Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 195

“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.

He nodded.

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.

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 144

“How’s he taking the news?” asked Carl.

“Precisely how we knew we would.  Surprise!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Excellent!” exclaimed Carl before adjusting the flow of his relative time for James to see him.  “Here’s a refill.  I do hope you’re enjoying your cake.”

James noted how Carl seemed completely unfazed by the “switch” of James’ company but couldn’t understand why.

“Thank you, Carl!  This cake is sooo good!  You should steal a piece while you’re here!” I exclaimed.

“If you insist, how could I possibly refuse?” he teased before fetching his slice.

James took notice of how the massive cake seemed greatly diminished and wondered at how much he and I had eaten.  When Carl smiled as he bit into his slice, James delighted in the man’s joy.

Then Carl left as James started to realize that there weren’t three plates initially.  Carl had simply fetched one for himself, but did so without James being able to see him.

“So you see, boss-man, sir, you really don’t have anything to be concerned about.  Your amazing secretary is more amazing than you thought, you have the experience of a multitude of dates without consequences, and now you get magnificent company over the most delicious cake you could want!” I explained.

James couldn’t bring himself to argue about what he was hearing, but he wondered if I was correct over the lack of consequences.  He guiltily worried about keep things from my daddy, but surmised that there wasn’t anything he could safely explain which would not lead to unwanted questions.  “So is the yacht your father’s?” he asked, grasping for something he felt could be simply explained.

“Well, it’s ours, but he doesn’t know we own it.  He’s never asked when we’ve gone out on it, so I didn’t really have any reason to explain details to him.” I told him, leaving out that the yacht was from the future.

“Where does he think you are right now?” inquired James.

“With you, silly.  You’re being paid to babysit me!” I exclaimed.

James didn’t care for the fact that he was being paid to babysit me when he kissed me.  He was so adorable.

“Don’t look so glum, boss-man, sir!  It’s your birthday!  Time for happiness and joy!  You survived another year even after meeting all sorts of dangerous people.” I teased.

He considered my point, not liking how I smiled when he thought about me being “one of the most dangerous” people he met.  He didn’t have a clue yet that there could be no real fight when I was involved.  His mind was eased for the moment when I started licking frosting from my plate.  Deciding he wanted to know more, he asked “So how much of the dates did you plan?”

“Enough to give you tons of hints and stuff.  I needed to find just the right girls in this area to spell out a message with their names for you, and then I wanted ones whose surnames would have a nice flow to them in a  couple ways.  Plus, I gave consideration to what types of girls you might find attractive at first glance.  I really don’t think you could handle dating a girl without magic, by the way.  Keeping such a big part of yourself secret wouldn’t sit well with you.  In addition, they just wouldn’t be as interesting to you, since there’s all this stuff in which they couldn’t participate.” I insisted, though I was lying a bit.

Protecting anyone from danger was as easy for me as saying “No.” to the one intending harm, and I could easily make someone into a match for James.  I simply wasn’t going to oppose the Lilly Slayer to do any of these things.  She was my friend.

James’ mind slowly worked over his dates.  He realized that the first letter of each girl’s name spelled out “a princess named” until Trix.  Aloud, he said, “Okay, so ‘princess’ constantly being mentioned wasn’t a fluke either.”

“You got it, boss-man, sir!  I’m the princess, after all.  I’m glad you didn’t look at your pay too closely over the past couple weeks.  That would’ve been dreadful, since you were paid for all the dates.” I informed him, not bothering to explain how all of the surnames for his dates, Trix excluded, were related to water.

“So if I met one of these girls in person…” he started to ask.

“Then you’d have an unfair advantage, already knowing stuff about them!” I exclaimed.

“Do you think Alma has been doing all of this to me due to my magic?” he asked, guiltily worrying over how his magic influenced people.

I shook my head and said, “Nah.  She’s barely been affected by you so far.  She recognized your power and started thwarting it before you even got her across the street.”

While the statement was more or less true, I was still lying to an extent.  Watching James made a great impact on Alpy, and his magic certainly provoked her interest to a degree.  Without the curiosity of the magic, Adelmar wouldn’t have been inclined to indulge Alpy’s fancy this much.

Believing that my connection with Alma explained how I knew about their first meeting, James pushed aside his curiosity about my knowledge and asked “What did you do to Alma that made her dislike babysitting you?”

I sighed dramatically and set down my fork.  Then I took on a serious expression and said, “I drew Alma a perfectly awesome picture, but she didn’t like how I wrote the ‘V’ when I abbreviated her name, claiming it looked more like a ‘Y’.  I called her ‘Alpy’.  She took exception to it and started losing her temper.  I had some fun with her.  Let’s just say that she’s not accustomed to dealing with me.”

The sing-song tones I used belied my serious expression in James’ mind, but he still accepted the explanation of Alpy’s nickname.  He realized how greatly he wanted to know more about her and recognized that he wanted to forgive her.  Then he nervously asked “Does Alma know you’re the one who’s been going on dates with me?”

“Ha!  That’s a good one, boss-man, sir.  You and Carl know the extent I can change my form, boss-man, sir.  Our little secret!” I told him with a wink.  Alpy would have a rude awakening in time, but not yet.

“So… Carl knows we were on a date?” he asked.

“What’s this ‘were’ talk?  We haven’t even finished the cake!” I complained.

James jumped when Carl walked by to cut another slice of cake for me.

“Don’t worry, James.  I would never betray someone whom I’m forced to like.” stated Carl with a beautifully serious tone.

James started to panic as he gazed into the older man’s eyes.  He didn’t want to be affecting people in such a way and found the idea horrific.

I giggled and said, “Carl!  He’ll actually believe you if you say it that way.”

Carl smiled, and James looked between us for a while, sorting out his thoughts some more.  He could see the friendship between Carl and me more clearly now.  When Carl served James more cake, James was about to protest when his stomach growled.

I was keeping him hungry and purposely arranged for his stomach to growl at that moment.  James had a long day ahead of him, and he needed to some help getting through it.  How the cake was affecting his mind was equally important as the effect on his body, and I knew precisely the right doses he needed.

“Umm.. thank you.” muttered James, feeling a tad embarrassed and confused.

I smiled, watching Carl walk away, and explained “He’s not human, boss-man, sir, and no, he doesn’t mind you knowing.  In fact, you’ll get your meals for free here starting today!”

“That’s one crazy birthday present.” blurted James in shock.  “Does that mean he’s sending me coupons like you, or…”

“I get coupons because I think they’re fun!  Makes people feel like you’re really getting something special when you get to hand over something other than currency and still get food.” I teased.

“Huh.  I suddenly don’t feel so bad about getting shown up at Laser Bubbles.” he admitted, thinking about how I was the one who wrote the game.

“Okay, so I had a slight advantage… Still… I’m glad you liked me, boss-man, sir.  Not everyone gets to meet the girl I could have been.” I wistfully confided.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Oh.  That form was sequenced off my original deoxyribonucleic acid, and the personality, well, let’s say it was extremely accurate for what I would have been had things gone differently.” I explained.

James mulled over the idea, deciding not to inquire further.  He knew enough to understand the conversation would become complicated by his standards.  When he thought of how nothing seemed impossible for me, he shuddered, remembering “Death’s Daughter”.  I was amused by his hopes that I would never confront myself, not that he knew I was the terrifying entity that haunted his dreams.

Wanting to change the course of his thoughts, he said, “Your parents really did well naming you.  ‘Trix’ suits you as a nickname.”

“There are a number of meanings associated with Trixibelle, like ‘voyager through life’.  I feel that suits me just as well as what you were implying, boss-man, sir.” I informed him.

He considered my agelessness for a moment before saying, “As usual, I can’t really argue with you.  So when am I supposed to get you home?”

“I’m heading there shortly, so I can get daddy ready for his day.  He’ll be home in no time.  Don’t worry.  I’ll tell him you had to hurry up and send your greetings.” I replied.

“I think I’ll go for a walk then.” he decided.   “I think I’m on some sort of sugar high from all this cake, since I don’t feel tired yet.  Maybe I’ll be ready to sleep for a bit afterward.  I probably should contact my parents at some point.”

He didn’t believe anyone would know about his birthday being today unless Jarod told them, so he expected to go home after a walk and rest.  Silly, boss-man.  His birthdays would never be that dull.

“Okay, boss-man, sir.” I told him.  “Looks like we’re off, Carl!  Thank you for all the wonderful food!”

Realizing Carl must be behind him, James stood, turned around, and shook Carl’s hand while saying, “Yes, thank you.  That cake was the best in so many slices!”

I hugged James’ leg and said, “Happy birthday, boss-man, sir.”  I then altered time and stepped through a wormhole to my daddy’s home.  Daddy needed prepared for James’ party.  Though I had no need to move a body from one location to another, I still did here and there for amusement.  Even in leaving, I was still with Carl and James.  No one in the universe and beyond was ever alone.

“As she told you, you do get to eat here for free.” stated Carl as he patted James’ back.

They walked out together, and James thanked him again.  James’ thoughts lingered for a bit on how strange life was.  He had no idea that he was about to meet a hire-to-be that was nearly indestructible.  His birthday was going to be fun!

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 111

James was absolutely adorable in his worries. I finished a contract on two people in his presence solely to take the next step in our relationship. We were getting married! No, not really, though I enjoyed watching that possibility play out. James needed to know me as the assassin before he knew I was also known as Death. Otherwise, the shock wouldn’t sit with him well at all and events would be skewed from their needed course. I smirked to myself, watching the magic of the Lilly Slayer force events toward her creation. I could change things, but I loved the Lilly Slayer as I loved this version of James.

:I erred by over two seconds.: complained Mila.

Mila was attempting to improve her estimates of arrival times. She claimed she was attempting to increase the accuracy of scheduling, so she could fully take over. She was actually wanting to perfect herself for James.

:You are getting better, silly. Don’t fret.: I told her, already knowing precisely how magnificent she would be.

I stopped mid-sentence in my explanation of the flavors of cheesecake and hopped out of the car. He was so lost in his worries that he reached to catch me before realizing we had arrived. As James extricated himself from the vehicle, Carl and I chatted. Could James have seen us, he would have believed we had talked for “an eternity”, though merely a hundred years passed us this time, not even close to our record. Talking with Carl was always comical in that we both knew all that would be said before either of us spoke, yet we went through the motions to make the possibility a reality. The distinction was important for Carl. “Realities” were very clear to him in as much detail as he could process, where “possibilities” ranged from “somewhat vague” to “barely could have existed”. With our conversation over, I hopped back over to where James expected me to be and pulled out my phone. James would notice my phone was out, and the memory would eventually come together with others to coalesce into acceptance of some abilities I possess.

Carl adjusted the flow of time around us and greeted James, saying, “Good to see you again so soon, James. Aaliyah told me that you two were in the mood for cheesecake. I believe I have just the ones you’ll be wanting.”

“Oh. Thank you.” mumbled James, too caught up with his thoughts to deal with the world around him.

Upon stepping into the restaurant, James took in his surroundings with a cursory inspection, since the sight surprised him. He was accustomed to the grand rooms he had seen on other occasions, so this cozy, semi-romantic room registered as “wrong” in his mind. I’d explain more to him eventually, but things needed to progress this way.

“I’ll leave you to it then.” stated Carl before giving me a wink and leaving.

I skipped over to the cart in the room and lifted the crystal serving cover from each plate. “These are so cute, boss-man, sir! Carl has the bestest cakes!” I exclaimed.

“Aaliyah… about what happened… Can we talk?” he asked.

While he spoke, I lifted the plates from the tray and danced with them over to our table. As he watched, I carefully bumped the silverware in the process of setting the plates on the table, making him feel I was having difficulty. He needed to believe I was fallible still.

James had quickly moved to help me, barely arriving in time to catch his fork after I had knocked it from the table. He sighed and stood, attempting to gather his thoughts once more, though he was also reevaluating the situation.

I was lifting a thick, yellow pillow from under the serving tray, and he wondered at how he had missed it. Once placed on my seat, the cushion was just enough to elevate my tiny body into a more proper position for cake consumption. My eyes looked over the beautifully designed cakes in such a way that James found himself looking as well, enjoying the simple elegance of the frosting.

Due to his mother’s influence, he recognized that great skill ― for a human ― was needed to create the designs. Even with thoughts of how easily I killed those two men floating in his head, James worried over the sugar on the cake, thinking I might become too wired after eating it.

He was sooo cute.

Sitting down to be slightly closer to eye-level with me, James said, “Aaliyah, about those two guys in the alley…”

I looked up at him questioningly, a mouthful of cake already being chewed. I spoke around the cake, asking “What about them, boss-man, sir? They won’t bother you anymore, and there won’t be any evidence that they we were involved.”

Worries of police involvement sprang into his mind. He hadn’t even considered that the bodies would be found relatively quickly or that the police would have to investigate.

“Boss-man, sir, don’t worry. Everything’s fine.” I assured him.

Realizing his mouth was hanging open, James shut it. Then he opened it again to say, “What do you mean ‘everything’s fine’? Two people are dead, Aaliyah!”

He hadn’t meant to yell. Death didn’t sit very well with James. I chewed through another bite of cake and told him “People die every day, boss-man, sir. People would continue dying if we did nothing. Those two weren’t innocents in any way. There’s no reason to mourn them.” There wasn’t anyone who would mourn them either, and I already took care of their souls, giving them the damnation they felt they deserved.

James was staring at me with his mouth open again. He shut it and thought for a moment before saying, “But taking a life is wrong, Aaliyah. Yes, they might have tried injuring us, but couldn’t you have just subdued them instead? You’re so fast and–”

Speaking around my cake, I interrupted him by saying, “They were my marks, boss-man, sir. I decided to set them up because I want you to know me better.”

“Set them up? How? What do you mean by ‘marks’?” he questioned.

“Targets. I was hired to kill them, boss-man, sir. Normally, I make sure there are no witnesses, but I wanted you to see this time. I wanted you to know more about me, boss-man, sir. You’re my friend, and I want less secrets between us.” I told him, though I was the only one with secrets to keep. There were things James would want to keep secret from me as well, but I already knew.

As he stared into my large blue eyes, he felt conflicted. “Why would someone hire you to kill them?” he asked.

“They hit a five-year-old boy with a car while escaping the scene of a robbery two days ago. If they at least would’ve called an ambulance, the boy might have survived. His mother said she would give anything for revenge, and I accepted.” I explained. I left out how the boy had possessed the potential to become one of the world’s finest human physicians. When I collected him, I gave him a paradise.

“How did she know who did it? Why did she contact you? How!?” asked James.

I told James about the mother’s blog, explaining her life and circumstances. He found the notion of a single mother struggling forward with such optimism heartwarming as he listened. The story distracted him from his question as I knew it would. The woman didn’t need to contact me, since I had already known the precise moment her son would die long before he was even in the womb.

“But why you?” he inquired.

“I’m the assassin.” I informed him as I continued eating.

“What do you mean ‘the assassin’? You’re a little girl. You shouldn’t be killing people.” he claimed, his voice cracking as he spoke.

“Boss-man, sir, you should eat some cake! It’s soooo good!” I exclaimed, gazing into his eyes.

He was somewhat hesitant to break from his questioning but still gave in to my suggestion, and was pleasantly impressed by the delicious flavor. The second bite, containing some of the chocolate sauce from within the cake, completely surprised him.

“The recipe for this was what I charged for their deaths.” I explained, though I knew the recipe long before the mother had created it.

James gaped at me in surprise, mulling over the idea of men being killed for a cake recipe.

“When I say I’m ‘the assassin’, I say that because I killed the rest years ago and made sure that everyone is aware of the cost if they try to take my jobs.” I confessed. I was still quite young when I had carved a bloody path through this world’s seedier side. Holding out some of my cake on my fork, I told him “Try some of mine, boss-man, sir.”

With his mind distracted by what I had told him, James bit into the proffered cake without hesitation, and was quickly surprised by the delightful flavor. Despite being engaged by the incredible flavors of the cake, he still asked “But why would you ever start killing people?”

I told him “My gramps made me learn how to kill after mommy died. When my auntie brought me to daddy, he didn’t have money, so I arranged for him to earn some.”

“You’re so very talented though. You can make money in countless ways. The video game, for example, has to be making you a ton!” he argued.

Shrugging, I said, “I couldn’t have done it at the time. My body didn’t have the processing power, and I hadn’t learned near as much as I know now.”

Latching onto an idea that didn’t involve killing, James asked “What do you mean by ‘processing power’?”

“Gramps made me into a cyborg. I’ve been upgrading ever since.” I admitted. My upgrades had far surpassed my old body by a margin too vast for most minds to comprehend. I was part of everything now.

James was struggling with the idea of me being a cyborg, unable to fully accept it as reality. He watched intently as I set down my fork, pulled out my phone, and opened it up to reveal the nearly empty casing.

“It’s mostly just a transmitter.” I informed him. I had made this precise “phone” for this occasion. The transmitter wasn’t necessary for me anymore.

“But no one has that kind of technology.” he argued, though he was already accepting the truth of what I had told him. His thoughts went to Mila, his car, and Ancient Tribes of Earth. Shoving the revelation aside, he said, “You don’t need to kill people anymore.”

Smiling, I told him “Yes, I do, boss-man, sir. If I stopped, the wrong people would die. I really am saving lives this way.” The mixed truth of that statement wasn’t enough to set off his senses; senses he barely recognized he had.

“No. NO, Aaliyah. Killing is wrong!” he insisted.

“Why?” I asked.

“Surely you’ve read that life is sacred.” he argued.

I took another bite from his cake and stared into his eyes. He was such an adorable, well-meaning person. I explained “I have doctorates covering every field related to the human body as well as several in philosophy and psychology. Find someone who knows more about death than I do, and have them help you make your case. Until then, boss-man, sir, I think I’ll keep my own counsel on the merits of killing people.”

He wasn’t ready to know that there wasn’t a bigger authority on anything than me, since all knowledge was mine. I knew every thought across the universe and into other planes of existence where humans would never go.

James sat there, struggling with his thoughts. He wanted to argue with me, but he also wanted more answers from me. His belief that killing was wrong had been deeply instilled within him, and he would continue having great difficulty in letting it go for some time yet. Eventually, he would let it pass without fully realizing he had.

I informed him “The evil twins have been begging us to return for a while now, boss-man, sir. We probably should head back. You can talk to them about my profession if you want. They know that much, but please don’t mention it to anyone else, especially not daddy.”

James nodded and stood, surprised when I leaped into his arms. He was even more surprised by how tightly he was hugging me, not fully realizing how much he had needed contact in that moment. Despite having a long way still to go, James was going to be magnificent.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 105

The room around me appeared as a paradise suspended in the night sky with countless galaxies floating near enough to touch, yet I was more captivated by my wife’s smile as she gazed around the room. After our first visit here, she talked repeatedly of the beauty here and even went so far as to create a painting of it, though the painting didn’t do the place justice in her mind.

“Here we are. I do hope you’ll enjoy your meal.” stated Carl, the owner, after showing us to our seats.

Smiling, Rachel said, “Oh. We even get the same table again.”

“Thank you. I’m sure it will be wonderful.” I told him, still shocked that the owner was seating us personally. The place hadn’t changed at all since our last visit, and I was glad, considering how perfect that night was.

I remembered sitting here my first time, musing over the expense I’d incur if I tried creating something similar in one of my hotels. The atmosphere was so completely splendid here that I easily imagined how my guests would frequent such a place regularly. Finding a crew capable of replicating not only the look but the ambience would be no easy task. The tables — floating tops with glass lids which appeared to each contain a unique galaxy — alone would have to be very expensive. The ever-moving ceiling had to be quite pricey as well, displaying even more of the universe to further illuminate the room.

I became distracted from the room as I noticed Aaliyah standing on her chair to tug at my son’s sleeve. He was crying!

“Dear, are you alright?” asked Rachel.

“Yes. I was just thinking how Regina would have loved seeing this. She took me here on Prom night, but the restaurant looked more regal back then, not like the surreal heaven it is now.” he explained.

My wife and I glanced at one another, and I saw my confusion reflected on her face.

“We were there, son, though not at your table. This is exactly how I remember it.” I assured him.

James looked confused for a moment before saying, “Oh. No. We were in a different room. Regina had somehow procured a private dining room for our party. The room was enormous and utterly elegant. The long table where we sat was engraved quite beautifully and sat on what I’m certain was a real Persian rug. The chairs were a perfect match for the table in their design, and you couldn’t ask for more comfort while eating. There was a chandelier, probably crystal, over the table which seemed a sparkling treasure unto itself. Even the tableware was fit for a king!”

I nodded, surprised that so elegant and drastically different a room could be spared. The expense to use it would have to be considerable. I had started eating as my son talked, having noticed that our food had been slipped onto the table. I took a moment to swallow as I considered his words.

Then my son quickly informed us “There’s more though. I came here a second time with Jarod and Aaliyah. That time I was confounded as I followed our host through corridors made of some black, sound-distorting cloth. You couldn’t make out a word from another table no matter how you tried.”

“I don’t understand how they manage their space so well. The building doesn’t seem nearly large enough for so many grand rooms. Perhaps their kitchen is underground.” I suggested, uncertain at how even that would provide the room required. How did my son miss this room entering the building? Was their another entrance?

My son started eating, and I saw his enjoyment in the smile he bore. James truly loved his food.

“Oh! You’ll love this… Jarod had macaroni and cheese both times we ate here.” stated James.

“What!? I admit the manner in which they decide what to serve us is a mystery to me, but why would they serve him something so plain?” complained Rachel, before glancing at little Aaliyah’s pizza.

Laughing, I said, “I’m sure he enjoyed it.”

My son nodded and told us “He most certainly did, proclaiming it the best macaroni and cheese he ever had. Maybe they saw how enthusiastic he was the first time and made a note? Whatever the case, Jarod was happy. Though I’ve obviously failed him as a friend where food is concerned, Marco seems to be doing a fair job at helping him try new things. That man is truly an amazing chef, though I still miss mother’s cooking at times. Still, you should come by for dinner when you have time. Just tell my secretary when you’re free.”

Rachel smiled, and I followed her gaze as she looked over at little Aaliyah, who had managed to get pizza sauce all over her chin.

“You’ve got a little something just there.” James told her, pointing at his chin.

“I got something on your chin, boss-man, sir!?” she asked excitedly while wiping her own chin with a napkin.

I laughed, remembering how embarrassed James would get as a child when he made a mess.

“You could always use a fork.” he suggested.

“But it’s pizza, boss-man, sir. Eating it with a fork is blasphemous! You’d ruin the fun!” she informed him.

Smiling, my wife told our son “Oh, let her be, James. She’s not hurting anyone.”

I wondered if she was remembering our son’s youth as I was.

“Aaliyah continuously looks out for me through scheduling, running my finances, and countless other things. The least I can do is help her manage life’s most difficult problems, such as eating without getting covered in her food.” he replied, not quite concealing his smile.

I laughed and said, “I suppose that is only fair, especially when you’re trying to be a good babysitter.”

“Babysitting was so different when I was your age, James. There wasn’t so much technology, and twelve-year-olds who had a single doctorate would have made the newspaper.” stated Rachel. Turning to Aaliyah, she said, “I still have trouble wrapping my head around the idea of you having multiple, dear.”

“The little princess truly has peerless talent.” agreed Carl as he came up behind Aaliyah to refill her glass.

I wondered at what she was drinking for it to come in such an elaborate bottle.

Still speaking, Carl said, “My restaurant wouldn’t be what it is this day without her.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, shocked at such a statement.

“Oh? Hasn’t she told you?” asked Carl as he glanced at Aaliyah. Then he looked between my wife, son and me before saying, “Look unto the heavens and know they move according to her design. That is to say our little friend here designed all of the hardware as well as the software which creates this cozy room. The movement of every moon, planet, star, galaxy…. everything. Everything continues according to Aaliyah’s design. Even the building’s architecture comes from her.”

“But I had heard of this restaurant when I was a small child.” I confided, feeling more than a little perplexed at what Carl was suggesting.

“That doesn’t surprise me, but the occasional remodel helps keep things competitive when people are expecting more each year. Who would want to stay in this room forever?” he asked.

“I would.” stated my son instantly. He looked shocked that he had spoken and quickly added “Looking into the vast reaches of space as they’re displayed here is peaceful and inspiring. With how everything is always in motion, how can I not want to see what comes next? I don’t know how long the cycle is before things repeat, but I have trouble believing I could catch everything that transpires up there in a lifetime.”

“Cycles?” asked Carl as if he were confused by the term. “Do you mean the planets rotating? Their moons? I suppose there are a number of others up there. Not really how I tend to think of it.”

“I designed it to age at a heightened rate, not repeat. It’s based loosely off what I know of astronomy, though I crammed things a bit closer together than they are and changed proportions a bit. Seeing more of it at once is neater, don’t you think?” asked Aaliyah, having casually explained her thoughts on creating the surreal universe around us.

I found myself staring in wonder at the tiny girl by my son. Growing up, I had been told I could spend a lifetime counting the stars in the sky without ever reaching the end. To think Aaliyah, before she was even twelve, managed to capture such beauty so perfectly was more than a little awe-inspiring. She noticed me staring and smiled at me, catching me off-guard with the perfect adorableness of an innocent child.

To no avail, I spent dessert trying to reconcile how such a disarmingly cute girl at a young age could possess a mind so brilliant as to achieve all she had in so short a time. At some point, my thoughts were disturbed by my son.

“Ai and Mai seem quite intent on going to a karaoke event, and we’ve been invited to go with them. Would you be interested?” he asked, looking from his mother to me.

Most of my day was already gone, and my wife and I had already taken up enough of my son’s time. Plus, I had work to do.

“Karaoke sounds like fun. We haven’t been for a while now.” stated Rachel.

She looked enthusiastic, probably just wanting more time with our son.

Swallowing an enormous mouthful of ice cream, Aaliyah exclaimed “Oh my gosh! Karaoke!? You’re the bestest, boss-man, sir!”

She started rambling on about what songs she wanted to sing, and I admitted myself that I was curious about hearing her live. If nothing else, I might dispel my remaining disbelief that such an entrancing song as what I heard on the way to this restaurant came from the tiny girl. I joined the others in discussing song possibilities as we finished our desserts. Then Aaliyah invited Carl to join us as she paid for our meals with her coupons, but he declined.

“Care to drive?” asked my son as he held up the keys in front of me.

I couldn’t decline. My son’s vehicle was like a dream made reality. I found myself caressing the car as I approached the driver’s side door, opening it for Aaliyah. After everyone was inside, I tried to impersonate Sean Connery as Bond while asking Mila to bring up directions and felt delighted when she complied. As I drove, the smile didn’t leave my face. Life truly was pretty great.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 104

Aaliyah made lunch quite a lively affair with her incredible tales of adventures with my son. She had a sensational imagination fit for an artist. I was careful to hold back tears when I thought of how Regina would have loved teaching Aaliyah to paint.

“You should see James training the redheads!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Redheads?” asked my husband.

“Brandon and Brenna! They’re the new hires! James wants all of his employees to stay in shape, so he’s training them in martial arts!” explained Aaliyah.

“James, dear, we didn’t know that you had hired anyone.” I told him. Of course, I hadn’t heard from him for over a month.

“Oh. Sorry. Business is doing well, and the siblings seem to be fitting in splendidly. You’ll have to meet them next time you come over.” he replied.

“If you come early enough, you can see them training! How James moves is so AH-MAY-ZING!” claimed Aaliyah before going into an improbable account of my son’s skills, which made him sound like some action hero in a video game.

Smiling, James said, “I doubt I could live up to all that on my best day, but you are welcome to attend one of our training sessions if you want.”

Looking shocked, Aaliyah continued to debate my son’s abilities, making him sound even more fantastic with each example she gave. He, of course, tried bringing her depictions of him back down to a reality.

There was something about how the endearing girl talked that made me want to believe her side of the story. She was extremely precocious and exceptionally adorable. I easily understood why my son enjoyed babysitting her so much. There was something else tugging at the edge of my memory.

“Oh! James, dear, there’s this new game I keep hearing about and was wondering if you tried it. The graphics for it are very well done. What was it called…” I pondered.

Ancient Tribes of Earth.” stated my husband.

“Yes! Thank you, dear.” I told him with a smile. Then I asked my son “Have you tried it yet?”

“Considering that Aaliyah wrote the game, not playing some would be in very bad form. I don’t think she’d ever forgive me!” he claimed, winking at the tiny girl.

Giggling, she said, “James and the others have been playing with me often this week! We fight monsters, explore the world, and do all sorts of magic in the game! James is sooo good at it too! The evil twins keep bothering me about crafting stuff though.”

Chuckling, my husband commented “I thought James had mentioned the twins not liking video games before. How did you get them involved?”

“Well, they were picking on James again when we were trying to play, so I grabbed them by their hands and forced them to join us! They took FOREVER designing their characters, because they wanted to look half as cool as mine. They failed.” explained Aaliyah with her adorable grin.

“Aaliyah’s character looks identical to her in real life, so the twins tried designing themselves. They did fairly well really.” claimed my son.

“After they gave the game a chance, the twins learned the awesomeness that is adventuring! Even Brenna’s getting the hang of it, though Brandon and her don’t really keep up that well yet.”

I sat back and listened as my husband started asking question after question about the game, probably dubious about such a tiny girl designing the game. Beyond the beautiful artwork, the game apparently had great depth in its story. The backstory Aaliyah gave us almost made me want to play, only to know more of the story. I had trouble imagining a video game with characters who would respond to a player’s voice as well as she described, but James corroborated her story.

The description Aaliyah gave on creating items in the game sounded like it could be a separate game entirely. The economics of the game seemed extremely complex as well, and my husband grew more than a little carried away asking Aaliyah for details.

I was more than a little impressed by the end of that conversation. I knew Aaliyah was a brilliant little thing from her previous time here, but hearing that she had written numerous papers was a bit different than listening to a couple hours of description so detailed that I felt I had been informed at length about the inner workings of another country.

While I was still processing what I had heard about that game, my son and husband went back to talking about business. I joined in a little, telling James about my latest commissions and some of the juicier gossip. My husband grew a bit melancholy during the discussion. His business wasn’t doing well of late. Though we’d be fine financially, he was very much attached to the company he had made. There was only so much that could be done with such stiff competition in the area.

“Do you have plans for dinner?” asked Aaliyah out of the blue.

“Oh. No, dear. I wasn’t sure how long you and James would be able to stay today.” I told her.

“I’m not opposed to eating out tonight. I’m sure you don’t eat out too often now that you have your own chef. Is there anywhere you’d like to go?” asked my husband.

“I happen to have three coupons for the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.” stated Aaliyah as she held them up.

“You’re so thoughtful, but you really should save those for eating with your father.” I told her.

Smiling, my husband told her “She’s right. There’s no need to use those on us.”

As Aaliyah started describing some of the foods she’s been wanting to try, my husband caught my eye. He was persuaded, likely because his mouth was watering as much as mine. The scallops Aaliyah had described sounded exquisite, and I was betting my husband wanted that lamb dish.

“As you wish. Let’s get out to the car, and I’ll drive us there.” stated my husband.

“But if James drives, I can show you more of my game. He has internet!” argued Aaliyah.

James seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then he said, “Sure. I don’t mind. There are some new features in the car that I feel you’ll really appreciate.”

“I need to ride shotgun, so I can show you the game!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

I was a bit surprised by the exchange, but I certainly wasn’t against riding in my son’s car. I could appreciate the DB5’s beauty even without being a Bond fanatic as my son and husband. We followed James out to his car and slipped into the back seat, which was surprisingly comfortable.

“Please, boss-man, sir? Pleeeease can I hit the button?” begged Aaliyah once she was seated.

“Only if you promise to buckle up afterward and stay buckled for the whole ride.” countered James with a laugh.

Aaliyah sighed and said, “Fiiiine.” Then she dramatically stretched and pushed a button by the steering wheel.

The entire dash transformed with panels sliding, flipping, and moving in all directions. Then there was a very futuristic-looking display with far more digital gauge than I would think necessary. I stared in wonder as I read through the nearest ones.

“I know that classics are generally best kept in their original state, but Jarod and Aaliyah surprised me with this one day.” explained James.

I nodded, easily imagining Jarod and Aaliyah showing this with matching ear-to-ear grins.

“Son, it’s a Bond car. I totally get it.” stated my husband with large smile.

As James started driving, Aaliyah demonstrated how Mila ― the same computer from my son’s house ― could operate the car’s numerous screens, bringing up whatever James wanted with a simple request.

“She also has software for driving in case James needs his hands for anything.” claimed Aaliyah.

My husband and I took turns asking question after question about what all Mila could do. The idea of having a computer drive me while I was able to focus on other things seemed marvelous, especially with the amount of information available. I lost my train of thought shortly after my husband asked for his favorite radio station. There was breathtakingly beautiful tune being played.

“What was that?” I asked when it ended, barely able to speak above a whisper as I was still caught in the tide of emotions from the song.

“Hmm?” asked James and Aaliyah in nearly perfect unison.

“Your mother’s asking about that song we just heard. Do you know the name?” clarified my husband.

Aaliyah started giggling.

“Aaliyah wrote that to wake me up earlier this week. She named it ‘Hmm?’ to confuse me.” replied James.

He was joking, wasn’t he? That music was utterly captivating.

“Boss-man, sir! I didn’t name it ‘Hmm?’ to confuse you. I named it that because the name really captures the emotional undertones! Emma understood.” pouted the little girl.

Her pouting was probably due to my husband and me chuckling at her explanation. I really couldn’t help it. I asked to hear the song again, and was quickly gratified by Mila finding another station instantly playing it.

As the drive continued, we listened to the song numerous more times, not able to get enough. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones, since that was the number one most requested song on one of the stations.

“By the way, when did you find time to copyright the song?” asked James.

“Oh, I took care of the boring stuff yesterday, and then I submitted it to the radio guys today. I know people who can get stuff through the system faster.” explained Aaliyah.

When we reached the restaurant, the lot was completely packed. We should have made a reservation. James came to a stop as an elderly man stepped out of a parking spot by the door. The man was very strangely dressed. Oh. I remembered him now. He was introduced as the owner last time we were here.

“See. I know people.” claimed Aaliyah just before hopping out of her door and running to hug the man.

My husband smiled at me and shrugged as I looked at him, obviously as surprised as I felt. We stepped out of the car and followed the owner inside, still amazed by the situation. As I remembered my last visit, I started anticipating what glorious flavors awaited me. This place was a real treat.