Best Friend For Hire, Entry 320

“Are you sure about this? You really don’t have to go.” I assured Portentia.

She took her bag from my hand, laughing as she said, “I’ve been hired, James. I accepted the job, and I’m going. Don’t worry so much! This won’t take long.”

I held back a sigh. Alma had hired Portentia to chase after Maxine and dismantle her criminal network. I didn’t doubt Portentia would’ve gone for free, but Alma was probably paying her a hefty sum. Personally, I was against it. Yes, Maxine was problematic. I didn’t agree with her outlook or her methods, but I did feel her intentions were decent. If good intentions was no longer enough to let someone live peacefully, then I should be at war with my own fiancée. We certainly didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything.

As misguided as Maxine’s attempt to save me from the Slayers was, she did have a point about their behavior. The family was influential and powerful in a very lethal way. Their infighting was disruptive to the global economy as holdings could shift based on fighting prowess rather than business merit.

Alma took my hand and said, “Don’t worry, my love. I’m confident Portentia will be finished in time for our wedding.”

I nodded. She was passively watching as Portentia stepped into the limo. A short ride, a relatively quick flight in Alma’s private jet, and Portentia would be causing trouble for Maxine. I hoped the criminals around here didn’t get word of the city’s superhero being away.

“If they do, you can be a good sidekick and tell them to behave.” commented Aaliyah as she stepped out from behind Alma.

“If who does what?” inquired Alma, looking down at her.

“Aaliyah’s suggesting that I do a bit of crime fighting on Portentia’s behalf while she’s gone.” I explained.

She rolled her eyes as she gazed up at me, but she was smiling. “You worry too much. With Jarod’s suit and her weapon, Portentia is more than a match for Maxine. She’ll finish promptly and return.” she insisted.

“Don’t forget my daughter’s help!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Mila will surely be invaluable.” agreed Alma.

“You’ll have to get used to this, boss-man, sir. Employees will need to fly away at times if you’re going to expand, and you simply must expand.” stated Aaliyah.

“Why?” I asked. “Aren’t I doing well enough?”

She grinned at me and said, “I’ve already made some arrangements on your behalf. I can cancel them if you want, but Best Friend For Hire isn’t really about you, is it? I thought you wanted a job where you could make a difference in the lives of others.”

I nodded. “Yes, I do want to make a difference.” I agreed.

“James, I understand that you trust her, but shouldn’t you look into these arrangements of hers before deciding?” inquired Alma.

I shrugged and said, “If she wants me to know, she’ll tell me. If she doesn’t, I wouldn’t be able to understand the paperwork even with Mila’s aid. I’ve told you before that she’s the one with actual power.”

“You’re still the boss, boss-man, sir.” insisted Aaliyah with a giggle. “Just tell me what you want, and I’ll start the arrangements!”

Looking to Alma, I said, “There’s another side of my argument. She already knows what I want, so the arrangements are made to get me there. I don’t have the knowledge or the wisdom to question her judgement on what is best.”

“I do hope you know marriage will change us. I don’t plan to be separated more often than not as is normal for my family, so we’ll both have to grow accustomed to proper discussion over big decisions.” she replied, staring into my eyes.

“Planning on us merging businesses as well?” I asked.

“Well, no.” she replied.

“Then you really don’t need to worry over how mine is run. I’m confident things will continue to go well.” I told her.

Aaliyah giggled as she said, “You have no idea how well.”

Alma’s gaze shifted to her, and I wondered what was going through her mind. She had seen a glimpse of what Aaliyah could do. I wondered if Aaliyah would ever let her see more. I rubbed my aching head, pushing the thought of what I had seen back again. There was just too much of Aaliyah for my poor, little mind.

Hearing the door open, I turned to find Mila standing there in one of her maid outfits. There were subtle differences between them.

“Master, your appointment is nearly here. Do you intend to greet her personally?” she asked.

I shrugged and said, “Might as well.”

She gave a small nod, curtsied, and went back inside.

“What appointment?” inquired Alma.

“Another applicant. A fair number are getting through Aaliyah and Mila’s combined scrutiny lately.” I explained.

“How do you feel Dejon is doing?” she questioned.

I shrugged and told her “Cosette was happy with his performance the other day, and Mila has told me that he is studying with almost as much fervor as Jemal. I think he’ll work out.”

She nodded.

“You were hoping he’d fail, so you could poach him.” I inferred.

Her lip twitched just before she said, “Maybe. You must admit that his magic is useful.”

“No, darling. I refuse to ever admit such a thing.” I half-teased. I still didn’t like the idea of him using his gift very often.

“You two are soooo mushy that you might as well get married.” stated Aaliyah with a sigh.

“Ha. You’re not going to take credit for this too?” replied Alma wryly.

“I can if you want!” exclaimed the tiny girl. “You know I’ve given James advice about you, right? I mean, I have been helping you both out.”

Sighing, Alma looked down at her and said, “I do at times realize why James doesn’t bother questioning you more thoroughly. I don’t actually want to know to what you are referring.”

Grinning back, Aaliyah told her “You have a number of ideas in your head, so you know well enough without me.”

“Behave, you two. My potential new hire has arrived.” I playfully chided as I watched the distant gate open.

“She left. Have you ever tried working through the significance of her actions? Everything she says and does has a purpose.” insisted Alma.

“I know. I’ve considered some of her actions from time-to-time, but I don’t believe…” I started.

Interrupting me, Alma said, “Another girl? Should I start worrying about your fondness for beautiful women?”

I leaned down, kissed her head, and assured her “You know better.”

“James, not in front of the new hire.” she rebuked.

“Yes, dear.” I told her as dryly as I could manage.

Smiling up at me, she lightly punched my arm before saying, “I’ll leave you to it then.”

Her hand left mine, and I found myself instantly missing her. Since our engagement became official, we spent far more time together than we had before, despite my lessons in magic from her coming to an end. My intense studies of magic through the virtual grimoire had boosted my skill enough that Alma no longer seemed inclined to attempt showing me anything new there, though we did spar almost nightly still. Despite our closeness, I still felt we had too little time to ourselves. Our honeymoon after the wedding would lend us some quality alone time, but I was already certain our honeymoon would feel too short.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 318

“Thank you, James! I never would have managed without you!” insisted Mrs. Coleman.

“You are quite welcome. Do call again if ever you need something.” I replied with a smile before stepping into the elevator to leave her floor.

Mrs. Coleman had purchased a new painting and hired Best Friend For Hire to aid in displaying it. Mila used a scan of the room from my initial visit to take measurements and fabricate an airtight display system to match the condo’s aesthetics after sending a simulation to Mrs. Coleman. I merely had to install it.

Now I had an hour until my next job for a “new client”. I sighed wondering what Maxine wanted. She was hiring me through one of her employees this time. Well, the man’s company was a subsidiary of a company where she sat on the board of directors, so there was a small chance that this wasn’t Maxine’s doing, though I wholeheartedly agreed with Mila’s assessment that Maxine was probably involved.

I found myself sighing again as I walked. Being engaged felt all the more real to me now that I had given Alma a ring. The wedding seemed at once too soon and too far away. I was nervous, despite being certain I wanted to marry her. We had yet to thoroughly discuss the details of what we wanted married life to be, or at least I felt there was more to discuss. In addition to worrying over what marriage was going to mean for us, I still was worrying over Dejon.

I hired Dejon yesterday, despite my remaining doubts about his character. Working for me, I’d likely know if he did something truly evil with his ability. If I sent him away now, he’d probably be using his powers to stay afloat, given his need of a job. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t consider how his actions would affect others if that were the case, possibly the very thing which troubled me about him. A lack of solid moral values could be very dangerous with a gift like his.

Furthermore, I felt behind in my studies again. There never seemed to be enough time to read all that I would want to read, even with Aaliyah and Carl helping me cheat a bit. If I really wasn’t aging, did it really hurt to give me a few extra years of study? I found myself smirking at the thought of it. Even I realized that would be suspicious to those in my household. No one questioned how quickly I learned these days, but everyone was perfectly aware of what my schedule was like. There was only so much I could fit into my day, and I had some very intelligent friends who would surely see something amiss if I suddenly knew far too much.

Despite what I’d like to believe, I knew I wouldn’t be willing to study too much without breaks. I’d miss my friends. I’d miss Alma. I’d want to visit my parents again. I already went too long between visits at times. At least they visited the house often enough that I saw them more than I otherwise would. I smiled to myself as I considered again how my parents didn’t seem ready for me to be married. How long would Alma and I wait before having children? I believed she wanted children… What would they even be like?

I rounded a corner and found a couple police cars with their lights flashing. Glancing around, I guessed that the man in the back of one of the cars was apprehended after attempting to rob the pawn shop where one of the officers was asking questions. Hearing someone walking toward me, I looked over and saw Officer Tracy out of uniform.

“James Michael Somerset III. Were you here for this one?” he asked.

“No. I just finished helping Mrs. Coleman with her painting back that way.” I replied, pointing toward her house.

“Hear anything new about Calamity?” he inquired.

“Calamity?” I questioned.

Nodding, he said, “Oh yeah. The city apparently has a vigilante using that as her name. Strange choice if you ask me.”

“I agree. Sounds ominous.” I told him.

“It does. It does. This is the second… no, third time you just happened to be walking by a crime scene after she appeared.” he informed me.

“She? I thought this umm… Calamity, was it?” I asked, waiting for him to nod. “Was a he.”

“No. Calamity is definitely a she. Hard to miss in that new suit she has. White hair from what we’ve been told.” he stated.

“White hair? Not a wig?” I questioned.

He laughed and said, “Would you believe people claim to have seen part of her head shot off? Well, not recently. Lately, they’ve claimed she’s bulletproof. Whatever the case, she has to have some expensive tech to survive some of the things she’s supposedly been through.”

“I bet she would.” I admitted, knowing that she was using some very state-of-the-art technology.

“I also noticed that you have an employee with white hair. Portentia, I believe her name was. Unusual name. Your website says she’s deaf though.” he told me.

“She was born deaf from what I was told. Very friendly girl. Would you like to meet her?” I suggested.

“I would. I really would, but I’m afraid I can’t. People might believe I’m investigating into your business.” he told me.

“That might look bad if my business was associated with criminal activity, but I’ll gladly help law enforcement where I can.” I assured him.

Portentia really seemed to be making a large difference in the city, and I did help her a little not that long ago.

He smirked and said, “Funny. Would you believe I was called immediately by my boss’ boss right after I ran your plates that day we met? He directly ordered me not to investigate you and informed me that investigating into your business was considered investigating you.”

“You’re a detective now, aren’t you. Sorry. I had been wondering why you weren’t in uniform. Congratulations on the promotion.” I told him.

“Thank you.” he replied, frowning.

“Though I find what you just told me somewhat surprising, I can’t claim any knowledge as to why he would tell you that. Perhaps there could be some sort of international problem considering that a foreign dignitary resides in my home.” I suggested.

“Your fiancée.” he stated. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you. For someone who isn’t investigating me, you’re very well informed.” I told him.

Shrugging, he said, “Your wedding is a big event. I heard that the mayor and even the governor are going to be attending.”

“I honestly haven’t seen the guest list, but I would imagine it’s quite extensive.” I replied, wondering how much Detective Tracy actually knew.

“You obviously don’t have to answer, but do you know sign language, James?” he asked.

“Yes. Several forms, actually. With someone who is deaf working for me, I felt obligated to learn. If you ever run into Portentia, don’t worry. She can read lips just fine. Make sure she’s facing you when you’re speaking though. She has a tendency to turn her head when you’re saying something she doesn’t want to hear.” I admitted, not wanting to have him feel I was withholding anything.

“Sorry if I’m keeping you from anything, but I appreciate your time, Mr. Somerset.” he told me, holding out his hand.

I shook it and said, “No trouble. With an hour between jobs, I thought a nice walk would be a good way to kill some time. I might have to call a taxi if I take too much longer.”

“Would you want a ride? I don’t have a DB5 like yours, but my car still runs.” he offered.

“I wouldn’t want to trouble you.” I replied.

“No trouble, not after I took up your time. I’m the green one just up the street.” he insisted, starting to walk as he spoke.

“There are green taxis around.” I teased.

He smiled and led me to his car. Noticing a folder on the passenger seat, he said, “Let me get that out of your way.”

I read enough snippets of the pages when the folder flopped open from being raised that I was certain the entire thing was devoted to researching Portentia. The picture of her at the convention we attended probably confirmed his suspicions about her, but he didn’t have a way to approach her as long as long as she worked for me. I wondered if I had Alma or Aaliyah to thank for that bit of protection.

After getting the address and driving a little ways, Detective Tracy said, “Sorry if I might have seemed a little suspicious of your employee, James. The Calamity thing is a bit of a thorn in our side. She’s a criminal, breaking the law, we’re required to catch her, but she’s also busted a large number of cases open for us. The amount of evidence left for us at some of the crime scenes is staggering. Full videos of crimes in action on microSD cards sitting on top of pictures. There are even printed reports at times connecting the dots easily enough for kindergarteners.”

“That sounds incredible. I’m a little concerned though. If you do pin her down eventually, how are you supposed to bring her in if she’s capable of taking on large groups who don’t play by a rulebook?” I inquired, ignoring the vibration in my pocket. If he caught a glance at my phone’s screen when the wrong message was up, he’d certainly have more questions.

“Can I get your word that you won’t mention this?” he asked.

“Of course. Confidentiality is in my contract.” I informed him.

He laughed and said, “I can imagine, given the people you rub shoulders with. No one even organizes the evidence we have on her. It’s just a bunch of reports from witnesses. She’s officially a myth, since few of the reports sound remotely credible.”

“Even though she’s been seen multiple times?” I asked. “That sounds hard to believe.” I insisted, though I knew he wasn’t lying.

“Fighting crime is tough. Even the people we protect are against us half the time. Having someone actually working to help us doesn’t make any of us prone to bringing her in.” he admitted.

“So what are you after?” I inquired.

He shrugged again before saying, “I’d like to meet her and understand how she does it. Collecting the evidence as she does might revolutionize police work.”

I nodded and kept myself from frowning. I doubt anyone would be pleased to find out how much Mila spies on the city. If the government had a clue how much she spies on countries, they’d want to possess her.

“Here we are. I’ve got a new card if you want one, just in case you hear something.” he told me.

“Sure. Thanks for the ride!” I told him, shaking his hand once more. As I did, I felt my phone vibrate again, so I pulled it out as I got out of the car.

“Marvelous Max is heading toward you. Calamity is also on her way as well.” wrote Mila.

I sighed.

“Is something wrong?” asked Detective Tracy, leaning to look at me.

“Just looks like my day is going to be even busier. Thanks again.” I told him with a wave.

Barely a few steps away, I frowned, hearing the faint sounds of familiar thrusters. I considered running, but there were a large number of people around, and Tracy knew who I was. What was Maxine playing at? Was she really coming straight to me? If so, why? Not wanting to seem unusual in front of the detective, I walked to the most open area I could, pretending to read my phone as I did. If Maxine was coming to me, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

I glanced up and caught sight of Maxine descending straight for me with some sort of cylinder held in her arms. Causing her engines to fail would be relatively easy, but preventing her from crashing into anything or anyone without things seeming unnatural wouldn’t. I waited and wondered.

She flipped around and slowed her descent barely twenty feet from the ground, still landing hard near me. Then she grabbed me with one of the giant machine’s hands, pushed me into the metal cylinder, and launched back into the air just as cylinder closed. Surprisingly, the cylinder was very well padded. I could hear the sound of air coming into it. I did not look forward to explaining this to Detective Tracy if we ever crossed paths again.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 315

“Welcome home.” stated Alma as I walked into the room. She was busily working on several computers via spells while texting on her phone with one hand and holding Caladfwlch with the other.

“Aren’t you supposed to be taking the day off, so you don’t appear to be in two places at once?” I asked.

“Mila’s routing this through my home network for me, and I’m being careful not to cross paths with my past self. I do remember what I’ve done, darling.” she replied. “Before you ask, no, I haven’t made any real progress determining what to get Portentia yet. I am looking.” The last was said while holding her phone for me to see.

“I don’t know if we’d be able to find clothing that Portentia actually likes. Her tastes are a bit unique.” I told her, remembering how she reacted to the dresses she had tried for my birthday party.

“Yes-yes, but I could could always make a variation of these designs to better fit her needs. I’m sure she won’t protest to looking less like a hermit as long as the clothing is comfortable, durable, and allows for movement.” she argued.

“I suppose. If we fail to provide something she likes, we can always do something else for her.” I suggested.

“I will find something. Just let me know if you come up with any good ideas.” she insisted. Then she suddenly thrust Caladfwlch toward me.

“Already tired of your family’s sword?” I asked.

“We were fine until you returned. As we’ve been speaking, the sword’s been growing heavier. I can also feel it wanting to go to you. I’ve tried communicating with it off and on, but all I ever receive are somewhat vague impressions from it.” she explained.

Taking hold of the sword, I sighed before telling her “And here I hoped we’d be able to get it to sing.”

Alma frowned, staring up at me.

“Sorry. I’m not the one who is disappointed that a sword won’t speak to me.” I teased. Seeing her cross her arms, I quickly told her “I am glad that you tried. At least we can guess that it can’t speak.”

“Right. Well, I have much to do. The others haven’t seen Caladfwlch yet. I’m leaving that to you.” she informed me, turning back to her computers.

I leaned down and kissed the top of her head. Then I said, “Let me know if you desire any company while you’re avoiding time off.”

“Thank you. I will.” she told me, sounding happier.

Instead of heading to the ballroom to see if anyone was gaming in there, I checked with Mila to see where Jarod was as soon as I was out of Alma’s wing.

“He’s in the lab, master.” she replied.

“Is Aurora with him?” I asked.

“Yes, master. He’s having her look over the design for his new power converter.” she explained.

“Ah. I can’t imagine her telling anyone about my new friend here, so I guess that doesn’t hurt.” I admitted.

“If she tried, very few are likely to guess what she means.” agreed Mila.

I jogged over to the lift and jumped down, since Mila already had it descending for me.

Jarod glanced up and then stared at me. “What is that he asked after a moment?” he asked, pointing to the sword.

“Caladfwlch.” I replied, pulling it out. The flame from the chimeras blazed forth, igniting the blade into its extraordinary glow.

“Master, Aurora knows.” stated Mila, sounding amused.

“Knows what precisely?” I asked.

“She brought up stories of Arthur and Excalibur when Jarod asked about the sword.” replied Mila.

“Is Aurora interested in myths?” I asked, looking over at Jarod.

“Myths!?” he exclaimed. “How can you hold that sword and call it a myth!?”

I shrugged and said, “Some myths were based on fact, but that doesn’t mean they get the details right.”

“Neither does the news, but people still quote it as fact.” he retorted wryly.

“Touché.” I replied. “Still, I wonder how she figured it out that fast.”

“She’s brilliant and has an incredible memory.” explained Jarod. “How did you get that? Can I hold it?” he inquired, shielding his eyes as he tried looking at the sword.

I nodded, handing the sword over to him. The light went out, and he dropped it immediately. For a fraction of a second, there had been a sort of pressure against my mind, like something trying to communicate telepathically, but the feeling was gone. I quickly caught the sword before it hit the ground.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, stepping back as Aurora ran up to him.

“I heard something like a growl in my head. Maybe not a growl, really, but the same sort of malice was there.

I found the idea that Caladfwlch didn’t like Jarod to be preposterous, but I wasn’t coming up with any other theories.

“Hello?” asked Jarod, answering his phone. “Really!?” he asked, absently patting Aurora’s head.

She was hugging him while periodically squinting at the sword in my hand.

I sheathed it. Having heard Mai telling Jarod that Muramasa was glowing, I wondered if Caladfwlch somehow knew that Jarod had Muramasa. “Interesting.” I commented.

“Yeah. We’ll come up.” stated Jarod before hanging up. Then he told me “I don’t think our swords like each other.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you.” I admitted.

“Aurora, go back to work. I’ll be back.” stated Jarod as he pointed to her station.

She stood there, staring at him.

“Oh, fine. I suppose it is time they meet you.” he told her.

“I seem to recall Alma needing something.” I teased, looking away from him.

“Ha ha.” he muttered. “You’ve gotta be interested in seeing what’s happening.”

“Yes. I do.” I replied, following him onto the lift with Aurora close behind.

As we rose, Aurora tentatively poked Caladfwlch. I moved the sword, positioning the hilt toward her and was surprised she actually drew it. A faint light emanated from the blade, so I guessed my sword liked her. I quickly snatched the sword, returning it to my sheath, when she moved to poke the ground. I didn’t really want a hole there. I shook my head when she looked up at me with a frown, but I didn’t have a clue how to explain to her how dangerous this blade could be. I was going off rumor, of course, but I had no doubt that the sword’s ability to cut would match Muramasa or Midnight. We jogged over to the East wing and headed inside.

Ai looked ready to say something when the door opened, but her mouth snapped shut as she stared at Aurora. When she glanced at me, she suddenly curtsied.

With a groan, I said, “Please don’t.”

“Lady Pendreigh would be displeased if I failed to meet basic propriety, your worship.” she insisted with a mischievous grin.

“Aurora, this is my wife, Ai.” stated Jarod, gesturing toward her. “Aurora’s my lab assistant.”

Aurora saluted, and I found myself wondering again what being inside her head was like.

Mai came running around the corner and grabbed Jarod, pulling him away.

Ai stepped closer to Aurora, took the hand that was pointing at Mai, and said, “You’re beautiful, aren’t you. I want to hear everything you do with my husband in the lab.”

“Aurora doesn’t talk.” I informed her.

“Oh? A lab assistant that doesn’t talk. Care to explain?” she told me, sounding like she was giving me an order.

I pulled out Caladfwlch and said, “I must be off. I’m on a mission.” When Ai looked away from the light, I grabbed Aurora, lifted her in one arm, and ran after Jarod.

“James!” called Ai as she chased us.

Muramasa was sitting on the table in the war room. I wouldn’t have said the sword was glowing precisely, but the area around it seemed untouched by Caladfwlch’s light. The distortion from Muramasa actually reminded me of Raine. Perhaps the Slayers weren’t far off when they called it The Demon Blade.

Jarod picked the blade up, and I could hear its song of battle. As always, Muramasa was ready to kill. Equally apparent was the calm of Caladfwlch, a sense of patience.

I wasn’t prepared to see Jarod toss Muramasa toward me. What was he doing? Should I dodge? No. Ai sounded too close. What if she touched the blade!? I quickly set Aurora to the side. Then I grabbed Muramasa’s handle, turned to Jarod, and asked “What are you doing!? This sword’s too dangerous.”

“Huh?” he asked looking at me like I was being crazy. “I knew you’d catch it, and it wouldn’t hurt you even if you stopped it with your palm. I wanted to see what would happen if you held them both. Seems like they’re both happy enough to me. Show off.”

He wasn’t wrong about how the swords were reacting in my hands, but I still felt that was reckless. I handed his sword back to him as I said, “Don’t offend the sword either. They obviously can be touchy.”

“Fair point.” he replied, nodding as he set Muramasa back on the table.

“Is that really safe?” I asked.

Jarod hugged Mai and said, “My wife likes keeping it close to hand.”

“The whispering can be a bit distracting at times, but I think the sword’s happier nearby.” explained Ai.

“Now tell me about Aurora.” stated Mai.

I turned to see Aurora looking back and forth between the twins.

“Pardon, but Cosette is asking if she and Raine may enter.” stated Mila.

“Whoa. You two reintegrated Mila?” I asked the twins.

“Jarod insisted.” stated Ai.

Then Mai said, “Please let them in.”

Guessing those two had noticed us running past the ballroom on our way, I felt there were quite a few questions about to be asked. I quietly apologized to Alma, thinking I’d be quite a while before stopping in to visit her.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 314

“What’s the time?” I asked when Aaliyah dropped us off in my office, having given our farewells at Alma’s home.

“Two minutes after you left, boss-man, sir.” replied Aaliyah, grinning up at me.

“What? How can I possibly explain doing work from there and here at the same time?” inquired Alma.

“Celebrate your day off!” exclaimed Aaliyah as she raised her hands in the air as if she was cheering. “James, on the other hand, has a job soon.”

“Oh. I figured that would be cancelled.” I admitted.

Alma looked shocked as she said, “Day off? I can’t possibly afford a full day off. There is still so very much to do.”

“Master, should I place your rings in the vault for now?” asked Mila.

“Oh, sure! Thank you.” I told her as one of her bodies walked into the room.

She took each of our rings, placing them into a container she carried, and then left without another word.

“James, help me here.” demanded Alma.

“What? You have a day off. You can’t possibly complain about gaining time. Read, play some games, or anything else that entertains you. I’ll join you when I return home.” I assured her.

“If this happens too often, we’re going to look ancient far before our time.” she complained.

Aaliyah giggled.

“Well, perhaps I will. Going off Hyun-Woo, I’m sure you’ll still look young for many years.” I argued.

“You don’t really expect to grow old, do you?” asked Aaliyah.

“Pardon?” I replied.

At the same time, Alma stepped backward as she said, “I should hope we have long lives.”

“Oh, you will, but aging… that’s funny. How old do you think the fey in the forest are? Any of them seem old to you?” inquired Aaliyah.

“I am not a fey.” stated Alma.

“Your fey blood is far stronger than you realize. Emma will age very slowly compared with most everyone here, but your connection is even stronger.” argued Aaliyah.

“I don’t have any fey blood.” I stated, finding myself imagining what it’d be like to watch Alma stay young as I grew older and older.

“Aww… don’t worry, boss-man, sir. You’d have to drain yourself of energy to pull off aging even a second.” she assured me.

“This can’t be true.” argued Alma. “Yes, some of my family have lived into their hundreds, but they do die in time.”

“Not you.” stated Aaliyah.

“How can you be certain?” demanded Alma.

“Because Death really does know when everyone will die.” I told her. “You should accept it.”

She sighed, frowning at me.

“I can’t tell you why I’m certain, but I have good reason.” Turning to Aaliyah and patting her head, I asked “Am I right?”

“Of course, boss-man, sir. I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I didn’t know simple things like when someone will die. Imagine how late I’d be running all the time!” she exclaimed, smiling up at me.

“You are aware that Aaliyah has no qualms about lying, are you not?” asked Alma. “She could simply sense when someone dies. You’re quite well aware of how quick she is.”

Aaliyah grinned at Alma as she said, “Admitting that there’s a reason for me to visit the dead?”

Alma looked uncomfortable for a moment.

“I’m also aware of when she lies, just as I’m aware when anyone else lies.” I admitted. “I thought you had figured that out.”

“I admit that you do seem rather good at determining who’s lying these days. You weren’t always.” she insisted.

“When I… changed, the ability was vastly heightened.” I told her.

“She has ways of avoiding magic.” argued Alma.

“Yes, and I’m sure she can avoid mine as well. Still, I believe her. How will we even go in public ten years from now?” I marveled. My parents would certainly be shocked by this.

“Illusions?” suggested Alma. “There are spells my family members have used for such purposes.”

“They do work for that necromancer.” I admitted, frowning as I thought of him.

“Yes. His were exceptional.” she agreed.

“Well, you two have time to get even better!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

I nodded, still wrapping my head around the idea of an exceptionally long life. Would I grow as old as Ariadne? What of Zachary and his brothers?

“Zachary’s actually the youngest.” pointed out Aaliyah. “You have to admit that they’ve seen some marvelous things throughout their years.”

“Oh? Did they show you anything of interest?” asked Alma.

“Nothing that you can report to Adelmar.” I replied.

She frowned. “James, we are to be married. Do you really trust me so little?” she asked.

“I’ve learned that you are very loyal to your family, and don’t always wish to burden you with more secrets.” I replied.

“I’d rather know than not, but I can appreciate your warnings on what cannot be shared.” she told me, not fully being earnest.

“See, you weren’t entirely honest there.” I teased.

“I’ll have to be more careful around you, won’t I.” she stated, but she smiled beautifully as she did. “Perhaps I should have said that I can grow to appreciate the warnings.”

“Much better.” I acknowledged, smiling back.

Aaliyah sighed and said, “You two love birds need to confirm plans for Alma’s birthday, although I should point out that Portentia’s birthday is on the same day.”

“What!? Really?” asked Alma.

“Yes. She was born four years before you.” replied Aaliyah. She then looked up at me and said, “While we’re on the topic of birthdays, Adelmar sent a card, thanking you for the gift we sent. His birthday was on the seventeenth.”

I was very glad she had taken care of sending him something, but I didn’t want to admit that I had missed not only the day but sending the gift in front of Alma. “I’m glad he was pleased with it.” I told her.

“You should save it, James.” suggested Alma. “Mail from the head of my family is exceedingly rare, especially these days.”

I did my best not to frown as I wondered what I was going to get Alma. I had forgotten her birthday was coming up. I needed to get something for Portentia as well.

“Will you mind spending part of the day with Portentia?” I asked.

“Of course not. We do get along.” insisted Alma. “Any idea what to get her? Mila normally gives me more notice.”

I would admit that Alma seemed less judgemental of Portentia’s role as a superhero these days.

“Sorry, Lady Pendreigh.” apologized Mila.

“No need to be sorry. I am just surprised is all.” replied Alma.

“Like a birthday surprise type of surprised?” asked asked Aaliyah.

“Ha ha.” stated Alma, rolling her eyes.

“We could go with more tickets to sidekick for her.” I suggested with a shrug.

Alma sighed and said, “Though I have no doubt she would be perfectly happy with such a gift, I cannot approve of it. Surely we can come up with something she’d enjoy which would not have us frolicking about the town in a costume.”

“Are you planning on us always sending gifts as a couple from here on out?” I inquired, enjoying the idea.

“Oh. I suppose I am getting ahead of myself.” replied Alma, actually blushing.

“No. You really aren’t.” I assured her, taking her hand as I bent down to kiss it. “I love the thought of having you tormented with me over what to buy.”

“I see. My fiancée is already plotting to have me tormented.” teased Alma.

“Just a bit when you’re in the mood.” I replied, attempting to sound sincere.

Arching her eyebrow, she asked “A mood to be tormented? What a strange person you think me.”

“Strange enough to marry me for sure.” I told her. “Any suggestions, Aaliyah?”

Mila quickly spoke up, saying, “Master, mother felt you two weren’t in need of a fourth wheel while flirting and took off. Luckily for you both, she didn’t deny me the opportunity to join you if you’re fine with a third wheel.”

“Do you have any suggestions, Mila?” asked Alma.

“Of course, though I’m disinclined to reveal them until I’ve settled on what I’m getting her.” she replied.

“I see.” replied Alma, twisting her lips in thought. She then pulled me down to her and kissed my cheek before saying, “You best be off, or you’ll be late. I can use my… day off… to consider our options.”

I nodded, saying, “Yes, dear.”

She must have noticed my put-upon tone, because she hit my arm just after I said it.

I took off Caladfwlch and handed it over to her. “Mind holding onto this while I’m working? I don’t believe it wants left alone again.” I told her.

She nodded, staring at the sword in surprise as she held it.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“James, Caladfwlch still shines!” she exclaimed, staring up at me. “Not as brightly by any means, but the sword shines!”

“Why wouldn’t Caladfwlch accept Arthur’s descendent, especially one as splendid as you?” I inquired. “Besides, you shouldn’t feel bad. That’s about how the sword looked when Arthur held it.” I assured her with a wink.

Her mouth actually dropped open, and I ran out before she could say anything more. I was certain now that Aaliyah wouldn’t mind me saying that much. Something had changed between the two of them, or Aaliyah wouldn’t have allowed Alma to skip signing a contract. Things were looking magnificent.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 308

“Is this everyone?” asked Dejon as we entered the ballroom for a bit of gaming.

He had met around half of the household in the time since unloading his stuff in his room. There was simply too much to fit easily, so he was left with a bit of a mess. I was certain that would get him through the night well enough. I did approve of how he greeted everyone with a firm handshake.

“You really should at least read through the website before you start making assumptions.” I warned him. “But no, there are several more.”

I was going to say more, but Kayla came rushing into the room, saying, “James! James! Jemal lifted me up with his powers!”

“Really?” I asked. “Did you feel like you were flying?”

“No. The zoomies are way better for flying.” she replied. “It was really cool though! His arms were full, and I was trying to sneak out, and he just lifted me!”

“Just don’t let me catch you flying a zoomie through the house again.” I warned her.

“What if Mila catches me?” she asked, all too sincerely.

“Don’t let her catch you either.” I stated.

“But what if it’s not one of her bodies?” she asked.

“Kayla, don’t fly zoomies through the house.” I told her.

“Yes, sir.” she told me, lowering her head.

I patted her head and said, “There are too many things which could easily be broken in this section, and you might run into someone in your wing.”

Grinning and looking up at me, she said, “I’d love to have feathery wings! Can you give me wings?”

“Sorry, but no.” I told her.

“Aww… okay.” she told me before skipping over to tell Emma about Jemal lifting her.

“You allow kids here?” asked Dejon.

“My secretary’s twelve years old, so yes.” I told him.

“But isn’t this a business?” he asked.

“Businesses can’t involve kids?” I inquired.

“Well, they can… but shouldn’t this be a kid-free zone? Like you said, there are so many things that could break.” he replied.

“Kayla lives here, and Aaliyah’s more capable than any of us, so no.”

“So employees don’t have to live here?” he asked.

I laughed and said, “No, I don’t really care where someone lives, as long as they have a place that suits them.” Looking him in the eye, I then said, “If you have somewhere you’d rather go, we don’t have to wait until tomorrow. I’m sure I can get you there this night.”

“What? No. I mean to say that’s not what I meant. I was just curious. I’ll look at your website if you don’t need me for anything.” he told me. Sitting down, he looked around before asking “How does this work?”

Before I could answer, the keyboard illuminated and Mila provided the chair tutorial on the screen. Feeling he had ample help, I took a seat to get an hour of work done in my guild before Marco would be serving dinner.

“James?” asked Alma as she walked over to me some time later.

“Hmm?” I replied.

“Would you be upset if I were to enlist Dejon for a few errands?” she inquired.

I stopped what I was doing and turned my chair to face her, suddenly feeling on edge. “What sort of errands?” I asked.

“I hardly see why that matters, since he isn’t in your employ.” she replied. “He’s just staying for the night, correct?”

“Yes, but I don’t really like the idea of you forcing him to mess with people’s minds.” I admitted.

“You are well aware that I’m perfectly capable of affecting the minds of others without the aid of someone like him. I simply thought of a use for him which might help us see if he’s trustworthy as well as let him earn a small wage.” she insisted.

“Would him earning this wage involve him using his ability?” I asked.

“Not necessarily, though I wouldn’t discourage him if that is how he wishes to proceed.” she replied.

I wanted to argue against it, but he wasn’t in my employ. I would hardly be dictating his life even if he was. I nodded and said, “Please let me know how things turn out.”

She smiled, walked over to him, and asked him to come with her. I didn’t feel easy about this, but she’d hopefully give me better details afterward. I probably should have had her sign a contract guaranteeing me information. She might have even approved of my foresight if I had, but I wasn’t going to start utilizing contracts with my girlfriend. We could discuss things without them.

Dinner passed without seeing either of them again. I could guess that Alma was stalking Dejon on his “errands”, but I still felt uneasy. Perhaps I should have argued more strongly against this.

By midnight, I found myself pacing in my office. Yes, Dejon wouldn’t be involved in whatever he was doing if he hadn’t shown up here, looking to use his magic on me, but he probably wouldn’t be involved with some mysterious errand had I not suggested that he stay here tonight.

“Master, what is troubling you?” asked Mila.

“Dejon. I still don’t know what to think of him, and I’m worried about what Alma has him doing.” I replied.

“He’s working as a bouncer for one of Lady Pendreigh’s clubs.” she replied.

“What? Are you sure?” I asked.

“Of course, master. Look.” she stated, displaying a video feed of the club next to me.

“Then what happened to Alma?” I asked.

“She’s in her wing, working and watching the same feed.” she replied.

“How is this an errand?” I asked.

“The errands came first, master. Lady Pendreigh had Dejon escort a package across town, assist in unloading a truck, and convince Eddie Clarke to sell his store. Then she set him up as a bouncer for tonight.” explained Mila.

Extra details as well as video footage displayed for me as she spoke. What bothered me the most was that Eddie Clarke was an elderly man, and Dejon quite likely used his magic to persuade the man. The contract was signed within a few minutes of his arrival.

“Master, you look disturbed. I assure you that no harm was done.” stated Mila.

“No harm? That elderly gentleman just lost his shop!” I exclaimed, shocked that she wouldn’t consider that harmful.

“Yes, he did, but he was in debt and the bank was probably going to foreclose soon, given that Eddie’s nephew had transferred. In the long run, this deal will let him have an easier retirement. Lady Pendreigh’s offer was more than generous.” she explained.

I still didn’t like it. At least, I didn’t want to like it. Mila was more than likely correct about the upcoming foreclosure, and Alma could’ve purchased the building at a far lower price had she let that happen.

“Do you think he’ll be happier this way?” I asked.

“I cannot say for certain, master, but he will at least be able to pay his bills. From what I have seen in the past year, Eddie Clarke was quite stubborn where his business was concerned, and he’ll probably wonder why he sold it for quite some time. I can monitor him for a while if you wish.” she replied.

I nodded and said, “Thank you, Mila. Please do. I’m sure Alma will be curious as well.” I already knew I didn’t always approve of Alma’s business practices, but she did have a good heart. I was certain she did. As I looked back to Dejon, I hoped he had a good heart as well, but seeing what he did only made me question it more.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 305

“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.

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.