didn’t think you were. I just wanted to let you know that she’ll expect to see you today even if Deyanira is present.” I informed her.

“D-Deyanira’s her p-present!?” asked Raine with wide eyes and a small smile.

“Though I’m sure Emma wouldn’t be against eating Deyanira up, Brandon might take issue with that idea.” stated Alma impassively. She then grabbed onto Raine’s wrist.

Raine looked at her in shock and then stared at the door behind me. “B-but…” she mumbled.

I didn’t see anything over there, but I could guess Deyanira was on her way with Brandon, having finished their share of the decorations.

“Don’t worry, Raine. I haven’t seen her bite anyone yet.” I assured her.

The room appeared to warp around Raine as she grinned up at Alma with an incredibly large mouth filled with extremely sharp-looking teeth, but Alma didn’t even flinch.

“No. Stay here.” reprimanded Alma.

As things returned to normal around her, Raine lowered her head, seeming to pout. “Y-you d-don’t understand.” mumbled Raine.

“Don’t understand what?” I asked.

Raine shook her head but didn’t respond.

I looked over to Alma when I noticed that Raine seemed to be shivering. She gave a slight shrug.

“Heya, boss. We umm… yeah. We didn’t do quite as much as you guys did, but we got part of a hall done.” stated Brandon as he looked around.

“Raine!? Is that you!?” exclaimed Deyanira, staring at Raine.

She nodded without looking up.

“You’re the only person I know with that hoodie. What happened to you? You disappeared before the second semester was up.” stated Deyanira.

“You know each other?” I asked.

“She was a freshman my senior year in high school, but she suddenly switched schools without a word.” explained Deyanira.

“Y-your friends were b-bullies.” muttered Raine.

“Not that again. I wanted you to hang out with us.” insisted Deyanira.

“I-I h-heard them.” stated Raine.

“Heard what?” asked Deyanira.

“Y-your f-friends… p-picking on m-me.” replied Raine.

Shaking her head, Deyanira said, “They were just teasing. They didn’t really mean anything by the things they said.”

“T-they threw away m-my b-backpack.” stated Raine.

“No. Why would they do that?” asked Deyanira.

Raine shrugged and said, “T-they weren’t very n-nice, and y-you… y-ou always y-yelled at me.”

“You were just too quiet. You’re still too quiet.” stated Deyanira.

Raine shook her head.

“Raine could have killed them by accident if she had gotten angry.” explained Alma.

“What?” asked Deyanira incredulously.

“I can easily create a nuclear explosion that would destroy a city, and I’m no match for Raine. You’re berating one of the strongest beings on the planet, so tread softly.” stated Alma.

“You’re serious?” inquired Deyanira, looking startled. Turning back to Raine, she said, “Why won’t she just speak up for herself then?”

“Because she’s scared of what would happen if she did.” I informed her.

Raine was shivering still.

“Will you show her if Alma releases you?” I asked.

Raine shook her head.

“Deyanira’s tough. She can take it.” I assured her.

“Show me what?” asked Deyanira.

“James, are you sure this is a good idea?” questioned Alma. “Deyanira is only human.”

“Yes, I’m human. Show me what?” asked Deyanira again.

Ignoring her, I said, “My parents were fine. Deyanira can handle seeing Raine’s other side briefly.”

Alma let go of Raine’s wrist.

“Just show her.” I encouraged.

Raine shook her head and hugged herself.

“I want to see what they’re talking about. Just show me already!” demanded Deyanira.

Raine looked up at her, snarled, and transformed. “D-don’t be a bully!” she exclaimed.

Deyanira jumped back, and Raine caught her from behind, stopping her instantly. Then Raine moved the moment Deyanira started to turn. I sped up to follow what was happening, but Raine was far too fast, like a phantom just out of sight.

“Raine, that’s enough. You’re scaring her.” I warned.

Raine stopped, transformed, and caught Deyanira as she tripped backward. Hugging Deyanira, she said, “I-I’m s-sorry. Y-you… f-frustrate m-me.”

Deyanira cried into her shirt, shivering as the smaller girl held her.

“James, perhaps that was a bit much for her.” suggested Alma in a whisper. “I could try taking some of it away.”

As I was about to reply, the front door swung open.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” exclaimed Aaliyah. “Ooooh. Deyanira’s visiting again! Is Raine stealing her from Brandon?”

“No. They apparently knew each other. Raine just showed Deyanira a little of what she can do.” explained Alma.

“Did you see them in the yearbook?” asked Aaliyah. “So cute!”

I was about to ask what she meant, but Mila displayed the pictures around the room. Deyanira and Raine certainly looked close in them.

“I-I… n-never saw… these.” mumbled Raine.

Deyanira looked around with tears still streaking down her face. Her voice shook as she said, “I missed you. You changed your number and never got in touch.”

“I-I’m s-sorry.” muttered Raine. “I-I d-didn’t… didn’t w-want to h-hurt you.”

“How’s your mom?” asked Deyanira.

Raine stared at her for a moment before saying, “S-she… d-died.”

“I’m so, so sorry. She was wonderful.” replied Deyanira.

Throughout all this, Brandon stood there, looking around uncomfortably.

“Shouldn’t you two be going out on a daaate?” asked Aaliyah, staring up at Alma and me.

“James, perhaps we shouldn’t.” suggested Alma as she nodded toward Raine and Deyanira.

“They’ll be fine. Let’s head out.” I told her. “Aaliyah can manage things here without us.”

“You bet, boss-man, sir! Tonight’s party will be amaaazing!” she exclaimed.

“You really do work here?” asked Deyanira as she stared at Aaliyah.

“Yep!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Care to help me study sometime?” asked Deyanira.

“No. Mila would get all jealous.” replied Aaliyah.

“Oh, mother. I can’t blame anyone for preferring you.” insisted Mila.

“I can!” exclaimed Aaliyah with a grin. “You don’t pick on my baby girl, miss.” she ordered, pointing at Deyanira.

“I wouldn’t!” exclaimed Deyanira.

“Y-you can’t h-help yourself.” mumbled Raine as she continued hugging Deyanira. “You’re a b-bully.”

“If you’ll all excuse us, we’ll be off.” I stated, taking hold of Alma’s hand. “I’ve got an exquisite reservation for us. Something truly out of this world.” I teased as I started walking out the door.

Alma looked at me curious as she said, “You can’t mean…”

“Of course not. You’re not allowed in there. Carl is willing to cater for me though.” I told her with a wink.

The limo was already waiting for us outside, so we stepped in and were off. This date was just getting started.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 303

Most of yesterday was spent introducing Deyanira to magic, though Alma hadn’t seemed too thrilled by my plan. After Deyanira saw my little fairy friend by accident, I didn’t feel there was too much choice. Yes, Alma probably could have taken away the memory, but she’d just end up finding out again if Brandon continued to date her… or whatever they were doing. I wasn’t even sure.

I was certain today was going to be interesting. We had an absurd number of decorations to put around the house while Emma was out with her mom this morning, and I needed to hurry the moment she left, since Alma and I were going to have a Valentine’s Day date.

To start the day, I was waiting outside Alma’s door. She was probably finishing up some work. When she finally opened the door, I gave her a single red rose and admired how the color matched her gown. She was dressed in a beautiful, rose-red dress with touches of black lace around it.

“Thank you, James. This is lovely.” she told me as she accepted with a smile. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

I was shocked for a moment as she casually tossed the rose behind her, but a stream of spells brought water around its stem and placed it in a vase that flew out from a distant room. I was more happily surprised when she pulled me down to her and kissed me.

We proceeded into the kitchen where the smell of breakfast added to my happiness. Marco was preparing heart-shaped pancakes that smelled of chocolate as the main course today. Some of the others were already joining us before we took our seats.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” exclaimed Kayla as she skipped over to us, holding up cards.

“Thank you, Kayla. Did you make these?” I asked as I examined the cards. They appeared to be drawn in colored pencil, but the art was fantastic. The chocolate at the bottom looked expensive. Smelled expensive too.

“Aaliyah helped me!” she exclaimed as she nodded.

Well, that explained the art and candy. I wondered what Kayla actually did. “They’re wonderful.” I assured her, though she was already turning to hand a card to Marco.

“Good morning.” stated Jemal as he slumped into his seat. He looked tired.

“Late night?” I asked.

He nodded and said, “Yeah. I’m still going through courses. I never thought I’d study so much for a job.”

“I’m sure we can get you out there more quickly if you want.” I offered.

He helped up his hands as he said, “No-no. Thank you, but I’m actually liking it. I know how to build most of a house from scratch now. This is pretty cool.”

I smiled and said, “Some of us do a fair amount of that type of work. The wages vary greatly, but you’ll hopefully always be entertained by the diversity of work here.”

He looked like he was about to say more, but stopped as Deyanira joined us, still wearing the baggy sweats and big t-shirt in which she probably slept.

“That smells amazing.” she stated.

“Here’s one for you!” exclaimed Kayla, handing her a card.

“Wow. Thank you! This is pretty amazing.” insisted Deyanira as she examined it. “I’ll try the chocolate later.”

Kayla grinned and then ran to Jarod and the twins as they entered the room.

I was somewhat surprised to see the Ai and Mai graciously accept the cards with smiles. Maybe Alma had talked to them at some point about being nice to children? I almost laughed as I pictured Jarod trying to have that conversation with them.

My little fairy friend flew in and stole the first bite of my pancake off my fork.

Deyanira’s eyes grew wide, and she asked “Does she eat here often?”

“Yay! The fairy!” exclaimed Kayla.

I didn’t bother answering. My little friend was showing Deyanira a number of breakfasts she ate here, each of them seeming enormous from her perspective. Kayla had apparently made a card for my little friend as well.

The little fairy stared at it intently for a moment before diving at the chocolate. She tried biting the wrapping at first, so I tried picturing how to open it. She seemed to love the chocolate once she got to it, hugging it with her whole body as she ate.

“One day, I will a get her to use her plate.” proclaimed Marco, glancing at the dollhouse in the corner near me. “Then I will a make the most amazing fairy food.”

“I have no doubts.” I assured him, though I secretly doubted he’d successfully domesticate her.

“I should go change.” muttered Deyanira, apparently realizing that she was the only one at the table not dressed.

“Change!?” asked Emma, entering the room. “You’re perfectly adorable as you are!”

“Happy birthday!” I exclaimed at the same time as several of the others.

“Thank you!” she replied

“It’s your birthday?” asked Deyanira.

“Yep! So kisses for everyone!” insisted Emma just before kissing Deyanira’s cheek.

Deyanira blushed, but Emma was already moving on to Jemal. He looked like he wanted to argue, but Emma was too fast, ducking around his hand as she kissed his forehead. He didn’t seem to really mind, smiling as she walked toward me.

“Pucker up, man-slave!” exclaimed Emma.

“Don’t you dare.” stated Alma.

Emma grinned impishly, wrapping her arm around my neck. Then she kissed the top of my head.

“Kayla! Kisses!” exclaimed Emma.

Kayla stood tall, holding her cheek up expectantly. Then she gave Emma a card.

“It’s adorable! I’ll keep it forever!” exclaimed Emma as she hugged the girl.

“You’re welcome!” replied Kayla.

Emma then moved to Alma, kneeling, taking her hand, and kissing it. “Were I to try for your cheeks, I’d surely hit your lips.” she teased.

Alma rolled her eyes.

“Good morning. Am I missing something?” asked Cosette as she entered.

“You’re next!” exclaimed Emma. “My birthday is a global kissing day!”

“Careful, I’m said to have a very deep kiss.” teased Cosette, her fangs elongating as she smiled.

Swearing and pointing, Deyanira stood and stepped back.

“Sorry. I guess we didn’t inform you that I’m a vampire yet.” apologized Cosette.

“Vampires are real!?” exclaimed Deyanira.

“And so cute too!” insisted Emma as she kissed Cosette.

“That wasn’t my cheek.” stated Cosette, looking amused.

Emma shrugged and said, “I miss at times.”

As Emma moved toward Mai, she was stopped by our little fairy friend flying up to her and kissing her cheek.

“Thank you!” exclaimed Emma, watching as the fairy moved on to kissing everyone else. “Looks like she understands the day!”

“You’re a terrible influence.” stated Alma.

“Should I give everyone kisses too?” asked Kayla.

“Yes!” exclaimed Emma.

At the same time, Jemal exclaimed “No!”

“But Jemal…” complained Kayla.

“Get it over with.” stated Mai, moving her hair out of the way.

Emma gladly obliged her. Then she happily kissed Jarod’s cheek.

“Ah! Not my neck!” complained Ai a moment later.

“Sorry. Cosette inspired me.” replied Emma, grinning widely.

“Sounds extra lively today. What’s for breakfast?” asked Brandon, walking into the room and looking around.

“You are!” exclaimed Emma as she jumped at him.

He dodged, looking confused.

“Fine. Hand then.” stated Emma as she took his hand and kissed it, giggling afterward at Brandon’s confusion.

“Wait. Were you going to kiss me? Like kiss me kiss me?” asked Brandon, sounding disappointed.

“Easy there.” stated Deyanira, glaring up at him.

“What? I was just asking!” insisted Brandon.

“Where’s Portentia hiding?” questioned Emma.

“I’m walking towards you with her at the moment.” replied Mila.

Emma grinned and asked “Which door?”

Mila appeared on a mirror and pointed, winking as she vanished again.

When Portentia was about to enter the room, Emma jumped her, wrapping her arms around her and kissing her.

“What was that for?” asked Portentia, looking surprised.

“My birthday! Kisses for everyone!” exclaimed Emma.

Portentia nodded and said, “I see.”

Yes, this certainly was going to be an interesting day.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 302

Kayla came running around the corner towards us, stopping and staring at Jarod when she got close. “Hi! Are you Deyanira’s boooyfriend?” she asked. Quickly turning to Deyanira, she asked “What about Brandon!?”

“Hi there. My name’s Jarod. I live here, and I’m actually married to someone else.” he explained. “Who are you?”

“I’m Kayla. IIII live here, and I’ve never seen you before.” she insisted.

“I’ve been on my honeymoon for a couple weeks.” he told her.

“Jarod lives past that gym we were in this morning.” I informed her.

“Really!? Emma told me there’s a pool on the roof of that section! Is it amazing!?” she asked.

“I enjoyed it. There’s also an underground pool that looks like a cave. I can see if Ai or Mai will show you sometime.” he suggested.

“I don’t know if leaving her alone with the twins is the best idea.” I told him. Then I said to Kayla, “Jarod’s the one who invented that flying machine you’ve been using.”

“He is!? Those things are awesome!!!” she exclaimed.

“Flying machines?” asked Deyanira.

“Yes. They’re these small platforms you stand upon and control with a wireless device.” I explained.

“Wow… That sounds interesting.” replied Deyanira. “Are they safe?”

Jarod shrugged and said, “Relatively. The board will auto-adjust to some extent if you seem to be trying to balance, but I didn’t want that taken too far, or you’d be dramatically limited on maneuverability.”

“I assure you that they turned out marvelous. No injuries as of yet.” stated Mila.

“They’re super fun!” exclaimed Kayla. “I can’t believe you built them!”

“Well, Mila usually does most of the actual building. I didn’t even fully design them myself, just the basic layout. Aurora did all the fine-tuning, and I heard James helped out with a little modification of his own.” explained Jarod.

I quickly said, “I really didn’t do too much.”

Jarod’s wry smile seemed like an argument, but we couldn’t say too much in front of Deyanira.

“Kayla, want to check out my lab?” offered Jarod. “I’m going to check on Aurora.”

“Awesome!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Who is Aurora?” asked Deyanira.

“Jarod’s lab assistant.” I informed her.

“Can I see this lab too?” she asked.

“Sure. Come along.” replied Jarod. “Hey, Brandon! I’m stealing your girlfriend.”

“Hey, now! No stealing girls. We’re not exactly dating yet.” stated Brandon. “I mean… we’ve gone on dates, but… it’s not… well.. you know…”

“Do I!?” exclaimed Deyanira, looking a bit perturbed.

“Well, I mean… we didn’t exactly ever talk about making anything official, and I didn’t want to assume anything. So… are we dating?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll need to talk. Later.” she stated, turning to follow Jarod.

Brandon was looking wildly between his monitor and Deyanira, obviously struggling to focus on both as he took a hit in the game that he should’ve been able to avoid.

After a few steps down the hall, I asked “So are you two dating?”

“We’ll see.” she stated.

“Wasn’t that a little mean though?” I asked.

She smiled and said, “Isn’t he adorable when he’s flustered?”

“I can’t really say I’ve thought of him as adorable ever.” I replied.

<Master, a moment.> signed Mila.

<Yes?> I asked.

<Aurora’s rather active in the lab. This may not be the best time for Deyanira to visit.> she informed me.

<I see. Thank you.> I told her.

“I’ve just been informed that Aurora is in the middle of an experiment, and we’d best not interrupt her at the moment.” I announced.

Jarod turned to look at me curiously for a moment, but his expression changed after a moment. <Is she using one of the suits?> he asked.

I nodded, since Deyanira was looking at me.

“Sorry, guys. Next time. I suppose I should’ve asked Mila about that first.” stated Jarod. “Care to play around on the… hmm… I really should name those. How about…”

“ZOOMIES!” exclaimed Kayla.

Grinning, Jarod said, “Sure, why not.”

“Mila, can you spare a body for safety?” I asked.

“Anything for you, master.” she told me. “I’ll bring four right up.”

“Uh… Maybe I’ll just watch.” stated Deyanira.

“Mila, mind bringing an extra and getting Brandon out back?” I asked.

“As you wish, master.” she told me. “Lady Pendreigh will be joining you as well. Oh. Ai and Mai will be coming to yell at Jarod. I’ll bring a couple zoomies for them.”

Jarod laughed and nodded. Then he said, “Kayla, I might require your help naming more things in the future.”

“Really!? Sure thing!” she exclaimed. Grabbing Deyanira’s hand, she said, “Race you there!”

I was worried for a moment, knowing Kayla was wearing her suit, but she kept her pace somewhat reasonable as Deyanira chased after her.

“Is her brother as excitable?” asked Jarod with a grin.

“More anxious than anything. I’m sure he’ll relax eventually.” I replied.

“I’m glad to be home. As beautiful as the island was, I missed being able to tinker. Seeing everyone is good too, of course. This place can change so much week-to-week. Even Brandon’s probably catching my stats on Ancient Tribes of Earth now.” he told me.

“I somehow doubt it. Glad to have you back.” I told him.

He suddenly grabbed my arm. Then he said, “You’re really not wearing a suit, are you. Was there a problem?”

“Oh. My magic interferes with the enchantment I place on them. Turns out that I don’t really need them.” I told him.

Jarod barked a laugh and said, “I’ve noticed.”

“Umm… really. Turns out I can move faster than Alma when she’s wearing a suit. Some things happened, and I found out how to control my magic a bit better.” I explained.

“Wow.” he stated, shaking his head. “You really get more amazing all the time. What are you going to do next? Realign a planet?”

I adamantly said, “No. Of course not. I wouldn’t even begin to know what would be safe. Even if I did the math and everything, there’d be no explaining it. Besides, why would I want to do that? I’m sure there’d be consequences, other than the entire world wondering what happened. I suppose I could give a giant meteor a shove if one was coming toward the planet, but even then, there’d probably be a cost…” I realized I had been rambling, lost in my thoughts about the details of doing such a thing while trying to avoid the memories I had of feeling such power. I said too much.

“You can really do it, can’t you…” he stated, stopping and staring at me.

“I… sorta discovered something while you were away.” I admitted.

He nodded and waited.

“Remember that stone room with all of the engravings?” I asked.

“Yeah…” he stated.

“I know how to use it now.” I explained.

“Use it? What do you mean exactly?” he asked.

“You can’t tell your wives about this, okay?” I demanded.

He nodded, frowning.

“I haven’t told Alma either, but that room allows me to access a powerful source of magic. Overwhelmingly powerful. The things I could do from there are frightening.” I insisted.

“Such as moving a planet.” he replied with a nod. “Wow. Can anyone use it?”

“No… From what I gather, most people would die if they somehow managed to start it.” I told him.

He nodded again and said, “You probably absorb enough energy to counter its negative effects. I wonder if its creator could do something similar? Even worse, someone might have figured out how to create it, tried it, and died. Still, useful thing to have in your arsenal, isn’t it?”

“I never want to use it again.” I stated.

“What? Why not?” he asked.

“Jarod, power like that is too much for me. I could accidentally wipe out our planet. I don’t really want to talk about it.” I admitted.

He looked like he was about to argue, but then he shrugged. “Okay. But wow… seriously. That’s incredible. I hope you can muster the courage to use it if there is some sort of catastrophe. Great power, great responsibility, and all that.” he teased with a wink.

I nodded, still feeling glum. I wished I could convey to him how frightening the experience was. How could I really get the point across without bringing someone else in on the secret?

Jemal ended up joining us as well, claiming he wanted to supervise his sister. I could tell he was having fun. Deyanira seemed to enjoy herself as well. I was glad we convinced her to try one, until I heard her gasp and watched her fall.

Mila easily caught her, but my little fairy friend was plainly visible, eagerly telling me about her day. Alma could probably take away the last couple minutes of memory from Deyanira, which would probably be the simplest solution, but would that really be the correct one? I wasn’t sure.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 301

Only a week had passed since Deyanira’s first arrival, and this was already her third visit. I felt bad for everyone having to restrain themselves this often, but Alma insisted that this was good practice. I didn’t really feel anyone here needed practice, they needed a place to be themselves. I did understand why Alma encouraged her more magically-inclined employees to only reveal their abilities when absolutely necessary, even keeping the secret after marriage, but I wasn’t going to encourage my friends to go quite that far.

If Deyanira was anything other than human, I didn’t really see signs of it. There wasn’t any distinct odor to suggest she was a therianthrope of some sort. She certainly hadn’t manipulated residual energy that I had seen, so she might not be able to use that sort of magic. If she had some other type of magic, I hadn’t felt its use. I still wasn’t entirely certain what to make of her.

She had started playing Ancient Tribes of Earth last time she was here, apparently wanting to see why we all played it so often. I thought she enjoyed it, but seemed to limit her time on it, stopping just after an hour to make Brandon go out with her. At the moment, she seemed content to watch Brandon, Brenna, Cosette, and me play.

For all Brenna’s teasing the other day, she hadn’t seemed too surprised when she met Deyanira. They seemed to get along fine, trading pleasantries about each other’s attire and places they shopped.

Her relationship with some of the other girls seemed a bit off to me so far. With Alma and Cosette, Deyanira almost seemed deferential to me. She didn’t believe Emma could have a doctorate yet until she quizzed her on botany, and still seemed shocked by the idea. She seemed careful around Portentia. Maybe I shouldn’t have verified that Portentia could beat up Brandon, or maybe Deyanira worried about misstepping around the hearing-impaired. I wasn’t certain.

Raine hadn’t worked up the courage to speak to Deyanira yet, running before Deyanira even made it to the front door these last two visits.

Jemal had barely exchanged more than greetings with her, but he’s been working hard to “catch up”, even though I told him there was no rush. His first martial arts lesson this morning proved him to be a complete beginner, but I was certain he’d get the hang of everything soon enough. His skill with magic might progress more quickly. He took most of an hour before he was able to purposely move something with his natural magic, but then he took to it almost as quickly as his sister.

Kayla attended both lessons as well. Her enthusiasm for martial arts greatly surpassed her skill, but magic came easier for her than for her brother. Using her natural magic barely took her ten minutes to start showing real promise. I got Brenna to start working with her on using residual energy within half an hour.

I found myself suddenly focusing on footsteps approaching. Then I stood and went to the hall. Jarod was home.

Smiling, he said, “So I hear Brandon’s got a girl.”

“Maybe? She might just enjoy bullying him.” I replied.

“Come on… Brandon probably enjoys that about her.” he teased.

“Still doesn’t mean she’s actually going to date him.” I stated.

“Do you not like her or something?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t say that I don’t like her…” I started.

“Of course not, but do you dislike her?” he asked with a grin.

“I’m not certain what to make of her yet.” I admitted. “She really does seem to bully Brandon.”

“Brandon’s fun to bully. You can’t hold that against someone. You know how they say playful hits from a girl are a good sign? Might be something similar. I’ll have to see.” he told me.

I shrugged and inquired “How was your trip?”

He grinned widely and asked “How much detail do you want?”

I rolled my eyes. “You know I would never ask for details of your honeymoon.” I stated.

“But the island is beautiful! You really should check it out sometime.” he replied, still grinning.

“Good to hear. I might. Are the twins back as well then?” I asked.

“Of course. They’re unpacking. We did a bit of shopping while in Japan, and now they’re talking about doing additional renovations to their… er… our… wing. Guess I’m not quite used to that yet.” he told me.

“That’s probably for the best. Father always told me that you might as well give up any delusions that the house is yours immediately after marriage. He was joking, of course, but… you are outnumbered.” I teased.

“Is that her?” asked Jarod.

I didn’t need to look, having heard the footsteps as she approached the ballroom doors. I nodded.

Walking towards her, Jarod waved and said, “I’m Jarod, one of Brandon’s friends.”

I followed him over to her.

“Oh. He told me about you. You’re the one who built his car, right?” she asked.

“Well, Mila helped with design and building, so I can’t take all the credit.” he told her.

“And you were on a honeymoon?” she asked.

“Yep! My wife and her sister are currently unpacking, but I’m sure they’ll be out soon enough to yell at me for something.” he replied.

“They both live with you!?” she inquired, seeming startled by the idea.

“Yep. Identical twins. They can’t stand being apart.” he stated. Then he leaned in conspiratorially and said, “Just don’t get them mixed up, or they might get mad.”

I laughed.

“James! I totally had her!” exclaimed Jarod.

“My apologies.” I told him.

“So… wait. They’re not twins, or they don’t get mad?” she asked.

“Oh, they are twins who get mad, just not about mixing them up. I am quite confident that you’ll never know to whom you’re speaking.” I assured her.

“Umm… okay.” she muttered. Then she told Jarod “Congratulations on your marriage. I was hoping Brandon might introduce us, but he’s too busy on his game!” The last was yelled back into the ballroom.

“What? Not my fault he showed up while I’m fighting some things.” replied Brandon. “Jarod, your timing sucks!”

“Sorry!” called Jarod.

“I was wondering if you might be willing to work on my laptop. It died, and Brandon told me that asking you for help would be better than taking it to a store.” explained Deyanira.

“Oh. You could’ve just hired Mila for that. She’s got a few advantages over average tech experts.” he told her, looking amused.

“Mila, you can do that?” asked Deyanira.

“Of course. I can probably fabricate damaged components as well if you want the laptop repaired.” explained Mila, appearing on the nearest mirror.

“That would be incredible. Can I drop it off tomorrow?” she asked.

“I’ll be happy to go collect it for you if you wish.” suggested Mila. “Then I can get started immediately, possibly even finishing by tomorrow.”

She quickly said, “Yes, please! If you don’t mind.” Then she pulled out her keys and told Mila “This one’s to my dorm. The laptop’s still on my desk. You’ll see my name on the bottom. If my roommate’s there, just tell her I sent you and to call if she has any doubt.”

“No need for the key. A copy is already printing.” stated Mila.

“A copy!? We’re not supposed to make copies.” insisted Deyanira.

“No, and you still haven’t. Nor did you request one. If it will help put your mind at ease, think of this as an artistic demonstration of sculpting, where I saw something and wished to recreate my own version.” suggested Mila.

“I guess… just make sure you destroy it afterward.” ordered Deyanira.

“If you wish, I’ll destroy the key now. Having seen it, picking the lock would take me less than a second.” replied Mila.

Jarod laughed and said, “Pretty easy, aren’t they.”

Looking toward the nearest mirror, Deyanira said, “You’re a bit scary. You know that, right?”

“No, but I know some who are.” teased Mila.

“Riiight…” replied Deyanira.

“Don’t worry. She’s too good to be bad.” I assured her.

“Oh, master… you know I’d be bad for you.” teased Mila.

“Please don’t say such things in front of our guest. She might believe you.” I stated.

Nodding, Mila said, “Sorry, master. I will only tease you behind Deyanira’s back, since that’ll be so much less confusing for her.”

I sighed and said, “I assure you that I do not do anything indecent with my friend.”

“Despite her best attempts.” teased Jarod.

“Did you design her?” asked Deyanira to Jarod.

“No-no.” replied Jarod. “Someone far more clever did. Ever hear of Aaliyah T. Sypher?”

“Yeah. She designed that game they’re all playing. Youngest self-made millionaire and youngest practicing attorney in the world, according to one of my professors. He’s brought her up in lectures a few times. I think he’s a fan of her games.” replied Deyanira.

“Mother’s also the secretary here at Best Friend for Hire.” stated Mila.

“Whoa… What!?” exclaimed Deyanira. “She’s joking again, right?”

I shook my head and said, “No. Aaliyah does work for me. She designed most of the tech throughout the house and acts as my secretary. Never got around to looking at the company site?”

“No… my laptop’s dead.” she stated.

I was certain her college had other computers she could use, but perhaps my company’s site was blocked on them for some reason. Still, she could have just used her phone. Whatever the case, there were a great many surprises ahead for her.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 300

“You’re that girl!” exclaimed Deyanira just after she entered the room. She had slept in one of the guest rooms shortly after getting clean clothes.

“Good evening! Welcome to our home.” replied Portentia without looking away from the game. She had been playing ever since this morning’s training, which Brandon had slept through.

“Were you able to sleep well?” I asked, standing to face her.

“Huh..? Yes. Thank you.” replied Deyanira. “Is Brandon around? Your A.I., Mila… she said to come in here.”

“Brandon should be back soon. He had a quick job at eleven.” I explained.

“Wow. He must not have slept much.” she stated.

“James! I’m all finished!” exclaimed Kayla, running into the room before I could respond.

“Mila, how did she do?” I asked.

“Perfectly satisfactory.” she replied.

“Good job, Kayla.” I told her, holding my hand out.

She gave me a high five and said, “My old school didn’t have nearly as many tests. I feel like I’ve taken a bijillion and I just got here!”

“Seems that you’re handling the new routine wonderfully.” I told her. “Besides, we needed to know how much you knew before we could teach you, right?”

“I guess so. Can I play now?” she asked.

“Were you supposed to do anything for Jemal today?” I inquired.

“Yep. All done.” she lied.

“You still haven’t picked up your room.” stated Mila.

“Tattletale!” exclaimed Kayla before sticking her tongue out at a wall.

“You probably should do that first.” I told her.

“But Jemal’s studying, and I don’t want to bother him.” she replied.

At very least, she felt she was being honest, so I said, “Okay, but don’t blame me if he yells at you later.”

“I won’t!” she replied before running to take a seat and start playing.

“I am so confused right now. Are you her teacher or something?” asked Deyanira.

“No. In a sense, Mila is, but the courses are really about being self-taught.” I explained.

Shaking her head, Deyanira said, “You can’t be self-taught at her age. Doesn’t she go to a real school?”

“The Institute of Autodidacticism is quite well renowned, I assure you.” I informed her.

“The what?” she asked.

“Mila, how is the institute ranked worldwide?” I asked.

“The very best, of course. You know Adelmar wouldn’t tolerate his family utilizing something second-rate, though I doubt he’s fully aware of how greatly improved our versions are.” she replied.

“There you have it. Kayla’s receiving the very best possible education through college.” I stated.

“Through college? Shouldn’t she play with kids her own age?” asked Deyanira.

“Jemal’s going to let me visit my friends this weekend!” exclaimed Kayla.

“Ah… I see. So does Brandon attend the institute thing?” inquired Deyanira.

“Courses are available to everyone, and I expect my friends to learn a certain amount just to expand the types of work they can do.” I explained.

“This place is so weird.” she stated.

“I like to think it’s fun enough for everyone. At very least, I haven’t had complaints yet.” I told her.

“Because it’s awesome!” exclaimed Kayla.

Deyanira watched as Kayla played Ancient Tribes of Earth for a bit, and then she stepped over to where Portentia was playing and watched her. I got back to my game while casually observing what she was doing. Everyone knew to behave while we had company, but I couldn’t be certain Deyanira was as human as she appeared.

“So… what’s your relationship with Brandon?” asked Deyanira. “What? Why’s what I’m saying being posted on the game?”

“I’m deaf.” stated Portentia. “Mila transcribes what’s said around me, so I don’t miss if someone’s talking to me. It’s not really going into the game, I think.”

“Oh. Sorry. I was just surprised.” she replied.

“As for Brandon, he wanted a wingman, so I went along.” explained Portentia.

“You’re not supposed to abandon your friend as a wingman.” argued Deyanira.

Portentia then said, “I had… work.”

“You people take jobs that late?” asked Deyanira.

“Some of us do. You could say I’m a Nite Owl.” replied Portentia with a smirk.

I doubted that Deyanira would catch the Watchmen reference, but I had to roll my eyes at the joke.

“So.. about Brandon…” started Deyanira.

“Nope. Not interested. I think I intimidate him a bit.” stated Portentia.

“Huh?” she asked.

“I can beat him up.” explained Portentia with a shrug.

“No way. He’s pretty big… and strong.” argued Deyanira.

I chimed in, saying, “Everyone here learns martial arts. Portentia’s very advanced.”

“Is that self-taught too?” asked Deyanira, sounding dubious.

“No. I teach them.” I replied.

“I… see.” she muttered.

Smiling, I turned and told her “I’m sure Brandon demonstrated that he knew how to handle himself when the brawl broke out. I was surprised he got injured.”

“That… was sorta my fault.” she admitted.

“Oh?” I asked.

“I sorta hit him with my drink after he got pushed into me.” she explained sheepishly.

“And then you went home with him?” I asked incredulously.

“I felt guilty!” she exclaimed. “All he did was smile and apologize after I hit him. Then he helped get some people out of there while acting as a wall. It was kinda cool.”

“I think you liiiiike him.” teased Kayla, now looking over her seat.

“Maybe. Did you call dibs or something?” asked Deyanira.

“Eww… no. That’s gross.” replied Kayla before ducking back behind the seat.

“Gross? Isn’t that a bit harsh?” asked Deyanira.

“No. It’s Brandon.” stated Kayla.

I laughed and said, “I might have to tell the others to watch what they say around you.”

“Aww… but James…” pouted Kayla.

“Fine, I’ll just blame Emma.” I teased.

“Emma’s… the one with the multi-colored hair?” asked Deyanira.

“Yes. She’s out doing some carpentry today.” I replied.

“Carpentry? She doesn’t look like a carpenter.” she stated.

“No, but she’s the best, better than me in fact. I do believe I mentioned that we fulfill a variety of needs here.” I told her.

She nodded and said, “Yes, but… I don’t know. I feel like I’m missing something. Before I just thought I was tired, but…”

“Baby, I’m back!” exclaimed Brandon as he stepped into the house.

“Baby!?” exclaimed Deyanira. “Are you married!?”

“She’s still here!?” he exclaimed, sounding panicked.

I could see why. He had shifted his size a bit for today’s job. He shrank back down enough before she rounded the corner that I doubted she’d notice.

“Are you married or something?” asked Deyanira.

“What!? No.” he assured her.

“Then who are you calling ‘baby’?” she demanded.

“Umm… you?” he asked.

“He actually just does that sort of stuff frequently.” I called.

“You can’t just say things like that!” exclaimed Deyanira, hitting him in the arm.

“Why not? I’m glad to be home. I was working, you know.” he stated.

“So? You didn’t leave a note for me or anything. What would you have done if I just left?” she demanded.

“Called?” he asked.

“You don’t have my number.” she stated.

Mila quickly informed her “Actually, we do. I performed a full background check on you when you entered the premises.”

“What!? I didn’t agree to that.” she stated.

“No, but as a law student, you are probably well aware that you don’t need to agree to anything for someone to perform a background check. Given that you may seek to enter into some sort of relationship with Brandon, I felt looking into you was in the best interest of the company as well as Brandon. We wouldn’t want him bringing home a dubious person, would we?” explained Mila.

Deyanira didn’t seem to know how to take what was being said.

“Uh… sorry about that.” stated Brandon.

She hit him without looking at him, but now was looking thoughtful.

“Get anything good?” asked Deyanira.

“Yes. Apollo is quite adorable. Your mother uploads videos of him frequently.” replied Mila.

“She does love that dog.” agreed Deyanira, still looking thoughtful.

“How well do you know the law?” asked Deyanira.

Mila sounded amused as she said, “Enough to know that your current textbooks have a number of errors. I sent out erratas to your professors and the publishers to review as a courtesy.”

“Quiz me for my next test, and I’ll forgive you.” offered Deyanira.

“Agreed, though I really don’t believe you’re as offended as you’re acting.” replied Mila.

Deyanira laughed and said, “A good lawyer has to be able to act. Looks like I need some work.”

“So does this mean you want to come back here?” asked Brandon.

“No. I’m assuming a fancy A.I. can quiz me from anywhere. She has my number. I still might though if you buy me breakfast.” she told him.

“I’m hungry too, but… umm.. mind eating here?” he asked.

“You cook?” she asked, sounding surprised.

“A little, but Marco’s the man. You’ve gotta try his cooking before you go.” insisted Brandon, as he guided her towards the kitchen.

If things actually did evolve between those two, Deyanira would need to find out about magic. After a bit of consideration, I decided to talk with Alma about how she deals with such things. She might be able to provide some pointers before I had a group discussion. Things were always evolving, but I wanted to guide this evolution in my home if I could manage.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 299

“Master, Brandon is bringing a girl here.” stated Mila.

“What?” I asked, surprised by the announcement. “Please warn everyone who’s awake.”

“Does she really seem interested in him?” asked Cosette with a grin.

“The circumstances are a bit unusual from the conversation they’re having. Apparently, a fight had broken out in the bar he visited just after Portentia left. The girl he is bringing, Deyanira, is soaked in alcohol and is blaming Brandon for it. He has some minor injuries, so he probably didn’t use his abilities in the fight.” explained Mila.

“Is she attractive?” inquired Cosette.

“I believe you will feel she is.” stated Mila.

“Maybe I should wake Emma.” considered Cosette. “She wouldn’t want to miss this.”

Mila nodded and said, “I’ve already taken the liberty. She is hurrying out here. She probably would be nearly here had I not insisted that she put on her robe first.”

I was honestly more surprised that Brandon would be injured even without using his transformative abilities. He was a capable combatant these days. Was he not wearing his enhancement suit? If some of his opponents were more than human, I might want to investigate before Alma found out.

“Wasn’t there a video feed?” I asked.

“No, master. The bar’s security is very poor, and I hadn’t hacked into any cell phones inside. Brandon had left his in the car.” she replied.

“James. Brandon’s bringing a girl home. Aren’t you the least bit excited for him?” asked Cosette as she grinned at me. Then she turned to Mila and inquired “Did you wake Brenna?”

“No. She has a job early this morning and her ability to function might be impaired if she gets up this soon.” stated Mila.

“What about Raine?” asked Cosette.

“Raine’s been deciding whether or not to come in here for the past minute.” I told her, having heard Raine’s pacing quite clearly.

“I’m n-not spying!” insisted Raine after darting over to me.

“I figured. Can’t decide from where you want to spy on Brandon?” I teased.

“M-maybe.” she stated, lowering her head.

Cosette hugged her and said, “With me! We have to gossip with Emma. She’d be terribly disappointed if we did not.”

Raine looked at her for a moment and then hesitantly nodded.

“How soon!?” exclaimed Emma as she ran into the room.

“They’re coming up the drive now.” replied Mila.

“Guys, we have to act natural! Raine, get on Ancient Tribes of Earth. Let’s all try to meet up somewhere before they get inside.” stated Emma.

I rolled my eyes but went ahead with her plan. Wouldn’t hurt to look like everyone was having a late night gaming session instead of just Cosette and me. “We’ll be entering the city from the South.” I informed her.

I glanced up as another monitor lit up only to see Alma hurry into the room.

“You too?” I asked.

“Whatever could you mean?” she replied.

“Felt like a little late night gaming.” I suggested.

“Of course.” she lied.

Before I could say anything more, the front doors opened. The girl who entered in front of Brandon was a bit taller than his sister and had dark brown hair with blonde streak on her left side. Her large brown eyes looked completely unimpressed as they gazed around the room.

“Brandon.” called Alma. “Why are you not wearing a shirt?”

“Who’s that?” asked Deyanira.

“Uh… I guess I’ll introduce you to some of my friends.” he replied. When he walked into the room, he said, “I didn’t have a spare and kinda owed Deyanira here one. Deyanira, this is Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V.”

Alma, who had stood to meet them, merely nodded.

“Oooh. So smooth. What happened to your shirt?” asked Emma, kneeling on her seat to lean on the back and grin at Deyanira.

“This jerk spilled his beer on me.” she replied.

“Brandon, are you even old enough to drink?” teased Cosette.

“Duh.” he stated.

“Portentia isn’t. How did she get in?” I asked.

“Oh. Well, they didn’t actually check her ID.” he replied.

Alma looked over at me and said, “James, dear, relax. You know how she is.”

As Alma spoke, Deyanira elbowed Brandon in his gut and asked “You snuck someone underage into the bar?”

“Hey, I didn’t know!” he exclaimed.

“And you two live together?” she demanded.

“All of us do. I told you that. Whole company living under one roof.” he replied.

“The employee wing is similar in design to an apartment complex.” I informed her.

“And who are you?” she demanded.

“Umm… he’s my boss.” replied Brandon.

“What?” she asked, glancing at him. Then she walked over to me and stared down at me till I stood to face her. “You’re awfully big.”

“I am somewhat tall.” I admitted.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Nineteen. And you?” I inquired.

“Twenty-two.” she told me before turning to face Brandon and saying, “You work for someone younger than you?”

Brandon shrugged.

“Pretty neat, isn’t it?” asked Emma. “I’m going to be nineteen soon if you’re interested.”

“Are there no adults here?” demanded Deyanira.

“Depends on how you care to define ‘adult’. I would argue that most of us, Brandon excluded, are more mature than average for our age.” stated Alma.

“Hey!” exclaimed Brandon. “I can be pretty mature.”

“Why, might I ask, did you decide to come here with Brandon?” asked Cosette, standing and walking over to Deyanira.

“He owes me a shirt and wouldn’t leave this one with me. Said he got it at some convention.” she replied.

She wasn’t telling the whole truth, but I wasn’t too surprised. She might actually like him.

“Given the length on you, I wouldn’t qualify that as a shirt to begin with, more of a dress. I’m sure Mila can come up with something that will fit you better if you wish to get cleaned up.” suggested Cosette.

“How many girls does he live with here!?” asked Deyanira.

“How many times do we count Mila?” replied Cosette with a grin.

“Huh?” asked Deyanira.

“I’m an Artificial Intelligence with two fabricated bodies which I use to better fulfill my duties.” explained Mila.

“What? No way.” stated Deyanira.

“No, really. She could pick you up with one arm if you want a demonstration.” suggested Brandon.

Deyanira looked between Brandon and Mila for a moment. Then she looked to Alma and asked “Isn’t she your sister?”

“No. She is what they say.” replied Alma.

“What is this place!?” exclaimed Deyanira.

“I told you. I’m a best friend for hire, which is also the name of this company. James is the owner and boss. Most of us work for him. Lady Pendreigh there is his girlfriend.” explained Brandon.

“And you live here?” asked Deyanira, still sounding doubtful.

“Yes.” stated Brandon, sounding exasperated.

“Why, are you looking for a job?” I asked.

“No! I’m in college, studying law.” she snapped.

“Ah. I hope that’s going well for you.” I told her.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” she demanded.

“No reason.” I stated, feeling the girl was a bit on edge. “Mila really can assist you if you want to get cleaned and changed. We can offer a car to get you home as well.”

“No!” exclaimed Emma. “She should stay here tonight. There are plenty of guest rooms, right? If not, she can totally stay in my room.”

“No. Definitely not.” stated Brandon.

“What? Don’t you want me to stay the night?” demanded Deyanira.

“Huh? Of course. Just not in Emma’s room. There’s no telling what she’ll do to you.” he warned her.

“I’m not staying in your room either.” she pointedly told him.

“I never suggested that you would.” he replied.

Turning to me, she asked “Can I really hire him?”

Nodding, I said, “Assuming you can afford his rates, sure.”

“To do what?” she asked.

“Anything you’d ask of a best friend as long as Brandon is comfortable with the job.” I told her.

“What if a girl wanted to go on a date with him?” she inquired.

“I’ve taken a couple jobs that could be interpreted as dates.” I told her.

“But no one would hire Brandon for that!” exclaimed Emma.

“Why not?” asked Deyanira.

“He’s too… Brandon.” stated Emma.

“Thanks, Emma. You’re a real pal.” he told her, sounding sour.

In a sing-song voice, she told him with a grin, “You’re welcome!”

I could be wrong, but I thought Deyanira appreciated Emma’s response. Her face seemed to lighten a bit at least.

“I’ll take you up on that shower and clean clothes.” stated Deyanira.

Mila motioned toward the door and said, “This way, please.”

“I for one am glad we didn’t take bets on Brandon getting a girl tonight. I would have lost.” stated Cosette.

“Me too!” exclaimed Emma, jumping over to Cosette and excitedly taking her hands.

“M-me too.” mumbled Raine from the chair in which she was hiding.

“I woudn’t bet on his success quite yet.” warned Alma.

“Is it really pick on Brandon day?” questioned Brandon, practically pouting.

“I-Isn’t it always?” asked Raine.

He laughed. “Maybe, but what did you guys think of her? Pretty cute, isn’t she?”

“Totally!” exclaimed Emma.

“I think you could find someone nicer.” stated Cosette.

“I don’t know if ‘nicer’ is what he needs.” argued Alma.

I didn’t feel we had enough information to make any conclusions. Most people would be thrown off by this place as Jemal would certainly confirm. I did feel that Deyanira seemed a bit aggressive, but she might not be a particularly bad person. Maybe we’d learn more in the morning.