Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 204

I should have found time to feed before coming here, but I was so worried over escaping with what I could salvage that even feeding was pushed to the back of my mind. The time spent discussing furniture with Aaliyah and Emma left me hungrier and hungrier. I was acutely aware of their blood, but I wasn’t about to ask Emma to be my meal, not when she had lost her father to a vampire. She was sleeping now and wouldn’t necessarily know, but I couldn’t do that to her. I didn’t trust Aaliyah’s blood, given that I didn’t know what she was other than dangerous.

“I really should get something to eat before the sun comes up.” I announced, not really wanting to leave but unwilling to risk weakness here.

“You said you don’t kill people, so how do you get food? Blood banks?” suggested James.

“Well, no. From people, generally. I just am careful about how much I take and from whom I take it.” I explained.

“Oh. I suppose that makes sense. Isn’t that dangerous for them?” he asked.

Shaking my head, I said, “They certainly feel tired afterward, but I don’t think it’s too dangerous. I always watch after them for awhile after feeding. They really are safe, at least as safe as I can keep them.”

“What about the bite marks and their memories? I’d certainly go to a hospital if someone bit me, so there must be a strangely high number of reports.” he insisted.

“Why don’t I just show you?” I suggested, wondering why I was being so forward even as the words came out. There was something about James that made him seem extraordinarily trustworthy. I’d fear I was under some spell if my kind were resistant to those tricks.

“What!?” he exclaimed in shock. “Sorry. I wasn’t meaning to pry too much. I am really curious, but… well…” The shock faded from his face, replaced by a sort of fascination as he seemed to be working through the idea. “I suppose, but you have to bite me somewhere that I can hide. How does this work even? You don’t seem to have long fangs or anything.”

I smiled reassuringly and took hold of his hand. “Don’t worry.” I insisted, preparing my magic to puncture his skin. “You won’t feel a thing. Or… Maybe.” I stated with a frown. James’ hand was soft and felt perfectly human, but I didn’t have the strength to make the smallest hole through his perfect skin. I felt as if the blood that touched him became void of magic. “What are you?” I asked.

“Umm… Human.” he claimed.

“No, you’re obviously not.” I replied, wondering what he was keeping from me. Who was he?

“The master is far more than a human.” commented Mila, humbly standing to the side as if waiting for instructions.

“Yeah…” started Aaliyah. “You won’t be able to use your magic on him, Cosette. Sorry. He really is human-ish though!”

“I’m missing something here.” stated James. “What magic? What did you try to do?”

“I usually don’t bite people. My parents taught me all of their tricks. When feeding, I touch a person’s skin and send some of my blood inside them, using it to cut off their sensations temporarily as I create an opening. Then I take a little blood and heal their wound.” I explained.

“Oh. That’s… different. Sorry, I seem to be pretty good at blocking magic by reflex now.” he bashfully announced.

“I noticed.” I replied, still shocked by it while forcing myself to smile.

“Is that how most vampires go about feeding then?” he asked.

“No, I’m afraid not. Many do bite people, literally drink their blood, and kill their victims. It’s more efficient, you see.” I replied, frowning to show my distaste for it. I needed him to understand I was different from those vampires.

“Well, not really. How’s that more efficient? Sounds messy to say the least.” he insisted.

“They don’t use up their magic to feed, boss-man, sir. The whole point of feeding is to get energy. How Cosette feeds uses up energy, so she’s getting far less from any given person than she could.”

“I’ll get better though.” I assured him. “My father was really skilled at it. My kind tend to hone their skills a great deal over the years, making the use of our magic far more efficiently than when we start.”

“Pardon, but Portentia would like to enter.” announced Mila.

“That’s fine. Please let her in.” I told her, surprised by the arrival.

The pure white girl had her hand raised as if she were about to knock. She quickly lowered it with speed rivaling my own. “Hi. Mila told me Cosette was hungry, so I thought I’d save her a trip.” she announced, smiling as she looked to me with those faintly blue eyes.

“Oh. You were serious earlier?” I asked in surprise.

“Well, yeah. I’ve had a few vampire friends, and it’s not like you can hurt me.” she replied with a shrug.

What was she to be so confident that vampires couldn’t even hurt her when she allowed them to feed?

James placed his hand on my shoulder, and I was very aware of his touch as if all of my senses switched to focusing on him.

“Portentia does feel pain, but she regenerates incredibly fast.” he told me.

I tore my eyes from James to look back at Portentia and said, “I see. Well, not really. What are you then?”

“I might as well tell you, since everyone else here knows.” she replied with a shrug. “I mean, Aaliyah trusts you, right? I’m Calamity, the superhero.” she told me with a grin.

Her whole pose changed, and I could tell that she was quite proud of her claim.

I giggled, entirely amused by the idea of a self-proclaimed superhero. What would my parents have thought of this? I noticed Portentia frowning and quickly told her “Sorry. Really. I’ve never met someone who refers to herself as a superhero before. About the name… don’t you feel that’s a bit less than heroic sounding?”

“Don’t worry about it. I like to think of myself as the Calamity that comes to those who do evil. If you’re ever interested in helping people, I wouldn’t mind a vampire sidekick.” she assured me.

I did my best not to laugh again, but I couldn’t manage to suppress my smile when this girl was so sincere about being a superhero. Managing to keep some of my mirth from my voice, I said, “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

“So how do you like to do this?” she asked, walking toward me. “Quick bite and be done, or do you like something more elaborate? One of my friends liked to act out a horror scene as often as not.”

She was so casual about me feeding on her that I found myself believing this was commonplace to her.

“Here. Let me see your hand.” I told her, reaching my own out as I stepped toward her.

I was immediately surprised by how cold she felt. Then the complete lack of a pulse struck me. For a moment, I wondered if she might be one of my own kind, but my blood passed into her without too much resistance.

The moment her blood passed into me, my heart hammered to life, pushing the sustenance throughout my body. I felt energy like I had never known before. There was so much, far more than I could store. My mind went fuzzy, and I felt a tingling throughout my entire body, a tingling that seemed to pierce beyond my body.

“Cosette?” asked James, muffled and far away from me.

Everything was far away from me except the energy. I had never felt this good before. I longed for more even though I knew I couldn’t contain it. I was aware when Portentia lifted me from the ground, though I didn’t remember falling.

Portentia calmly said, “Don’t worry about it. She’s fine. Vampires sort of get high off my blood. She’ll be back with us any…”

Portentia, life giver, and being of unfathomable energy was holding me easily in her arms. I knew I should do something, say something.

“Oh my gosh! What are you!?” I blurted, leaning up to stare at her. I hadn’t meant to be blunt, but my head was in too many places.

She easily caught me as I changed position but then set me on my feet.

“Superhero.” she replied with another shrug.

“I’ve never felt anything like that before. I feel like running or dancing. There’s so much energy!” I exclaimed in wonder.

“Dancing! Yay!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

“Dancing? What? What time is it? Oh. Hey, Portentia.” asked Emma as she rubbed her eye.

How could she be tired at a time like this!? I felt as if I could touch her and zap a day’s supply of energy into her without even noticing.

“Sorry, Emma. I’ve been learning about vampires, and Cosette’s feeling a bit energetic.” explained James.

Emma nodded and said, “Yeah. Not really her bedtime, is it.” Then she stifled a yawn in her sleeve. “Well, I’m going to my room. See everyone in the morning.” mumbled Emma as she headed to the door.

Aaliyah was already starting to dance, and to my surprise, there was music! I joined her immediately. Mila did as well, so I couldn’t let them dance without me. James joined us as well, demonstrating an incredible skill at dancing. Portentia seemed hesitant, but I grabbed her hand and got her moving with me. She was such an amazing person!

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 201

“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.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 198

“The master will return shortly. He will apprise you of the situation once he’s arrived.” announced Mila.

“Mila, what do you mean?” I asked, suddenly feeling worried. Mila never sounded so flat.

“Patience, please.” she replied.

“What’s wrong? You look worried.” commented Portentia.

“I don’t know. Something’s wrong.” I told her.

“Why do you say that? James might want to announce a new flavor of ice cream. Perhaps someone named one after him. James flavored… I wonder what they’d call it.” she considered.

“Somerset Delight?” I suggested. I didn’t know where to begin explaining the difference in Mila’s tone to Portentia. She could probably understand the gist of it to some degree, but having never heard a sound in her life, I didn’t believe she’d fully be able to relate.

She shrugged and said, “Sounds about right. He is a delight.”

“Something wonderful happen on your date that you’re not telling me?” I asked, hoping for a bit of distraction while we waited.

Brenna looked over to us and insisted, “She wouldn’t leave us in the dark if something did.”

I wasn’t too certain. Nearly a week had passed since their date, and Portentia certainly seemed even happier than normal when James was mentioned. I’m sure too much couldn’t have happened between them, not with how James was, but she obviously had a wonderful time.

“Emma…” started Portentia, touching my shoulder.

I heard the front door open and ran to it with Portentia on my heels. “James, what’s wrong?” I demanded, watching as the little fairy flopped onto his head.

Ai and Mai passed us without a glance, steering Jarod along with him. Everyone looked so grim.

“Is he alright?’ asked Portentia, looking between everyone inhumanly fast.

Ignoring her, I asked “Where’s Alma?”

Alma had left with them, so her absence was worrisome, given how she treasured her time with James as much as the rest of us. He ignored my inquiry, motioning for us to follow as he walked into the ballroom.

“Mila, were you inside the park’s surveillance systems when the explosions took place?” he asked the moment he entered.

I stared at him, horrified by that one word, “explosions”. What happened!?

“Of course, master. Shall I show you?” she replied.

James nodded, and the mirrors that weren’t in use lit up, displaying a theme park. Explosions from countless video feeds appeared, showing people ripped apart by the blasts. Men, women, and children were killed in an instant. The lifeless pieces of the ones who were closest to the blast made bile rise in my throat. Others were moving slightly, despite their horrible burns. Fires went out on every feed simultaneously. Then there was Alma, appearing from nowhere in one of the feeds and starting to tend to a victim. That feed suddenly vanished.

“Sorry, master, but the camera was destroyed at that point.” stated Mila.

Shaking his arm, Portentia demanded “James, who did this?”

When he looked at her, his pained face stung my heart. “I don’t know, but I want to find out. When the first zombie blew up right next to me, Alma seemed to think someone was attempting to target her. She got me out of the park, fetched Jarod and the twins, and then went to search for more of the zombies. That’s all I know.”

I half expected Portentia to dash out of the room in search of the one responsible. Instead, she merely nodded. I brushed the tears on my cheeks, realizing I had started crying. We needed distraction. There was nothing for us to do at the moment.

“Let’s go find a dungeon.” I suggested, forcing my voice to be as calm as possible.

James stared at me blankly for several seconds. “I don’t really feel like playing right now.” he admitted.

I nodded and said, “Neither do I, but we need to be distracted for a bit, unless you know something useful we can do.”

I thought he was going to argue, but he walked over to his usual seat and sat down. I followed suit, logging back into the game. We picked a direction and headed off in a group with Brandon and Brenna catching up while we were picking fights with some troglodytes in a cave. Hours passed in exploration before I realized that others were in the room. Ai, Mai, Jarod, and even Alma were with us.

I almost gave into an impulse and ran over to hug Alma, but I controlled myself, not wanting to test her mood. She was surely hurting right now, and she was even more dangerous than I was in pain. I was thankful nothing seemed to be melting. I was being careful to keep my emotions in check as well, not wanting my clothes or the cushion under me to suddenly surge with malevolent life.

I kept playing, doing my best to focus on the game even after Marco brought us food. I wanted peace. Alma left us some time later without a word. I was certain she was going to do more investigating, trying to find the one behind the explosions. Alma would never let something so terrible go unpunished, and I had faith in her ability to find the one responsible.

The image of Brenna laughing as Brandon hit his head by growing too large under a tree entered my head. There was such warmth and life in that image that I found myself smiling. Another image came to mind, equally silly. The little fairy was trying to cheer us up. I smirked, thinking she was probably just trying to cheer James up. We were just fortunate enough to join in the merriment. I was glad James allowed her in the house. As mischievous as she could be, she was a joy as well.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 183

I was being shown countless things by my grandmother, the lovely fey girl still embracing me. She looked so young and precious, but I could feel the bond between us. There was no sense of time in the images she showed me as she shared countless things she had done, but I knew she was old. Very old from what Alma told me.

I wondered what my ancient grandfather was like. She knew. I saw him. He looked so young… Young and lost. I probably blushed as she showed me a bit much of their encounter. She sensed that I had gotten uncomfortable and stopped, staring at me curiously. I hugged her, amazed to be getting this chance to know her.

“Alma…” stated James, sounding concerned.

With a sigh, she said, “I know. Shut your eyes.”

The world blurred around me and my stomach lurched. I fought against retching in front of these two. I didn’t get to say goodbye…

“I apologize for the discomfort, but those creatures would have impeded us if we moved more slowly.” explained Alma matter-of-factly. Looking to me, she asked “May we go in then?”

I only then realized that we were standing in front of the door to my wing. I nodded and opened the door, letting them go in first while I decided whether or not I was safe from retching.

James was staring around the room, looking curious.

“Oh. I’ve been redecorating a bit.” I told him after realizing he hadn’t seen how I had grown out my furniture. “Do you like?”

“It’s remarkable. I’d worry about staining my clothes if I didn’t sit perfectly still though.” he admitted.

I laughed and then took a moment to fight the sudden urge to vomit. My stomach still wasn’t fully settled.

He shrugged.

Noticing the time, I said, “I probably should get changed.”

James nodded and followed Alma out. I nearly stopped him, not wanting him to go, but I collapsed on my bed and stared at the ceiling, thinking of what I had seen and felt. The fey were beautiful and completely incredible, but I had never imagined there could be any alive. I never thought that I might one day meet my grandmother. I smiled, thinking of how life was full of surprises.

,,,^._.^,,,

“James, I appreciate you taking us there and would be extremely grateful if you would do so again soon.” I insisted as I turned around to face him just outside Emma’s door. “I’m sure the others are desperately wanting a chance as well, and I’ll gladly see that no one gets hurt if the fey get too rambunctious.”

He stared down at me, looking to be studying me. I felt uncomfortable under that gaze, but held my ground. James was human and frail, but he could easily keep my family from interacting with the fey at all. Anyone who dared violate those grounds would face Death. I sometimes found myself wondering if she’d kill us all at his whim.

“When you say ‘no one gets hurt’, you’re including the fey as well, right?” he asked.

His words stung, showing he still doubted me. I had a long way to go still to prove myself to him. I nearly reached out to him, but resisted the urge. He wasn’t nearly as saturated with magic as he had been last night, but he was still filled with far more energy than he normally allowed himself. I quickly placed my protections back over myself to dull the effect.

“Of course.” I assured him. “They’re far too precious. I keep telling you that my family made a mistake with them.”

He stared into my eyes longer, and I had to fight the urge to turn away. I wanted to hold him and feel his arms around me, not to be under such scrutiny. We stood that way for an uncomfortably long time before he nodded.

“I’m going to make myself presentable.” he stated. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

Smiling, I said, “You’re always presentable, James. That’s one of the things I like about you.” I hurried to my rooms, not wanting to risk being around him any more at the moment.

I considered getting more work done, since I had left abruptly earlier, but I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to focus at the moment.

:Cousin, I had lost you for a time: stated Adelmar.

:I know. Let me show you.: I told him, instantly guiding him through what I had seen.

I could tell that he was every bit as shocked as I had been by his comments. He too regretted our ancestors’ actions, cutting me off as I showed him what I had seen of the war. He had been far enough in my head to feel what I had, witnessing the murder of one of my ancestors by another.

I took my time preparing for the auction as thoughts of the fey continued to fill my head. They were still so open about what they could do, urging us to play with them and demonstrating their magic in our minds.

James was right about them fearing me. I had felt it. They also accepted me as one of their own, instantly feeling my heritage. I had felt something too, but I wasn’t sure that I could explain it well enough to chronicle. Maybe in time, assuming James gave me the time, I would fully understand how I had felt there.

I thought again of that spiraling vortex of energy and wondered at its creator. What purpose did he have to make such a thing? How did he have such incredible knowledge of magic to pull it off? I only knew of three who were likely to surpass me in magical knowledge by that much, and those three would never provide me with answers.

I allowed myself to pace for a time after I finished changing. I felt restless. Then Mila informed me that James wished to leave soon. I frowned, wondering what the urgency was now. I went out into the hall to wait, forcing myself to maintain my poise.

Ai, Mai, Jarod, and Duncan came striding my way minutes later, looking quite lively as they approached.

“What did you see?” asked one of the twins.

“Were there very many?” asked the other as she clung to Jarod’s arm.

I could tell Duncan and Jarod were curious as well.

Nodding, I informed them “You all have something incredible ahead and no words of mine will justly express the experience.”

That, of course, was not enough to satisfy any of them, but I was being perfectly honest. I didn’t know how to express the feeling of that place adequately to them. Instead, I turned our discussion towards the upcoming auction, reminding them that Maxine might have a surprise in store for us.

I turned to the empty hall when James was finally approaching. The moment I saw him, I asked “Why do you wish to leave quite this early? We’d surely be the first ones there if we leave now.”

“Sorry to rush everyone, but a certain little fairy was just fluttering around the house.” he explained. “I really would prefer to leave her behind.”

“I see.” I replied, agreeing that she shouldn’t follow us.

As adorable as the creature was, I didn’t wish to see her wrath unleashed on an unsuspecting crowd. Even I couldn’t react fast enough to stop a laser.

“Mila is the fairy still around?” asked James.

“She’s still around back, master, chasing after fireworks I’m displaying on the windows. The limo is ready out front.” she replied.

I followed him out as the doors opened for us, wondering what other surprises he would give me in the future.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 182

Beautiful images and feelings danced through my head as I skipped beside James. He and Alma seemed far more calm than I felt. Were they not listening to this fairy as she showed us her world? I felt like I was flying, though I knew my feet frequently touched the ground. The images and emotions with them were so very vivid. If I closed my eyes for a moment, reality could be forgotten. This was beautiful, though I wouldn’t really want to escape reality for long, not with how close James and Alma were.

James was charming as ever, and I honestly hadn’t gotten over him even knowing he wasn’t really interested in me. I knew I’d never compete with Alma. She was a flawless, otherworldly beauty with enough talents for dozens of people where I was passably cute and barely had enough talent for one person. I couldn’t really complain, since I’d date her in a heartbeat too. I knew I could dazzle away from Somerset Estate. The competition level here was just far too high. The most human of us was mind-bogglingly brilliant.

“What’s bothering you, James?” asked Alma.

He stared at her, leaving me to admire how his hair looked from the back. After a moment, he said, “Please don’t be offended, but I’m worrying about your temper. I only spent one night around these creatures, but I already feel they can be taxing.”

Her smile made my heart jump, though she was looking up at him.

“Don’t worry. I’ll leave if they annoy me too much.” she assured him after taking hold of his hand.

I felt a stab of jealousy, completely left out next to these two lovebirds, but for all the sorrow poking at my heart, I still was immersed in the joy flowing through my head. Our new little friend loved flying, and the world seemed so large from her perspective. She could easily hide behind the leaf of a tree to play tricks on her friends. I saw some of them in her visions, giving me a better idea what to expect inside the forest.

I couldn’t believe I had spent so long here, even becoming the groundskeeper, and I had never wandered into the forest. At least, I had forgotten for the moment what being next to the forest was like. Standing there on the brink of entering was suddenly a bit frightening. There was an eeriness that sent a shiver down my back, and I still couldn’t feel a single plant on the other side. I wanted to run away.

James bravely stepped forward, comically stopped by Alma’s grip on his hand. She was so tiny next to him with well over a foot of difference in their heights. She was also perfectly thin, like a well-crafted doll with an hourglass figure. I seemed petite most places, but Alma made me feel tall and big-boned. I wondered again what holding her hand was like.

Suddenly releasing James’ hand, Alma said, “Oh. Sorry, James. I needed a moment to disperse my typical protective spells. When I did, I started seeing these images of Emma and that fairy frolicking around the woods. I knew of how the fey communicate, but experiencing it is fascinating. She’s so happy… and ignoring me. I must say that I’ve never had anyone give me the cold shoulder quite like this before. It’s more of a sensation than anything in the image.”

A bright light flashed between us all, leaving a spot dancing in my vision.

“What was that about?” asked James.

“Sorry. I thought about grabbing her, and she seemed to know. Don’t look at me like that, James.” demanded Alma. “I wasn’t going to hurt her. She seems to believe that I’ve been ignoring her since we met. She knows you’re ignoring her, but isn’t mad at you? That’s not fair.”

I didn’t get as much from the little fairy’s images as Alma seemed to but I barely resisted the impulse to hug Alma. I didn’t manage to stop the giggles. She was so adorable on the verge of pouting, but I didn’t want the lecture about not giving in to such desires. Totally had that one before.

Realizing James and Alma were staring at me as I laughed, I tried to explain “She’s been complaining about you both for half the walk. I didn’t realize you two honestly didn’t know. How could you not!?”

“I actually have to work at hearing them. My magic seems to block out their form of communication.” explained James.

“That’s new. How much do you know about your magic, James?” asked Alma, staring at him again.

I wasn’t surprised. James seemed to have an abundance of tricks with his magic. He had learned so very fast.

“A fair amount, I think, but being certain is hard when I’m constantly seeming to learn new things about myself.” he explained.

Alma laughed, a beautiful pure sound, and said, “Well, I’m defenseless now, so try not to be too charming.”

James glanced at me, smiled, and said, “I may have failed to mention that I have a number of magical abilities, but, in my defense, I’m still learning about them as I previously mentioned.”

I smirked and said, “Man-slave, you just keep getting more incredible, don’t you.”

Alma grabbed us both by the hand and pulled us with her into the forest. She gasped just inside.

I stared in wonder at the seemingly endless energy here, and I finally could feel the plants. There was so much life here, plants and others as well. “Whoa. It’s like a magic whirlpool!” I exclaimed. I could feel dancing in the distance as various sorts of feet rhythmically hit the grass. Animals roamed freely, not even alarmed when something bipedal dashed through a bush nearby. There were a few plants I didn’t recognize, which was extremely rare for me. I’d have to investigate eventually, but now… now wasn’t the time.

“They’re coming.” I announced.

“I know.” replied Alma. “How could they not with this little one calling for them though?” she asked.

I had been too engrossed in the plants to notice, but Alma was right. Our little friend was practically singing in our minds, announcing James’ return. She also was warning of Alma’s presence and… I grinned, feeling her excitement about me.

I stepped back, shocked when a naked girl jumped James. I hadn’t felt her approach. “She can become invisible!” I exclaimed. She looked like… an elf. She really had a nice body too, but her ears were larger than normal and came to distinct points.

“More than that, I’d say.” replied Alma. “Were you able to feel her in the grass?” With a gentle ease, Alma pulled the girl off a James.

“You’re right. I can’t.” I admitted.

“I thought not.” stated Alma, staring the girl down and maintaining her grip.

I didn’t know whether to pout or laugh when Alma made cloud-like clothing appear over the girl’s form. She really knew what she wanted from James and seemed confused by why Alma pulled her away.

“James, we need to have a talk about you coming here later.” stated Alma.

More were approaching, but these I could feel distinctly as they touched the plants. Alma clad them with her magic as well. I stared down in shock as a walking tree hugged me. I could feel someone inside the plants! Not just inside… connected. A girl… family. Her thoughts. I felt so much love from her. The bark pulled away, and I saw her. She had beautiful, green hair and skin the color of oak. Her eyes were a light, leafy green.

“She’s your grandmother.” stated Alma in shock. “Well, with a good hundred ‘greats’ thrown in for good measure.”

The girl looked my age, but I knew what Alma said was true. I could feel the recognition in the fey’s thoughts. I hugged her tight against me and felt the strange sensation of knowing her from head to toe. Her body was plant-like enough that I could feel her distinctly. The bark had been physically connected with her until she let it go.

She was showing me the forest, and I watched as plants grew to her whims. I knew these feelings well. I could easily empathize with her love for them. I realized after awhile that I was probably stronger than her. She could only reach a couple thousand feet at best. I could stretch my magic over miles. How could I possibly be stronger than one of the fey… my… my great grandmother?

I nearly let go of her as an image came to me of plants tearing through men in armor. I realized there were other images from those around us. There was a man of fire burning his way through an army, melting their armor into their flesh as they screamed. I watched as a shirtless man grabbed the burning man. The fiery man screamed out just before his head was crushed in the shirtless man’s grip. I could see images of the others fleeing. I felt my great grandmother’s fight. The stench of death was unbearable.

“I shouldn’t have asked.” stated Alma, looking shocked. “These poor creatures were there, James.” She gripped James’ arm and said, “I’m so sorry. I had asked if there were any like me here, and they showed me the last they knew. That was likely one of my ancestors killing another. I hadn’t realized how far these creatures had come, but I recognized that man. We just saw Europe nearly two thousand years ago at one of my family’s battles with the fey.”

I felt sad, angry, and so disturbed at first, but then there was joy as images of life in this forest came to my head. The fey were so very happy here. I let their joy wash over me, cleansing me of what I just witnessed.

“James. James! Listen to them. Listen.” urged Alma, shaking his arm.

I wondered for a moment at the flowers around me, trying to think of when they appeared. Were they mine or my great grandmother’s? Both of ours? They were beautiful. I could easily picture us skipping along with a flower garden appearing in our wake. She obviously knew what I was thinking, picturing it as well. I wanted to spend more time with her. What would mom think of this? I needed to show her someday.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 181

I nearly dropped my fork halfway to my mouth when I noticed a light out of my sister’s eyes. Hovering over James’ plate with a slice of his bacon bigger than her held aloft by tiny little hands was an actual, luminescent fairy. I quickly looked to verify with my own eyes as well.

“Man-slave! A fairy! A fairy is eating your bacon!” exclaimed Emma.

Luckily, the little creature ignored her.

“Is that some sort of magic?” asked Brandon.

“She’s so cute!” exclaimed Brenna right over him.

“I thought all of the fey were dead. She is one, isn’t she?” questioned Jarod at the same time.

Possibly to himself over the fuss, Marco said, “I’ll have to figure out what she likes to eat and order doll-sized dishes.”

:This is really happening.: stated my sister and I at once, still disbelieving what we were seeing.

:I’ll text Lady Pendreigh.: agreed Mai, understanding my thoughts on the matter.

If this really was what we thought it was, we were all in danger.

James raised his hands for silence, staring all of us down until the loudest noise was the fairy fighting with the bacon. I was impressed by how much she was eating and how quickly she was eating it.

“She lives in the woods on my estate and followed me home.” he announced.

“You are a man of many surprises, James.” replied nii-san in his thick Japanese accent.

If not for Lady Pendreigh, we would worry what he would tell mother about this discovery, but mother wouldn’t dare encroach as long as Lady Pendreigh was here.

As the little fairy wrestled a sausage, James smiled and said, “I don’t think you’ll have to try too hard to find something she’ll eat, Marco.”

Smiling and nodding, Marco seemed to agree.

“After my leg heals a bit more, would you allow me to stroll through your woods and see if there are any more like her, James?” inquired nii-san. “This is quite the discovery.”

James looked hesitant as he said, “Give me a few days to think on it. Oh. Wait. Weren’t you leaving after the auction?”

“Due to my injury, and now this discovery, I feel a need to extend my trip, as long as you don’t mind me taking advantage of your hospitality a while longer.” he replied.

“Oh. Of course. Stay as long as you like.” insisted James.

“James, don’t move.” ordered Lady Pendreigh the instant she arrived. She was staring intently at the fairy.

:Seems we were right…: mumbled Mai.

I was just as distracted as she was, having watched as the fairy glanced at Lady Pendreigh before diving into James’ shirt, still holding what remained of the sausage.

“She really does find you scary, doesn’t she.” commented James as he smirked at Lady Pendreigh.

He might as well have struck her with the brief moment of distress that showed on her face.

Then her emotions washed away, and she said, “Funny, considering she’s one of the most dangerous creatures my family ever encountered. She could kill most of you before I could react.”

Before she was finished speaking, my jaw dropped. Images were flooding through our minds. In them, we saw Lady Pendreigh wreathed in fire and pointing at James’ food. As the little fairy hid, Lady Pendreigh swept up the last piece of bacon, devouring it as she smiled down at the little creature. We continued watching as the image went through other possible ways that Lady Pendreigh might take the food away.

:That’s amazing!: exclaimed Mai.

:I know… Why didn’t we think to take James’ bacon in such a manner!: I teased, despite being equally awed at the fairy’s telepathic abilities.

“Apparently, she believes you’re here to steal her food.” explained Emma.

Nii-san and Lady pendreigh looked confused, so we told them “She has telepathy!”

The fairy’s thoughts suddenly changed, picturing James angrily waving his finger at Lady Pendreigh. Outside of her thoughts, she flew out of the pocket and up to Lady Pendreigh in a most defiant manner. Then she dove back down at James’ plate.

“Charming, but she’s dangerous, James. We need to find a place where she’ll be safe away from people.” stated Lady Pendreigh.

“She has a place. She lives in my forest.” insisted James, staring her down.

“But she… the forest. How many are there?” she asked, closing her eyes. “I always wondered why there wasn’t so much as a bird there. Who did this? How?” She was quiet for a moment, casting numerous spells, when suddenly she winced before sitting down. She rubbed her temple as she said, “I can’t advise anyone to study the enchantment around the forest. There are defenses I’ve never seen before.”

Mai and I glanced at one another. The forest was off limits, so we avoided it. We never considered what might be in it. The idea that there was an enchantment there beyond Lady Pendreigh was frightening. Who could have made such a thing?

The fairy suddenly darted off into the hall with another of the sausages, and we wondered what startled it. A moment later, we saw the fairy fluttering around Aaliyah as she entered the room.

“Marco, could I get another plate?” asked James.

“Me too!” exclaimed the diminutive girl, wearing her secretary glasses and munching on the stolen sausage. She finished chewing and then asked, “What?” Pointing the sausage at the fairy, she said, “She offered.”

The little fairy ignored the sausage pointed at her, already eating other things.

“Busy day today, everyone!” announced Aaliyah, crawling onto James’ lap. “Boss-man, sir, you’re going to be late for training if you don’t hurry. Alpy? What’s wrong?”

“Hmm? Nothing. James, will you let Ai and Mai handle training everyone today and take me into the woods?” inquired Lady Pendreigh.

We sighed, having intended to spend the morning with Jarod and nii-san.

“Why? What do you want to do?” asked James.

“I suppose we can make time, but as your tenant agreement states, you’ll have to sign a visitation form to enter the forest and be escorted by the boss-man.” muttered Aaliyah as she looked at James’ phone.

“Emma, will you join us as well?” offered Lady Pendreigh.

“Of course!” exclaimed Emma, grinning at her.

We could guess that Lady Pendreigh wanted Emma’s company because of the exceptionally strong fey blood running through her veins, but we still felt put out by being given work and left behind.

“I’m sure most of you want to see them after meeting this little one.” stated James as he motioned to the fairy. “I’ll see how we can manage after gauging how the fey react with these two.”

Jarod was obviously feeling disappointed as well, but at least he might join us. He obviously had much he could teach in the martial arts lessons.

Everyone finished their food quietly while watching Lady Pendreigh creating balls of light and sending them toward the fairy. Residual energy poured off the little creature as she caught the lights and sent them back. The entire time, images danced in our heads, showing us different ways to maneuver the light. There was a questioning tone to it.

“What’s her name?” asked Emma.

James paused with his fork halfway to his mouth as he said, “Apparently, they don’t use names.”

“You’ve gotta name her.” insisted Brenna. “We can’t just call her ‘fairy’ all the time.”

Smirking, Brandon said, “Unless that’s her name.”

Brenna hit him, but he kept grinning. We agreed with Brenna that a name was appropriate.

“We could name her ‘Lucia’.” suggested Mai.

Nodding, I said, “Or perhaps ‘Lucita’, since she’s so small.”

“I like ‘Glimmerwing’, because she glimmers and has wings.” offered Emma.

“Could just call her ‘Laser’, since that’s how she’ll kill you.” stated Lady Pendreigh, though she was still smiling at the fairy.

“That’s horrible! You can’t name a girl that.” protested Brenna.

Looking intrigued, Jarod asked “Can she really create lasers?”

“According to what I’ve read, which is admittedly one account, these little ones created ‘beams of divine light which burned through scores of men’. The author is credible though.” replied Lady Pendreigh.

Jarod was grinning instantly, probably considering wacky ways to make use of such magic.

:Wacky, but brilliant.: admitted Mai.

We could never argue against his brilliance. He really was remarkable.

“You can’t tame them or reason with them. There’s no trusting fey. They feel, and they react. If you’re going to give her a name and admire her like a pet, you should realize that she’ll probably outwit you and destroy you in a moment of anger. Though I feel my family went too far when they attempted genocide against these creatures, I’m not going to tell you I approve of keeping them in the house either.” explained Lady Pendreigh.

Despite her warning, the rest of us continued debating on what the best name would be, at least until the plates were taken away. Then we demanded everyone, at least those who were coming, to get to practice. If we were ordered to act as instructors, we wouldn’t let Lady Pendreigh down.

Best Friend For Hire reprise, Entry 174

“You really don’t need to go out. I will gladly cover the lost income if that will dissuade you. Duncan seems to be enjoying your company immensely.” I offered, hoping James would give up this “job”.

I was certain that he was perfectly ignorant of this “anonymous” patron’s identity, but taking such a job with a guest in his house was not necessary. There was surely no need for James to even take jobs personally anymore. His business was clearly doing plenty well.

“I’ve already imposed upon your good will plenty, and Duncan will surely be awake when I return home, seeing as your family doesn’t sleep much.” he replied.

I shook my head in frustration as I turned to walk back inside. I felt tempted to tell him that he’d be spending his day with Maxine, but I couldn’t risk fumbling over some obscure clause in one of our contracts that would lead to some sort of penalty. Aaliyah’s contracts were intolerable. However, there was simply no choice but to abide by them.

I took a deep breath and tried forcing myself to calm. My temperature was still rising. I needed distraction to quell my magic. I hurried to see what Ai, Mai, and Duncan were doing.

,,,^._.^,,,

“Nii-san’s touring the yard with Emma.” I stated.

“We did warn you of his interest in her.” asserted Ai.

“She’ll turn him down, so I don’t really see how that’s a problem.” insisted Jarod.

“Even if she accepted, there wouldn’t be a problem.” snapped Lady Pendreigh.

Her mood soured the moment she heard about James’ secretive job this morning. He was probably the only person who didn’t guess his client immediately.

:The soulless didn’t, at least not Brandon. There’s no way he did.: insisted Ai.

:True.: I replied.

Brandon actually wasn’t completely incapable at most things, but he wasn’t very observant.

:Or tactful.: added Ai.

:Or courteous.: I thought.

As the list went on in our heads, we wondered again at why James kept Brandon employed as a “best friend”. He was more suited to be a bouncer at a disreputable club.

“What’s eating you?” asked Jarod.

“Whatever do you mean?” replied Lady Pendreigh.

“I mean that we’re here if you want to talk, so you might as well try if you’re wanting company.” he told her.

Ai quickly covered Jarod’s mouth with her hand.

“Please excuse Jarod, Lady Pendreigh. He doesn’t mean to be rude.” I insisted.

She brushed off our comments with a wave of her hand before hurrying off somewhere.

“Come on, you know she wanted to talk about something.” claimed Jarod.

“No, she really doesn’t.” I told him.

“She’s jealous that James is going on a date with Maxine, but admitting as much is beyond her.” explained Ai.

“Must you encourage her to be ridiculous?” questioned Jarod.

“We really have tried talking with her about relationships before.” I admitted.

Then Ai said, “She’s already considered everything we have and a hundred things we haven’t.”

“Yes, she overthinks things often. That’s not always helpful. The idea is to help her come to terms with how she feels.” he argued.

“No, she needs to stop feeling. You saw her face…” I told him.

“Yes, she seemed irritated.” he replied.

I took his face in my hands, gazed into his eyes, and said, “If she doesn’t calm down, someone or something could be destroyed. You haven’t seen the power she possesses. She could level the city if she ever lost her temper, probably far more than a city.”

“Well, I have seen some of what she can do.” he mumbled as he furrowed his brows.

We sighed as we answered questions as he became more and more analytical about ways she could use that sort of heat. The mood was completely ruined.

,,,^._.^,,,

I caused a tree to grow from the ground into the shape of a crutch as I asked “Are you sure you don’t want something to help? You’ve barely had time to recover.” Duncan’s limp was still quite pronounced, but I wasn’t going to offer him my shoulder no matter how he might smile.

“No. Thank you.” replied Duncan in his heavy accent.

“I can do canes as well.” I told him as I changed the shape of the crutch into several different canes in quick succession. I knew he could easily keep up with the shifting shapes. He had dodged the first time I caused a fruit to grow near him.

“The detail in your creations is extraordinary.” he commented. “Do you take commissions?”

“I’ve thought about it but no. I’m often too attached to let them go if I put much effort into them.” I explained. I was stressing out bad. Mai had warned me about her brother’s interest in me. At least, she said she was Mai. Might have been Ai. Either way, I wasn’t going to Japan. I heard enough about Izumi to never want to meet her, even if her son was cute. He really was, but I wasn’t interested in him. Mom would be horrified if she found out someone of his position was interested in me, and even she might be put in a bind if I offended him somehow.

“My sisters have informed me that you can work with any sort of plant matter. There are a large number of flowers unique to Japan. I would be happy to show them to you if you ever visit.” he told me.

I named off a few before telling him that I was familiar with them.

“Sorry. I am not so well-versed in scientific names as to recognize any by what you call them.” he replied.

Oops.

“I get carried away.” I admitted.

We walked in silence for a few steps before I pointed ahead and said, “In front of us is the labyrinth. At the center are a number of beautiful statues and a large pond that we occasionally use for swimming when not indulging ourselves in your sisters’ pools.”

“Do you tend to this forest as well?” he asked. “The growth seems extraordinary in a city.”

“No, actually. No one goes in there.” I told him.

“We could take a peek.” he suggested.

I quickly said, “I wouldn’t. The forest is off-limits according to Aaliyah. You wouldn’t want to upset James.”

He bowed and apologized. I’d never get used to it. Ai and Mai were so different than their brother. Ugh. I wished I could just turn him down and escape back to the others, but I worked for James now and didn’t want to make a bad impression either. This was so frustrating!

,,,^._.^,,,

I smiled to myself upon seeing the limousine park nearby. James was here. By tonight, he would be mine. He was incredibly handsome, but he didn’t seem surprised to see me. I was supposed to be an anonymous client, but the idea that he knew and still came thrilled me in its own way.

“A pleasure seeing you again, Maxine.” he told me, nodding to me.

People often forgot when someone near them was blind. Then they’d become overly concerned upon remembering. Ever since I developed technology to obliterate my handicap, I learned a great deal about how to make use of these tendencies to throw people off-guard.

“James, you never called. When I realized what your job entailed, I could see why. You must stay terribly busy. I hope you don’t mind me clearing us a date this way.” I told him.

“When I first started my business, I would’ve been taken aback by the idea, but i can’t say this is the first time anymore.” he confessed.

I frowned, wanting him to realize he shouldn’t say as much. Then I told him “Well, this will be the first time with me,s o you might as well forget the others. You and Lady Pendreigh aren’t exclusive, are you?”

His look of surprise was so plain upon his face that I wondered if he even knew how to be guarded about such things.

“We’re not actually dating.” he assured me.

“Oh? I heard rumors, but I was hoping you had better taste.” I teased.

Lady Pendreigh’s position and power would be most advantageous, but I doubted anyone could make use of her without becoming her pawn.

“Care to show me to the car?” I asked, holding out my arm.

He took my arm and guided me over to the limousine, gently helping me inside. I still didn’t understand my feelings toward James. I had only met him the once, but I could tell right away that he was something special. He looked far better without the elaborate makeup he had worn at the convention.

“I’m a bit parched. Mind pouring me some water?” I asked.

He was quick to respond… attentive.

“So where would you like to go first?” he asked.

“There happens to be a branch of my favorite restaurant in town. Have you ever been to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce?” she asked.

He nodded at first, but then he quickly said, “Yes, actually. You have good taste.”

I was well aware he held significant shares in the restaurant, having looked into his holdings thoroughly. How he managed to get those shares was the more important question. They typically weren’t for sale. If I could persuade James to use his influence, I might be able to study some of the technology the restaurant used.

Along the way, I spoke to James of the city and my joy at different parts of it, comparing and contrasting with my own. He occasionally responded, but I feared the choice of topic wasn’t to his liking. He didn’t inquire into my home no matter what bait I threw. What should I try next?