“Would you care to join me for some dinner, so we can have something a bit more typical on this date?” asked James shortly after he picked me up.
I smiled and nodded, eager to see what he had in mind. The day we met, James’ birthday, he had taken me to get new clothes and then out to eat. Though the dresses weren’t really to my taste, they were pretty. The meal had shown me far more about him. Everyone gravitated toward James. The idea was confirmed even more at his birthday party. There were so many people, all there to celebrate James’ day.
Working for him over the past month had introduced me to so many new ideas and wonderful people. First he made my life better than ever with a great many new friends and a place I could truly call home again. Then he made me a better superhero. Unlike before, I knew how to really fight now, had my own costume, and even possessed an incredible weapon. None of this could have happened without James.
I couldn’t feel more fortunate to know him. He took two weeks to take me on our date, but things were going so well. We had some entertainment, and now we were going out to eat together like something out of a movie.
“Mila, please drive us to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.” he instructed.
“Of course, master.” she replied.
I felt my grin grow wider. Ever since meeting James, I felt like I was living a dream, at least how people had described them to me. I knew James wasn’t a secret agent like I originally believed when I met him, but I still felt he had a great many similarities to the ones in movies. He was charming, skilled in many things, and perfectly brave when needed. He lived in a world filled with secrets and sought every day to use his craft to improve the lives of others. He carried no gun, but he was always armed. His magic could easily act as a more dangerous weapon than any gun if ever he needed one. Now this man of mystery was taking me to a place said to be mysterious by Jarod, one of the smartest people I knew.
When the restaurant came into view, I felt like jumping out before Mila even stopped the car. The building looked so unobtrusive with its shiny bricks. The sign was cheesily made with a smiley face surrounded by a galaxy off to the side of the restaurant’s name.
“You seem rather excited for someone who doesn’t need to eat.” he told me.
I was thankful as ever that Mila was supplying text for me, so I didn’t miss what he said while staring at the building. “I do still enjoy eating.” I informed him. “Plus, I’ve heard some pretty crazy things about this restaurant from Jarod. He told me that the rooms don’t make sense, like there’s some odd magic taking place when you enter. He also told me that he wouldn’t be surprised if criminals use this place for covert meetings, since overhearing conversations seems virtually impossible. How could I not be interested? We might stumble across drug dealers, mafia members, or some other shady types! I wonder if Maxine ate here while she was in town. I really wish I had my suit and Midnight, just in case.”
“Jarod does love this place as well, but I can’t say I’ve actually seen any evidence of criminal activity when I’ve been here before.” he insisted.
Unlike most people, James could easily afford to eat here often. Jarod probably hadn’t eaten here as often, but I knew Jarod did his research. James, as incredible as he was, did miss things. I sometimes wondered if he chose to miss things.
My mind went blank as the door opened, revealing a second sun setting over a purple ocean in the most spectacular way. I felt the gentle warmth of it on my skin as I followed James inside. As far as I could see was a beach and the ocean, stretching endlessly. The dark blue sand squished beneath my feet as I stepped on it. I wondered how all of this could possibly be in a restaurant, especially as I saw a well-dressed man nodding to us.
“Hello again, James. I’m Abdel, and I’ll be your host again this evening.” he told us.
With James in front of me and facing Abdel, I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I wouldn’t have realized he was even talking if his head hadn’t been turned as much as it was.
Nodding again, Abdel said, “If you would care to get changed, your assistant, Mila, warned us that you didn’t possess appropriate attire for our current theme, so feel free to get changed in the rooms just over there as I set your table. The current temperature might distract you from your meal, dressed as you are.”
I jogged over to the out-of-place structure, wondering what would be revealed to me inside. The doors were marked with the typical male and female symbols found outside of bathrooms, so I had no trouble knowing which to enter. There was also one with what looked like a showerhead.
At first, I was disappointed. The room was plain, simply hosting a bench and pole of clothing bags. I half-expected the room to have some sort of light show or other oddity when I was entering. I unzipped one of the bags and gaped. Was there an outfit split between the bags for some reason? This was barely more than underwear and a see-through top. Oh. Sandals too.
Opening the second bag, I realized what I was actually seeing: a bikini and something to wear over it when not swimming. I hadn’t been swimming for a long time, but I was sure James would help me if I couldn’t remember how. He didn’t have to worry about me drowning at least. I didn’t need air.
I quickly looked through the bags, wondering which swimming suit James would prefer. I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable in any of them. The one piece suit was tempting, just to cover more up, but James never minded my skin. If anything, he might enjoy it. Frowning, I thought of how Alma was nearly as white as me. Any whiter, and she’d be albino as well. Well, her hair and eyes wouldn’t work. After a month of seeing him look at her, I recognized his interest. If he could like someone as pale as she was despite her unnatural look, he could like someone as white as snow.
I chose the red bikini and the pink, knit shirt. We were on a date. This wasn’t a time to be timid. I smiled, certain that Alma would never wear something like this. Seeing that James wasn’t out yet when I finished changing, I ran with the sandals in hand, wanting to feel the strange sand beneath my feet. I could hardly believe the view. When I got to the edge of the water, I let a wave splash over my foot, hardly believing this was a restaurant.
The smell of the food called to me, and I took to the table, already anticipating the taste of the food. Where had the server gone? There was no sign of him. I couldn’t explain how the entrance seemed to be a free-floating door either. Maybe Jarod would tell me later.
I forced myself not to eat anything yet, taking a seat and putting on the sandals. When James finally emerged, I was happy to see he was ready to swim as well. I would’ve felt foolish had I been the only one to change clothes. I waved at him, anxious to spend more time with him.
As he ran over to me, I tried not to stare, but the movement of his muscles was yet another thing fit for a movie. I knew he was strong for a human, if he really was human, but I hadn’t seen him quite so bare before. I exhaled and smiled. There were guys, and then there was James.
“The ocean smells so real! I dipped my foot in just to see, and the water is real! How do they do this?” I asked the moment he was seated.
Shrugging, he said, “I have no clue. Aaliyah probably does. I believe she helped with some of the tech here.” He frowned slightly after mentioning her.
“That girl is amazing. I’m really glad I met you, James. Since I started working for you, I’ve met and helped so many interesting people! Well, not all of the helping is on the job, obviously, but being a best friend for people is pretty cool too.” I assured him.
James always worried, and I never thanked him enough. He might have frowned because he was worried that he mentioned another girl on our date, but I couldn’t care. He was here with me when there were so many beautiful girls in his house, and Aaliyah was far too young to be a rival despite her intelligence.
He smiled at me, and I instantly felt more at ease again.
“I’m glad you are doing well. I was honestly being a bit selfish when I started the business. My father wanted me to get a job, but I couldn’t think of anywhere with the flexibility and variety of work I desired. Then I decided to start my own business, and I wouldn’t be doing nearly as well with it if not for all of the help I’ve received.” he claimed, modest as ever.
“But you inspire people, James. Whenever I’m around you, I feel so… full of hope. I know the other girls feel it too. You’re not some average guy who just happened to get lucky. You’re amazing.” I insisted, reaching out and gently touching his hand.
He pulled back, frowning again. “Sorry.” he told me. “What you’re probably feeling is magic, actually.”
Having him pull away from me was discouraging, but having him worry about his gifts was so weird. Why did he treat his incredible abilities like a curse at times?
“I found out a while ago that my body absorbs residual energy and creates this sort of magical field which causes people to like me. I can’t control it. There’s no way for either of us to know if anything you feel around me is real or not.” he stated.
I stared into his eyes, still wondering why he seemed to be in pain. “You mentioned this before when we first met.” I reminded him.
With him being silent, I then said, “You’ve gotta be one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, but you let your abilities bother you too much.”
He stared into my eyes and I wondered what all he saw. There were times when James seemed to be delving into my soul. For all I knew, the feeling might be true. I smiled at him, trying to be reassuring.
“Well, you have to admit that sounds pretty lucky as things go. Vampires have to deal with finding a source of blood. Werewolves have to fight the urge to eat people. I have cold skin, which freaks guys out. You have to deal with everyone liking you.” I explained.
“I see your point, I guess, but aren’t you bothered by the idea that you’re forced to like me?” he asked, still looking upset.
I took a bite of my food, some sort of incredible chicken dish. The taste was too amazing to keep from smiling even if I wanted to try. James was worrying himself far too much, especially here. “How can I be bothered by liking my date when we’re eating on a beach during sunset?” I asked.
He nodded. I wished he would smile again, but I was glad he wasn’t frowning. We talked idly as we enjoyed our meal. The food here was easily as good as Marco’s, which was a feat by itself. Had Marco helped the chefs here as well? This past month had spoiled me more than I would’ve thought possible before coming here. I felt guilty at times, knowing there were people struggling for food out there when I ate incredible meals daily and didn’t even need food to survive. Emma couldn’t be everywhere to make the vegetables, and Marco couldn’t be everywhere to make the meals. We needed to do our best with what we have, and today I was fortunate. Not eating would only disappoint Marco, and I was making a difference in this city.
When we finished eating, I said, “Ready for a swim?”
“Huh?” he asked, looking surprised.
I took off the knit shirt, placing it on the back of the chair. “Swimming. Why get dressed like this if we’re not going to enjoy this exotic ocean?” I asked, nodding toward the water.
“Oh. Yes. I suppose we can.” he replied, looking nervous.
“Can’t swim?” I asked with a grin.
“What? Of course, I can swim.” he stated.
“Then come on!” I exclaimed, interrupting whatever else he was going to say and pulling him toward the water.
The water felt wonderful, but I was surprised by the lack of salt. There was no sting when some got in my eyes. I supposed they weren’t trying for authenticity, not with purple water and blue sand. The feel of the waves was plenty authentic for me, and being able to swim alone with James was amazing.
He eventually started to suggest we should leave, but I just dove back into the water. He knew I couldn’t hear him, so I didn’t know why he tried telling me such things. He needed more fun! If he had been serious about needing to leave, he wouldn’t have followed me back into the water, so I knew he was just being overly cautious.
I swam to the shore when I spotted someone odd. A very old looking man wearing robes like some sort of wizard was walking toward us. He took his time making his way across the sand, but he seemed plenty strong to me, especially for someone so obviously elderly. There was a confident ease to his stride that made him seem quite capable.
“Sorry to interrupt, but Aaliyah just called and informed me that you’re going to be late for your practice with Alma if you don’t leave in the next seven minutes.” stated the man when he reached us.
Turning to James, I asked “Why didn’t you tell me you had practice tonight? I don’t want to make you late!” I then ran to use the shower next to the changing rooms.
I didn’t quite trust Alma yet, especially alone with James, but I was aware that she was powerful. She was far faster, stronger, and more knowledgeable than me. If she was willing to instruct James, keeping him from the lessons was criminal. Before meeting James, I wouldn’t have thought of such a thing as criminal, but I realized now what a difference instruction could make. My world was expanding a little more each day, and a better me would exist tomorrow to give back to the world.