“Mama… Papa… je suis ici.” I mumbled aloud, staring at the large gates of Somerset Estate.
“I’m neither your father nor your mother, but you certainly are here and are quite welcome.” came a voice as the gates opened. “I’m Mila. Please allow me to help you with your luggage.”
She had been so quiet that I didn’t even hear her breath. Now that I caught sight of her approaching, she clearly appeared to be a maid. The outfit was possibly a costume, given how extravagant it seemed.
“Were you waiting for me?” I asked.
“Of course. The Princess would not want her dear friend waiting with so much luggage, much less trudging down the drive with it all.” replied Mila.
There was something very peculiar about her, other than her extraordinarily long, auburn hair and particularly petite frame.
“They’re quite heavy. I’ll manage.” I told her, not wanting to strain such a tiny girl.
“I’m not human, so there’s no need to worry over me.” she explained, easily lifting the majority of my things.
I fought a moment to keep my poise. With my parents dead and the majority of our belongings destroyed in the fire, this was quite literally all I had in the world.
“This way, please.” stated Mila as she turned and started walking up the drive.
“What precisely are you, if you don’t mind my asking?” I inquired shortly into our walk, hoping not to offend her while indulging my curiosity.
“What you see is an android body connected wirelessly to the rest of me. I was designed by the Princess for the sole purpose of aiding my master and your host, James Michael Somerset III.” she replied, putting an overly affectionate tone into the word “master”.
I forced myself to start walking again, having momentarily stopped. I had no idea there was such incredible technology in the world to create someone so lifelike, but I knew Aaliyah was far beyond normal. I also found myself wondering how incredibly wealthy James Michael Somerset III was to have such an enormous mansion. At first, I hadn’t realized quite how long the drive was, but walking a ways gave me a better sense of proportions. I needed to pay more attention, despite my emotional state. I should have taken the taxi to the door.
Feeling guilty, I said, “Sorry to trouble you.”
“If the Princess had wanted us to ride, I could easily have picked you up in one of the cars. I fear this journey is to amuse her in some way, as was keeping news of your coming from the master.” she explained.
I chuckled, thinking how perfectly typical that was for Aaliyah. She lived to mess with people, her friends especially.
“Would you mind telling me something about this place?” I inquired.
“Business headquarters of Best Friend For Hire and residence of James Michael Somerset III, Somerset Estate was personally renovated by the Princess to accommodate the master’s whims. I’m not at liberty to disclose the precise number of rooms to you or even the footage, since the Princess finds secrets to be far more entertaining. The forest is strictly off limits without being accompanied by the master, but you’re free to wander anywhere else you can manage. I will warn you that attempting to pass into the master’s vault would be lethal, even for your kind, so I cannot recommend it.” she told me, perfectly matter-of-factly even about my potential demise.
I nodded, not particularly surprised that Aaliyah had explained my nature. She seemed to follow her whims while enacting overly complicated plans. I was grateful that she was helping me.
The remainder of the walk was made in silence up until we reached the front doors, which swung open for us to reveal another set doing the same. The interior was every bit as extraordinary as the exterior.
“Just set your things here for now while I fetch my master. He’s needing to see me, and I’ll escort him to you.” she informed me as she set down my belongings. Then she started jogging back outside.
I slowly spun, staring all around me at the incredible entryway. The twin stairways leading to the balcony were ornately carved as was all the rest of the woodwork. I felt as if I was lost in a fairy tale. What would my parents think of this place? Papa would likely tease that it reminded him of home. He liked to call himself an exiled king while calling me a princess, probably one of the reasons Aaliyah and I got along so well.
The wait seemed long, and I was nervous, both excited and afraid. I wished my parents were alive and with me. I wished I knew what to expect here. I wished I was better prepared to be alone in this world. Thinking of papa, I started to sing one of his favorite songs, Castle on a Cloud from Les Misérables.
I was part way through when I heard the large doors open again, but I kept quietly singing, not quite ready for this dream to end. When I turned around, there was a very tall boy walking into the room in an elaborate, red costume. He was as graceful as he was handsome, which was quite the pairing. His picture on his company’s website hadn’t done him justice at all.
“Oh! You must be James!” I exclaimed.
Father had always insisted that letting people underestimate you would give you an advantage.
“I am, but who are you?” he replied in a manly voice fit for his stature.
I refrained from giggling, though I felt excited. There was something about him that bespoke of excellence. I needed to be calm, rational. I didn’t know what enemies I would find here.
“A vampire.” stated Mila’s twin after arriving with terrifying speed.
Her eyes were a brilliant violet unlike Mila’s green. This one was dressed in a fancy costume like James. Was there still a Halloween party happening? There was something about her stance and gaze that made me wary.
James moved in a blur, suddenly in front of me saying, “Don’t you dare!”
I peeked past her large back to the girl, feeling confused by the situation. I clearly wasn’t expected here by either of them.
“Don’t worry, boss-man, sir.” came a familiar tone. “Alpy wouldn’t dare hurt my friend. Right, Alpy?”
“Aaliyah!” I exclaimed jogging to her.
“Cosette!” she replied, jumping up into my arms.
“Cosette? Seriously?” inquired James.
“Huh?” I asked. Wait, I hadn’t introduced myself. “Oh. Yeah. My father was a fan of Les Misérables, so I learned that song practically at birth. My name’s Cosette Bourbon.”
Aaliyah’s presence made me far more confident. As tiny as she was, I was well aware the girl was vastly beyond me.
“James, you can’t seriously be thinking of letting her stay here.” stated Alpy.
Was “Alpy” really a name?
“Stay here? What? Oh. Aaliyah, what is going on here?” he inquired.
Forcing me to change my grip as she turned toward him, she explained “My friend here is going to be renting the upper northeast wing. She also wants to try working for you. Isn’t that great, boss-man, sir?”
Working for him? Aaliyah hadn’t mentioned that I would be working here, though I wasn’t particularly opposed.
“Did you talk with Emma about this?” he asked.
“James! Really? A vampire?” demanded Alpy.
“A vampire? Where?” asked a fairly tall, redhead boy as he came walking into the room with two beautiful girls. “I love a good vampire costume.”
“Whoa. How many people live here?” I asked, fearing there were hundreds I’d need to watch.
“Umm… ten at the moment.” replied James.
“Twelve if Mila and you are included. More if you count the staff and the fey.” argued Aaliyah.
“Fey!?” I exclaimed, picturing fairies and the like flittering through the halls.
Aaliyah’s imagination was part of what made her fun.
“Emma, James is thinking about letting this vampire rent the floor above you.” stated Alpy. “What are your feelings on the matter?”
“What!?” exclaimed one of the girls who had entered with the redheaded boy. Her short hair was fancifully dyed.
I could smell fear exuding from her even at this distance, and her skin grew exceedingly pale, though not as pale as her companion’s.
“Oh. Cool. You must be one of the good ones then.” stated the pale companion with perfectly white hair as she walked toward me. “I’m Portentia. If you’re ever feeling hungry, I’ve heard that my blood’s amazing. By the way, is Alma multiplying?”
Did I just hear her right? She wanted me to feed on her? Who was Alma? Oh. Probably Alpy.
“I was wondering that too. Love the maid outfit!” exclaimed the redhead.
“This isn’t funny.” stated Emma, trembling slightly.
Feeling that Aaliyah may have taken some joke too far, I wondered if I needed to leave. Where would I go? What would I do?
“Emma, Cosette, and Aaliyah, please follow me.” commanded James. “We need to talk.”
Aaliyah hopped down, took my hand and then Emma’s as she came close. I could feel the tension between us. James glanced back once, but didn’t say a word. The walk through the vast halls was long, and I was happy when the smell of fear seemed to fade. Though I occasionally glanced at Emma, she stared pointedly ahead.
When we stepped into a room on the second floor, something changed about her. The remaining fear evaporated, replaced by a sadness in her countenance.
“I hadn’t been up here, since they moved everything out.” she stated, breaking the silence.
“What happened to the previous tenant?” I asked.
Looking around with a somber expression, James said, “She died saving my life.”
“Oh. I’m sorry for your loss.” I stated, suddenly needing to hold back tears. I failed as Aaliyah hugged me. Thoughts of my parents were flooding through me. I understood all too well the pain of loss.
“What’s wrong?” asked James, looking concerned.
I could tell he was sincere, so I told him “I’m sorry. I just lost my parents.”
“What? How old are you?” demanded Emma. She looked ready to pick a fight with me.
I told her the truth, saying, “I’ll be fifteen in a few days.”
“But how old are you really?” she asked, obviously not believing a word.
“She’s not lying, Emma. She’s really fifteen. Were you turned recently then?” asked James.
I shook my head as I explained “No. I was born a vampire. My father was over two hundred. My mother was a bit short of one hundred. They decided to have me the old-fashioned way, which takes considerably more work for vampires.
Nearly nine months of concentration to keep her organs alive and functioning was needed for my birth. Any lapse in her concentration, could have killed me. Mama, you were amazing.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” stated James.
“Do you have siblings?” asked Emma, looking sad again herself.
I did my best to put on a smile as I said, “Not exactly. Father had some children before he was turned in the late 1700s. Mother never did, at least not that she told me. Arguably, I might have some sort of relatives out there, but I doubt hunting them down would do me any good. When Aaliyah suggested I live here, how could I refuse?”
“Refusing her can be tricky. I used to babysit Aaliyah before James started stealing all of her attention.” admitted Emma.
“Chad rented the apartment next to mine for a while.” I explained, happy to find that we had something to share other than loss while pained by the memories. Needing to find a change of subject, I asked “Who was the obnoxious girl that was causing such a fuss?”
“Sorry. That would be Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh V. She might’ve been worrying about me. My father was killed in front of me by a vampire.” explained Emma.
“Oh. I’m sorry. That’s awful! I’ve never killed anyone.” I assured her.
“Well, I…” started Emma. She frowned, took a deep breath, and then said, “I suppose I can give you a chance.”
“Huh.” stated James. “I didn’t really expect things to be quite that easy, but okay. Mila will bring your luggage up. Need help with any of your furniture?”
“My apartment was destroyed in some freak fire. Didn’t even touch the rest of the building. I’ll buy some things after my little friend here finishes helping me gain access to my parents’ funds.” I told him. “If you want to help me seal up the windows, I…” I trailed off as the windows suddenly darkened, blocking out the night completely.
James smirked as he said, “This house is very well equipped with all sorts of technological gizmos. I’m sure Aaliyah will gladly explain what all Mila, the A.I. who runs everything, can do for you. I must excuse myself to go have a chat with someone.”
James leaving the room shouldn’t have affected me, but it did. I barely knew him and already felt attached. I wanted him back. I did my best to calm my mind, knowing I was still unbalanced due to my loss.
“What type of furniture would you like?” asked Emma.
“I don’t really know.” I admitted looking around. This room was every bit as splendid as the rest, save for the lack of furnishings. How many rooms did I have? I stopped and stared, realizing that Emma was sitting in a chair.
She laughed and said, “I’ll make you some if you want. I have a large collection of seeds, so I can do a fair number of types of wood. I grew this out of the floor where I found a nick in the varnish.”
“You grew it?” I inquired, bewildered by what I was hearing.
She grinned and two more fully carved chairs sprouted from the arm of hers, detaching as they finished forming. She flinched as I hugged her, so I quickly apologized, but she laughed. I hoped we’d become wonderful friends.