Best Friend For Hire, Entry 333

“James, dear!” exclaimed mother as she moved to embrace me.

“Don’t forget our new daughter-in-law.” stated father. He looked surprised as Alma stepped up and hugged him, but he still hugged her back.

“Of course not.” replied mother, letting go of me to hug Alma too. “How was the honeymoon? Did you two have fun?”

“Quite eventful. You’d be amazed how much we can accomplish in two weeks.” I told them.

Father laughed and said, “Not really, not with how incredibly fast you two are.”

“I’m pregnant.” stated Alma, stepping toward me.

My parents stared at her incredulously for a moment.

“Isn’t it a bit too soon to tell?” suggested mother.

“Alma’s not quite human, so things work a bit differently. I assure you that she is.” I told her.

Father hesitated a bit longer before saying, “Well, I always did want to be a grandfather.”

“Congratulations to you both!” exclaimed mother. “Do the others know yet?”

“Sorry, but your son couldn’t keep it a surprise till you got here.” claimed Alma, smiling up at me.

I shrugged and told my parents “Sorry. I’m a bit excited.” Waving them onward, I said, “Come in, please. We have something to show you.”

“Another surprise?” asked father.

I nodded.

“I’m sure it’s not as surprising as this.” claimed mother, smiling at me. “Any idea when the baby will be due with the umm… differences?”

“December, we think.” replied Alma, before winking up at me.

“Are you planning on finding out if it’s a boy or a girl? That seems pretty common these days.” suggested father.

“Probably.” I told him. “We figure that’ll give us more time to come up with a name.”

“If you have a boy, are you going to carry on the tradition?” inquired father, following us toward the ballroom.

“That seems quite likely. I like how easily the name would pass in my country too.” explained Alma.

“What if you have a girl?” questioned mother. “I’ll gladly help with names.”

“We already decided on Dani for our first girl.” teased Alma as she loudly emphasized the name.

“Oh? Is there a story behind this?” inquired mother, her eyes opening wide as Dani came running into the room.

“Mom, are these them!?” exclaimed Dani, putting her hands together and grinning like she just got the most exciting present.

“Dani, meet my parents.” I told her. Then to my parents I said, “This is our adopted daughter, Dani Lyshaa Somerset.”

“Uh… b-but…” started father, stopping as he stared at me.

I caught Cosette grinning from the ballroom doorway as Dani ran up and hugged both of my parents at the same time. Father, still looking shocked, patted her back as he looked down at mother.

Switching to her native tongue, Dani let go of them and asked “Why aren’t they happy?”

“English in front of your grandparents.” ordered Alma.

“What uh language is that?” asked father.

“Oh, that’s from Dani’s home. The circumstances were a bit unusual, but she’s part of the family now.” I told him.

“Dani, I love your hair and umm skin.” stated mother, reaching to touch Dani’s head but hesitating.

Dani pressed her head into mother’s hand as she exclaimed “It’s all natural, except the tips!”

“Is she… uh… similar to the ones in your forest?” asked father.

“No, she’s not a fey, but she does sense the emotions of those around her.” I explained.

“The fey! I forgot about them. When can I meet them!?” exclaimed Dani, staring up at me.

“Let’s plan on tonight for most of them. You’ll meet one sooner.” I promised, creating a burst of light above the forest with a spell. “Just don’t let her know how long we’ve been back, since she’ll be disappointed that I didn’t come see her first thing. For now, let’s head to the dining room. Marco’s probably done preparing dinner by now.”

“Almost, master. We’re putting the finishing touches on at the moment.” announced Mila over the speakers.

“Perfect.” I replied as I started walking to the dining room.

Alma looped her arm around mine and said, “I have missed his cooking. This will be a treat.”

“Marco’s cooking is always a treat.” agreed father as he and mother followed with Dani between them. “Dani, how old are you?” he asked.

“Almost fifteen.” she told him with a grin.

“When’s your birthday?” asked mother.

“Uh…” she mumbled, looking thoughtful.

Alma glanced back and said, “April nineteenth.”

“That’s the one!” exclaimed Dani.

“How long have you been studying English? You’re doing quite well.” stated mother.

“I’m not too sure.” she replied with a shrug.

When my little fairy friend came flying toward us, I glanced back to watch my daughter’s reaction. Her look of wonder was priceless, especially when my little friend started showing us all of her adventures in the forest.

“Daddy, she’s adorable! I want to ride on the umm… the squirrel!” she exclaimed. “I want to ride on a squirrel. I guess they’re pretty small for her to ride them like that, but wasn’t that awesome!?”

I pursed my lips as my little friend started paying more attention to my daughter. Dani was getting more and more excited as the fey talked to her. I had expected her to get a double dose of their emotions, since she’d be feeling it with her own abilities as well as in the fairy’s projections, but I hoped the forest wouldn’t overwhelm her when we visited there.

“I’m still not accustomed to feeling that. What did you think, Dani?” asked mother.

“Oh, mom’s shown me things like that before, so I’m used to it.” she replied, sounding much calmer than I would have expected.

Perhaps Alma was intervening for Dani, projecting her own calm into Dani’s mind.

“Will the others be joining us?” asked mother.

“You can count on it, the ones who are here at least.” I assured her. “A couple are out on jobs. Jemal and Kayla should return soon. He’s probably picking her up from her friend’s or on his way back with her already. The ones here are just giving us a few minutes privacy while you get to know Dani a little.”

Mila had given me a rundown of everyone’s schedule on the way here from the airport. We had flown home in Alma’s plane just to give Dani the experience of how flight is here. Given how advanced her home planet is compared to ours, most things on this planet were going to seem pretty low tech.

“Isn’t it amazing how pretty all of daddy and mom’s friends are!?” exclaimed Dani.

Father laughed and said, “I couldn’t agree more. My wife and I would feel remiss in our apparel were we to leave home in anything too casual for a visit here.”

“You’re quite beautiful too, Dani.” insisted mother.

“Thank you, grandmother!” replied Dani with another grin.

Pursing her lips for a moment, mother said, “That will take some acclimation. I wasn’t expecting to be a grandmother this morning.”

“Son, why does she call you ‘daddy’ while calling Alma ‘mom’ and now my wife ‘grandmother’?” inquired father.

“I blame Aaliyah. She insisted that Dani go with ‘daddy’ for me. Alma wasn’t about to be called ‘mommy’ but she didn’t want to have things sound too formal when I’m ‘daddy’.” I explained.

Piping in, Dani said, “And they thought ‘grandfather’ and ‘grandmother’ seemed right for you two.”

Father nodded and said, “I suppose.”

“You three already seem so casual together. If you’ll pardon my asking, Dani, but wasn’t being adopted by someone as young as… as these two… a bit odd?” inquired mother.

Dani grinned and told her “I feel like I’ve been with them for years.”

“But they’re really not too much older than you.” stated father.

I gave Dani a warning glance and shook my head when she looked like she was going to reply.

Taking father’s hand in both of hers, Alma said, “Getting used to the idea of me dating your son took a while too, but families can come about in the strangest of ways. Please trust us on this.”

He looked surprised by her, but he nodded. “Life in this household will never be normal. I have come to terms with it. I think marriage suits you.”

She smiled and told him “It really does.”

“Let’s all take this end again.” I suggested, walking to the northern end of the table as I explained to my little friend that we were eating soon.

She excitedly projected all of her favorite foods into my head, complete with aromas, taste, textures, and her feelings on them.

Dani wistfully announced “I want some of everything.”

“She really is remarkable. I should show you some of the paintings she’s inspired if you ever visit.” suggested mother.

“Daddy’s told me that you paint! I’d love to see your work.” insisted Dani.

“You should paint together.” suggested Alma. “Dani has talent and has been well trained in the arts.”

“Really? I’d love to paint with her.” replied mother.

“Please forgive her if she cheats at times.” I warned.

“What do you mean, dear?” asked mother.

“Daddy, it’s not cheating!” insisted Dani.

“Dani has a gift for magic and uses it when painting.” explained Alma.

I smiled, feeling my wife’s explanation was a bit of an understatement, but mother would see soon enough. That conversation ended there when my friends started coming into the room, since greetings were exchanged. Still, I felt things were progressing nicely.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 332

As Mila drove the limo down my driveway, Dani was practically bouncing in her seat, looking around at everything with obvious excitement. I hoped she was ready for this; I hoped I was ready for this. Explaining how Alma and I went on a honeymoon for two weeks and came back with a daughter who appeared to be near our age ― a girl with taffy-colored skin and cobalt blue hair tipped in black dye ― would be a bit of a shocking tale, even in my household. We all had agreed not to give a full account though. We couldn’t, at least not yet.

“Is that really the house? It’s huge!” exclaimed Dani after Alma gave her a nod.

“Your father and I will be occupying the second and third floor of the center part. We’re letting you have your way with my old wing in the West.” explained Alma, pointing toward the wing.

Grinning, Dani asked “And the first floor is for everyone, right?”

“Sure is.” I told her, smiling.

When I left here, I wasn’t that many years older than Dani. I couldn’t even guess my age now. Aaliyah offered to tell me, but I had told her not to make me feel old. As far as most people on this planet knew, I was still nineteen, and I needed to act the part as best as I could.

Dani led the way to the doors, practically running the moment the car stopped. Alma and I followed behind her, taking things slowly. We had spent the last two weeks on our island, attempting to finish acclimating Dani to the world, since Aaliyah didn’t want to “spoil our fun” with a more efficient course. Things would work out one way or another. Our lives were guaranteed to go well for many years.

“Z-, er… daddy, what’s with all these umm…” started Dani, spinning as she looked around.

“Engravings. They’re telling a story about a wonderful woman.” I explained, almost through the door.

“Who are you?” called Emma from down the hall as she jogged toward Dani.

I was about to reply when I felt someone tug my shirt from behind me.

“D-daddy?” asked Raine, staring up at me with wide eyes.

Adjusting to her speed again would take some time. She let me grab her shoulders, lift her, and deposit her inside next to my daughter.

“You must be Emma!” exclaimed Dani as she hugged Emma and gave her a kiss. “I’ve heard so much about you!”

Emma smiled and blushed as she inquired “Good things?”

“Emma, Raine… meet Dani.” I told them, releasing Raine from my grip.

Dani turned at Raine’s name, exclaiming “You’re the fluffy one!”

Raine was shaking slightly as Dani hugged her and kissed her forehead, but that was to be expected.

“Y-you… sm-smell good.” mumbled Raine.

“Guys, James and Alma are back, and they brought someone new!” exclaimed Brenna from the ballroom doorway.

“Sooo fluffy!” exclaimed Dani, still hugging Raine and playing with her hair.

Alma and I stepped out of the way as Mila brought our luggage inside. Portentia, Maxine, and Cosette were coming out of the ballroom behind Brenna. I spotted Jarod, Ai, and Mai coming down the hall, so Mila apparently notified them as well.

“Dani, don’t upset Raine.” cautioned Alma.

“Sorry, mom. I’m just excited!” she exclaimed as she released Raine from her embrace. “Raine’s hair is spectacular. Of course, so is yours, Emma!”

Dani couldn’t smile without it seeming flirtatious, and I would need to warn Emma before she got her hopes up too high. I didn’t care if the two had some sort of relationship eventually, but I wasn’t going to have Emma’s hopes crushed by Dani’s nature. Dani’s entire species was beautiful, empathic, capable of magic, and completely incapable of monogamy. The concept was far too alien for them to really believe. We knew quite well from our brief visits to their world and our attempts to get the idea through to Dani. Like the fey in my forest, they were a species of whim and strong emotions, though Dani’s species could show remarkable focus when passion drove them to a task.

I quickly grabbed Dani before she went around hugging every last one of them. Then I said, “Everyone, this is Dani Lyshaa Somerset. Alma and I adopted her while we were away.”

“Adopted!? Isn’t she around our age?” asked Jarod.

“Yes, but adopting her was the easiest way to get her into the country. Aaliyah assured me that all of the paperwork has been pushed through already, so she’s officially our child. Please help her as she acclimates to things around here and tell me if she gets into too much trouble.” I explained, doing my best not to smirk at the looks of shock.

If they knew how many years Alma and I spent raising Dani, they would really be in for a shock, but that was a story I would never share with everyone here, despite how much they might enjoy being regaled by our adventures.

“Can I be there when you tell your parents?” inquired Cosette with a smile.

“They’ll be here this evening, so any of you who aren’t working might be around.” I replied. “One last announcement that my parents will soon be privy to as well…”

Everyone looked at me expectantly, so I glanced at Alma to see if she wanted the honors.

“James, really… I thought we’d tell your parents first.” she stated, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. Then she sighed and said, “Fine. I suppose they might as well find out first. I’m pregnant.”

Following shouts of shock, several of them quickly congratulated us. Alma and I thanked everyone, happy to be home. The baby had certainly been a shock when Aaliyah informed us that the time was coming for us to return home. We declined letting her tell us the precise date of birth or gender, preferring the surprise, but we actually did know the month. Alma was already four months pregnant and starting to show slightly, but she had another eight and a half to go.

Dani was practically bouncing under my hand. She couldn’t be expected to contain her excitement when feeling the excitement of everyone around her. I let her go, knowing that I couldn’t contain her enthusiasm.

She hugged Brenna, kissing her cheek as Brenna turned her head. Then she looked over to Maxine for a moment before rushing her.

“Daddy, is this the criminal!?” exclaimed Dani as she hugged Maxine.

“Yes, so you should be careful around her.” warned Portentia, looking confused as Dani pulled her into the hug.

“And you’re Portentia. Your skin is sooo beautiful.” she insisted.

“Lady Pendreigh…” started Mai.

“Girls, just call me Alma. I’m married. Let’s drop titles and formalities while at home.” insisted Alma.

Ai and Mai stared at her in wide-eyed shock, glancing at one another in obvious bewilderment.

“A-Alma…” started Ai.

“Not to be rude, but…” continued Mai as she eyed Dani.

“What’s with my skin?” asked Dani, interrupting them.

“And hair.” stated the twins.

“All natural! Be jam.” replied Dani, releasing Portentia and Maxine to approach them.

“Jelly.” I corrected.

At the same time, Alma said, “Jealous.”

“Pleased to meet you all. Mom told me not to kiss you because you’re married.” explained Dani as she held out a hand to each of them while standing all too close to Jarod.

He took a step back between Ai and Mai, reaching a hand between them when Dani went to shake his hand.

Smirking, Alma said, “I actually warned you against kissing people at random, since many will find it confusing and even disturbing, married couples especially.”

“But they’re all so pretty…” complained Dani.

“Behave.” I chided. “Let’s get you set for playing that game I’ve been telling you about before my parents arrive.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, hugging my arm as I showed her into the ballroom with several of my friends in tow.

I wasn’t certain how well she’d be able to sit still at the moment, but the others might calm down enough to help Dani calm down with a bit of gaming. Introducing my daughter to my parents was going to be interesting enough without her feeling rambunctious.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 329

I should have expected that more vampires would be attending my wedding than just the brothers, Ariadne, and Cosette, but their presence worried me. I feared that the large number of vampires would encourage the Slayers and family to act out. Then again, Carl and Aaliyah could handle the lot if necessary without anyone getting hurt. The ability to manipulate time was an incredible advantage, which was surely being done for the arrangement with the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce to help Marco for the reception.

Introducing Jarod, Ai, and Mai to the assembled vampires was entertaining. Ai and Mai were on their best behavior, though they were obviously uncomfortable. They had strong opinions about the bride not being seen on her wedding day. Even with so many hours to go, they protested Alma’s presence and escorted her away. Jarod was equally quick to ask questions about the vampire’s lives as soon as the twins were gone. Not all of the vampires were forthcoming, but Vito, Papak, and Zachary seemed happy to sate his curiosity.

The moment Portentia approached us ― apparently home from her nightly patrol, Ariadne called to her. “Portentia! James mentioned that you’ll be tending to our needs if we find the sun too inhospitable after a time.”

Smiling and nodding, Portentia said, “Of course! If any of you would like to get your fill in preparation, a room has already been set aside for your needs. Mila will ensure our privacy.”

“Mila?” asked David.

“Yes?” replied Mila, her voice emanating from the speakers hidden throughout the walls in a loud whisper.

“Mila is the artificially constructed daughter of Aaliyah, my secretary.” I explained. “She has complete control of the house and four bodies now. Sorry that I didn’t introduce her sooner, but I was waiting till one of her bodies happened by.”

“Oh, master, you need only have called.” she cooed. “I’ll be there shortly.”

“No need, Mila. I’m sure you’re already engaged in something important.” I told her.

“Nothing’s more important than you, master.” she teased.

“And how is she supposed to ensure privacy?” asked David.

The wall opened behind him and a gun was deployed at his back. “I’m fully armed for minor inconveniences, and Raine is on call for anything major.” she explained.

“R-” started David, jumping back into the gun as Raine appeared in front of him.

Looking over to me, Raine, barely speaking above a whisper, asked “M-mila said I w-was… n-needed. Is… s-something wrong?”

“No. Sorry, Raine. Mila merely wanted a demonstration to assuage David here of his worries.” I assured her.

She nodded and ran off quicker than I could see. Papak started laughing, a deep rumbling sound filled with glee.

“I can also help with minor inconveniences.” announced Portentia, waving her hand as if to volunteer.

“As the brothers can assure you, I have a formidable staff, perfectly capable of helping my guests from disrupting one another.” I stated, hoping to enforce David’s feeling of security here.

“You forget, David. Death herself has sworn to claim anyone who would disrupt James and Alma’s wedding. There will be no problems here.” insisted Zachary.

I frowned. Aaliyah failed to mention that to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if she sent out contracts to everyone attending, having them swear their good will.

“Unlike you, I haven’t met her.” muttered David.

“What’s she like? James doesn’t like speaking of her.” commented Jarod.

Zachary shrugged.

“You really want to know?” asked Papak with a grin.

“Sure!” exclaimed Jarod.

Ariadne rolled her eyes while shaking her head.

Papak looked around, the grin diminishing on his face into a somber expression. Then he said, “Imagine feeling nearly invincible in a time when the wheel was rare, new tech for humanity. You’re exploring the world, drunk on your own power, when you come across an incredibly large monster that makes me seem beautiful in comparison. You, in your arrogance, try to fight the beast just to test your strength, certain that you can escape. To your horror, the creature not only proves faster and stronger than you, but its touch sucks the energy out of you, allowing you no means of escape. For the first time in years, you understand stark terror, realizing the futility of your situation. Your dying and there’s nothing you can do to survive. As you fail to scream due to lack of strength in mind and body, your entire body manages to seize up as you’re suddenly very aware that something far more terrifying exists. The nightmarish terror which easily vanquished you is brushed aside as insignificant dust in a summer’s breeze. Hours later, you might still be on the ground where you dropped, shaking uncontrollably while knowing in your heart that you certainly would have died of fear were you merely human. That is what Death is like, an absolute fear that strips you of all rationale with her presence while somehow instilling inside you the idea that your existence is very mortal.”

As he spoke, Papak had slowly crept toward Jarod till he was towering over him at the end, blocking out the light with his massive wings. He quickly backed off after he finished, grinning widely again.

Jarod nodded and smiled, though I could tell he looked nervous. “She must make a fortune at Halloween events.” he teased.

“Oh, yes. Screams to die for.” wryly replied Vito.

“Personally, I find she just needs a firm rebuke when she just goes too far.” claimed Ariadne.

“For you, that might work. In over thirteen thousand years, my arguments have ceased to change her mind.” insisted Vito.

“She listens to James just fine.” argued Ariadne.

Everyone listens to James.” teased Jarod.

I sighed and said, “They might listen, but not everyone agrees with me. I am rather young, after all, so there’s much to learn.”

Azizah, who had been quietly watching the exchange with the other vampires, spoke up, asking “What sort of magic are you using on us? I know why I’m here, the significance of your marriage, and next to nothing about you, but I am inordinately attracted to you.”

“Azizah, did I not say James was charming?” teased Zachary.

“Sorry, but my body emanates a magical field of sorts, compelling people to like me. I can’t stop it without completely depriving myself of energy.” I explained. “I can show you the spell Alma uses to help reduce the effect if you like.”

“Unfortunately, I lack any magical gifts outside what’s in my blood.” she replied. “That being said, I accept the brother’s judgement about you, affected as they may be.”

“Awesome.” mumbled Cosette, who had been watching the brothers with starry-eyed glee since their arrival.

“I think I’ll take you up on that snack if you truly don’t mind.” stated David to Portentia.

“Very, very small sips.” warned Ariadne. “Vito and I will accompany you, just in case. Her blood is… potent.”

Vito nodded and followed Portentia and David out with a couple of the other vampires in tow. The strange relationship between Vito and Ariadne still amused me, given their appearances and actual age difference, but the brothers were obviously quite fond of Ariadne.

“When do you expect Adelmar to be arriving?” inquired Zachary.

“Given the plane’s current velocity, Adelmar and Anwen will be landing in just over three hours.” stated Mila before I could admit my ignorance. “Numerous relatives of his will be arriving sooner, so the pre-wedding entertainment will begin around eleven if you wish to socialize.”

“Lovely. Let’s hope Adelmar does not wish to speak with us before the wedding. With only hours to spare, his grand speeches might delay the wedding if he does.” he teased, earning a few laughs from those assembled.

I smiled as well, not particularly fond of Adelmar’s speeches. Still, the current company was excellent, and this seemed like a fine start to my day.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 326

“Finally found time for me?” asked Maxine after stepping into my office in front of Mila.

I found out last night that Maxine shared her birthday with Alma and Portentia. Though I considered the shared date with Alma to be a coincidence, I wondered if being born on the exact same day as Portentia showed another connection between the two. Mila was searching through old records for me, but many documents from that time were still kept on paper, slowing things down considerably.

“Depends on how you want me to take the question.” I replied as I perused through some documents on a purchase Aaliyah wanted to make for my company.

“Your tenant agreement is outlandish and nearly incomprehensible. I doubt I’d fully understand it even if I were to study law for several years before returning to it.” she stated.

“Given your intellect, that really is saying something, but what is your point?” I inquired.

“Signing a document under duress invalidates it, so you can’t possibly expect me to abide by it, especially with how convoluted the thing is. I could violate it without ever knowing.” she insisted.

“Though you could make a wonderful argument in court if you were allowed to open the case, you will be expected to uphold your end of the agreement while staying here. Alma was confident that she covered what you are and are not allowed to do while staying here in enough detail for you to understand. Certain violations, as you were informed, are punishable by death, which I’m confident can be carried out. Please don’t put that contract to the test.” I replied, frowning as I realized what I was to be purchasing.

“You are aware that I heal just as quickly as Portentia?” she inquired.

I nodded out of habit as I said, “Yes, but I believe someone I know is capable of killing you both. Trust me when I say that you do not want an introduction.”

“And you’d be willing to kill me?” she asked, sounding doubtful.

“My staff is very efficient, but you’d probably be dead before I even heard of the violation. On a more pressing note, my company will be acquiring a large part of your holdings soon, and I wish to assure you that I’ll return things to you if ever I feel you are rehabilitated.”

“That is not amusing. None of my assets are for sale.” she stated.

“Mila, am I correct in assuming that Alma is already pressuring for a quick transition?” I asked.

“Yes, master. Maxine’s position as CEO of her family’s corporation is already under scrutiny. Evidence will be found, showing criminal activity through the company. Her shares will then be sold off, since Maxine won’t be available to make an innocent owner claim to the courts after the asset forfeiture. Within two months, you or Lady Pendreigh will have control of her estate, since proceedings are being pushed forward.” explained Mila.

“My lawyers will…” started Maxine.

Interrupting her, Mila said, “not do a thing, given that Lady Pendreigh is purchasing their firms. You are willfully ignoring Lady Pendreigh’s influence in all branches of the government as well as her ability to purchase what’s in her way. Mother put a word in with the vampires on James’ behalf to influence other sections. This will happen.”

“Sorry. I assure you that your company will stay afloat. Before you make any more angry remarks, do understand that I’ll have to give my fiancée news she won’t like, since I’ll be intervening on your behalf. You know as well as I do that she would not be so kind.” I stated, hoping to deflect Maxine’s anger.

She stood still enough that she might as well have been a statue. I had moved onto other documents when I caught motion in my peripheral vision. She was smiling.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yes, James. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. Sorry to intrude.” she told me, turning around and stepping toward the door. Her voice sounded flat… controlled.

“Did you ever play Ancient Tribes of Earth or did you merely try to crack it?” I asked.

“Yes, I played. The programming behind it is truly extraordinary.” she replied without turning to face me again.

“I’ll hire Jarod and Mila to recreate your visual apparatus if you wish to play again. You could pass some time and possibly ingratiate yourself with some of my friends here.” I suggested.

“Thank you. I’ll consider your offer.” she truthfully assured me.

A while after she left, I asked “What’s Maxine doing?”

“Thinking, I assume. Since we returned to her room, she’s been standing completely still.” explained Mila.

“Didn’t you order some furniture for her?” I inquired.

“No, master. She refused to assist in the choices, claiming that her cell might as well feel like one.” replied Mila.

I sighed, curbing my impulse to try reasoning with Maxine. As far as I knew, she might be plotting her escape. Given her abilities, she had little reason to take my warning about the risk of death seriously.

“Is Iris here?” I asked.

“Master, five in the morning is a bit early to expect her arrival.” replied Mila.

“Oh. True. I was just considering a break and thought I might convince her to do a bit of gaming again. She rarely logs on from home, despite having a laptop now.” I commented.

“I know, master. She really does prefer being outside. Don’t forget that your parents will be visiting today.” insisted Mila.

“I know. How’s Dejon acclimating?” I inquired.

“There have been no complaints from his clients, he is dutifully completing coursework, and I have seen no signs of him attempting to control others.” she reported.

Nodding, I said, “Thank you, Mila. Are Jemal and Kayla still doing well?”

“Of course, master. Though Kayla is not as diligent as her brother in her coursework, she is a very gifted girl, getting well ahead for her age. Jemal has a one hundred percent return rate from his current clients.” she explained.

“Wow. He has me beat in that regard.” I admitted, knowing I was just resisting the urge to pester Alma.

Our wedding day was steadily growing closer, and I felt a sense of excitement for it. I knew I was probably being naive to some extent, but my own parents made marriage seem so wonderful. Jarod’s relationship with the twins certainly benefited from it. For me, I’d finally be able to relieve myself of a seemingly endless stream of secrets. Keeping as much from her as I did didn’t feel right, despite knowing she kept things from me as well. I wanted to be open and honest with her even though I’d never get to be so open with others I care about. There were only ten more days to wait.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 324

Alma’s birthday was a success, though remarkably low-key. I knew the party would be low-key, but I thought low-key for her would involve a much larger number of guests, considering the piles of gifts that were sent throughout the day. Even with all of our friends gathered, the room she had picked seemed spacious ― she had insisted on having the party in her wing, probably to keep us from going overboard with the decorations.

Today, the other birthday girl was returning home. I had caught a little of Portentia’s exploits on the news. Mila was being rather tight-lipped about what all happened, claiming that Portentia insisted on telling me everything herself, which I couldn’t doubt. Portentia loved talking about her adventures when she felt safe to do so. When we returned home, we were going to have a welcome home slash belated birthday party for her, mainly as an excuse to give her the presents from everyone.

For Alma, I had handcrafted a large necklace out of platinum and gems that Aaliyah had procured for me. She seemed to like it well enough. Alma and I ended up designing a new backpack for Portentia with concealed compartments for her superhero costume. When inserted properly, the costume would just seem like padding. To be honest, Alma had done most of the design work. I merely made an enchantment on the backpack to help protect it and improve the concealment aspects.

Well, there was also a little spell that helped people ignore the backpack existed. I had tested it on Brandon, who tripped over the backpack repeatedly without realizing why he was tripping. I did explain to him what was happening afterward. He playfully hit me. I probably deserved worse for putting him through the ordeal, but I was happy the enchantment worked properly. With his enhancement suit worn, he was able to notice the backpack just fine, so the suit’s enchantment was working as well.

Noticing Alma frowning, I asked “What’s wrong?”

She pursed her lips before stating “I don’t know that you’ll approve of Portentia’s souvenir.”

“Souvenir?” I inquired. Did Portentia bring back part of Maxine’s armor again? “Oh. I see.” I stated when Portentia rounded the corner with Maxine in tow. She was wearing one of Portentia’s hoodies with the hood up and white-rimmed sunglasses, but that was obviously her. I stepped out of the limousine to greet them.

“James!” exclaimed Portentia, running over to me and giving me a hug.

Maxine, who had been holding onto Portentia’s arm, stayed where she was. “Hello again, James.” she told me.

“Why isn’t she in prison awaiting trial?” I asked, mouthing the words.

Mila had stepped out and taken their luggage cart to the limousine’s trunk.

“Can I keep her?” asked Portentia in a whisper.

“What!?” I replied, not expecting Portentia to say that of all things.

“James, let’s discuss this in the car.” called Alma.

She was right. There had already been enough people periodically watching for who’d step out of the limousine. I didn’t want anyone to realize Maxine was with us, though no one should be looking for her here.

“Lady Pendreigh, I should have known you’d be here as well.” stated Maxine.

I stepped back into the vehicle to sit by Alma and waited as Portentia guided Maxine into the other side. What had happened to Maxine’s glasses or even her cane?

Once they were situated, I asked “What’s this about?”, pointing to Maxine.

“I don’t believe I can age, so prison would raise numerous questions.” stated Maxine.

Oh, yes. She was apparently like Portentia.

“You’re colder than normal.” observed Alma.

“Portentia confiscated all of my tech. I assured her that some of it was perfectly harmless, but she doesn’t trust me.” explained Maxine.

“No one trusts you.” argued Portentia.

“Camila does. You know they don’t really have enough evidence against her to keep her very long. My lawyers will see to it.” stated Maxine.

“Even a year apart will do you two some good. Besides, you only have one lawyer left practicing in that area. We did our research.” insisted Portentia.

“Oh, yes. The mysterious ‘we’ again. I can’t imagine that James supplies your intel.” commented Maxine.

Grinning at the blind girl, Portentia said, “No, he’s my sidekick at times.”

As the two continued to bicker, I considered what to do. They were right about Maxine being in prison if she bothered staying very long. If she truly shared Portentia’s abilities, I had no doubt that she’d break out long before people could notice her lack of aging. Even if she didn’t, Maxine was intelligent enough to earn Jarod’s grudging respect, and guards would probably underestimate a blind girl even after hearing about her criminal career. Mila, however, could watch Maxine’s every move continuously.

“You could seal her away in your vault, James.” suggested Alma. “Even I couldn’t escape it for a very long time if I ever did manage to figure out those bloody enchantments.”

“Coarse as ever.” muttered Maxine with a small smile.

“I wouldn’t want any of my collection damaged when Maxine grew bored.” I replied.

“Maybe I should keep her under my personal supervision.” teased Alma.

At least, I was hoping she was teasing.

“Oh, yes. That would be marvelous. I’m sure neither of us would grow bored, even when you’re old and gray.” replied Maxine.

“Funny, but I don’t seem to age either. We’ll have a very long relationship.” stated Alma.

Maxine scowled as she said, “This is the most insufferable run of bad luck in all of history.”

“Maxine’s used to being lucky. Very lucky. I think… we may be opposites in that regard.” commented Portentia.

“Do things really go wrong for Portentia all the time?” asked Maxine. “Some of the stories she told me seem highly improbable.”

“No. Portentia’s learned to be meticulous in many areas to avoid problems in advance.” I argued, thinking of how careful she’s grown with her gear.

“I help too, master.” stated Mila.

Maxine tilted her head, facing her ear toward Mila as she said, “That voice… you’re the mysterious informant.”

“I’m the one who crippled your communication throughout the city and performed the DDoS attacks against you.” happily replied Mila. “You are a skilled techie for a near-human. Mother found your attempts to fight me adorable.”

“And who’s your mother?” she asked.

“Aaliyah T. Sypher.” stated Mila.

“What? That child!?” exclaimed Maxine.

“I’m an artificial intelligence designed by Aaliyah to assist James in all his needs. The master allows me enough free time to aid in other endeavors as well.” explained Mila.

“What? You’re a machine?” inquired Maxine, sounding mystified by the notion.

“You’re hearing my voice from an android body that was a joint project between mother, Jarod, and me. The upgraded versions will be deployed in the near future. When we arrive, you should thank Jarod for his part in your machines.” teased Mila.

“I suspected he was the one after I saw some of his car designs. He’s very gifted.” replied Maxine.

“He also designed the physical part of Calamity’s enhancement suit. The master handled the magical end.” explained Mila.

Smiling, Maxine said, “Camila would love to learn from you, James. She was quite confused by how Portentia seemed to ignore her spells.”

“I’ve seen Camila’s attempt at spells. She lacks the capacity to even understand James’ enchantment, much less cast it.” argued Alma.

“Disappointing, but understandable. The little escape trick James pulled on me was extraordinary by itself.” she insisted.

I didn’t bother telling her how simple that was. As well-meaning as I felt Maxine was, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of her staying in my home. I was half-tempted to see if Aaliyah would take her off planet, but I worried what mischief she’d cause unobserved. Using sign language, I informed Mila that I wanted Maxine’s quarters to be as far removed as possible from the others. Whether or not she’d be confined to them would depend on how well Maxine behaved. Mila would need to be physically with her at all times, just in case.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 323

“What’s all this?” I asked, finding a number of people standing in my entryway. I heard them well before I saw them, but I hadn’t been expecting anyone this morning.

Thankfully, my little fairy friend had sensed them and turned invisible.

Mila curtsied and said, “Courtesy callers with gifts for Lady Pendreigh, master.”

The assembled group stopped what they were doing and bowed to me after seeing Mila curtsey.

I wanted to tell them that was hardly necessary, but I knew Alma wouldn’t approve. If they were here with gifts for her birthday, they were probably part of her family.

“Am I supposed to bow to you?” asked Iris.

“Please don’t.” I told her. “You are very welcome to attend the party tonight if you wish. My fiancée’s celebrating her birthday today with a surprisingly small party. Apparently, she’s accustomed to only celebrating once every four years, but I’m not letting her get away with that here.”

“What? Why so rarely?” inquired Iris.

“She was born on the twenty-ninth and had a most peculiar mother.” I explained, hoping my voice was soft enough not to be heard by those assembled in the hall. “Unfortunately, the other birthday girl is currently out of town on a job, or we’d be celebrating with her as well.”

“I’ll be relaying everything to her tonight.” stated Mila with a smile.

Nodding, I said, “Still won’t quite be the same, but I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.”

Walking into the ballroom behind me, Iris asked “Do people normally work on their birthday here? I can if needed. I just usually celebrate with my family.”

“Everyone’s free to take their birthday off. Most do. Portentia’s current assignment is like a gift to herself, really. You’ll never meet someone more motivated than she is. She’ll quite literally work ceaselessly, never stopping for food or rest, until she’s accomplished a goal if she really wants something done.” I replied.

“That’s not healthy.” insisted Iris, looking concerned.

“Portentia’s incapable of sleeping and doesn’t need sustenance, so she’s very different in that regard.” I assured her.

“Iris’ father is interested in having Best Friend For Hire join in his company’s baseball league, so Iris may be feeling concerned over us competing.” stated Mila.

“What? How did you know about that?” asked Iris.

“Your father sent an email to us a few minutes ago.” she replied.

“Please tell him that we’ll accept. We’ll get some practice in restraint. That’ll be for this summer, correct?” I asked.

“Yes, master.” replied Mila.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Dad’s really competitive, and um… you… this place… Isn’t that unfair?” suggested Iris.

“Incredibly. They probably won’t ask us again next year, but we’ll happily oblige this year. Making new friends is part of what we do here, but I assure you that all of us have practice at holding back. I’m not honestly sure what would even happen if I hit a ball with all I’ve got.” I told her.

“Neither the ball nor the bat would survive impact, master.” insisted Mila.

“Ha. Imagine Raine going all out.” I teased.

“That would be quite catastrophic for the surroundings.” agreed Mila.

“Going to warn your father?” I asked Iris.

She shook her head and said, “He wouldn’t believe me even if I tried. I still can’t believe what I saw just this morning.”

“I do hope you enjoy working for us, even if there’s an adjustment period. Oh, I should mention that the party tonight will be informal, so there’s no need to dress up for it.” I told her.

Nodding as she looked around, she asked “You use this for video games?”

“Yes. Ancient Tribes of Earth, mostly. Ready to give it a try?” I asked.

“I guess.” she replied, not all that enthusiastic.

“We could do something else if you’d prefer.” I suggested. “Emma told me that you seemed to like the zoomies. Kayla was going to join you, but her brother made her get back to work before you were finished with the paperwork. Whatever the case, you’ll be paid for your time today no matter how we spend it.”

“Well, shouldn’t I be studying or something. Mila had said there was a great deal to learn.” she replied.

“There is.” insisted Mila.

“No doubt, but I can’t believe you haven’t tried this. Mila’s mother made it.” I explained.

“Her mother?” inquired Iris.

“Aaliyah Sypher, my secretary, is also the president of Global Princess Entertainment, the company which made this game.” I explained.

“She’ll be thirteen this year.” stated Mila, though there was a faint hint of mirth in her voice.

“Your secretary is thirteen!?” asked Iris in disbelief.

“She looks far younger. You’ll see.” I replied, amused by her continued incredulity.

When two of the large mirrors lit up with the game’s loading screen, Iris’ expression changed again, looking more surprised than anything.

“A thirteen-year-old made this?” she inquired.

“I believe she was twelve at release. She might have been eleven when she started working on it. Hard to say.” I told her.

“Very.” agreed Mila. “Mother enjoys confusing people with her age. If you don’t mind, I can import your information for account creation directly from our company database.”

“Uh… sure.” stated Iris.

Smiling and motioning toward one of the screens, Mila said, “There you are. Simply input your account name and password.”

“What about payment?” she asked, scrolling up to the greyed-out fields.

“Free subscription is one of the perks you have as an employee of Best Friend For Hire.” explained Mila.

“So it’s not taken out of my pay?” inquired Iris.

“Of course not. The master would be devastated if mother secretly charged employees.” insisted Mila.

Iris nodded and confirmed her information. Then she started the character creation process with Mila’s help. Mila demonstrated the incredible amount of detail allowed through the plethora of sliders in character customization by creating an avatar that looked like herself and then one that looked like Iris.

“Make me taller!” exclaimed Iris with a grin.

Mila obliged, and then said, “You can also be any of these other species.” She went through the benefits of each for Iris and listed off what everyone in the company played as well as other options.

“So what do you actually do in the game?” asked Iris.

“Socialize, adventure, and try to save the world from evil.” I told her.

“Other than saving the world, can’t you do that stuff in real life instead?” she asked.

“The master is quite capable of saving the world in real life.” insisted Mila.

Iris looked incredulous again as she said, “Then that’s even less reason to do it in a game.”

“But in the game, you don’t have to worry about the ramifications of your actions as much. If someone dies here, they can be resurrected. In the real world, consequences are far more permanent.” I explained.

Mila seemed amused as she looked at me with a smile. I really didn’t want to consider what she might be thinking.

“Fine, I’ll try it.” stated Iris. After some more time spent with Mila on character creation, she asked “What should I name her?”

“Have a favorite name?” I questioned.

“Trixie.” she stated as she typed the name. “These keyboards are so strange.”

“Mother will be disappointed that you didn’t go through the chair tutorial, but no one does the entire thing.” replied Mila. “Mother is, however, flattered by your name choice. Her middle name is Trixibelle.”

“Oh. That’s cool.” stated Iris. Catching on to what was said, she looked up and asked “Did you already tell her?”

“Of course. We talk continuously most days.” replied Mila with a smile.

I invited Iris to my guild immediately and showed her some of the basics with Mila’s help as I took care of guild business. She seemed to be enjoying the game well enough, especially after some of the others came to join us. We only played a couple hours before she took a break to start the introductory tutorials for my company, but I couldn’t well argue against her inclination to work. I just hoped she was starting to feel comfortable here.

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.