James seemed tense lately, and I wasn’t completely sure why. My best guess involved Alma being mad over James taking Portentia on a date, though most of what Portentia had told me didn’t seem too date-like, at least not for normal people.
Smiled and hugging whichever of the twins was next to me, I couldn’t say anyone around here was particularly normal. My girlfriends practically shared their brains, Portentia seemed immortal, and Alma made the first three seem very human. I really, really wished I could take Ai and Mai to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce, but their family wouldn’t permit it. At least, that’s what I gathered from their excuses.
Portentia’s description of the restaurant’s latest outlandish decor was incredible. How did they manage to make an enormous beach inside of a restaurant? I understood the technology involved in generating waves and creating a breeze, but making the walls seem endless was quite a feat. I could probably pull it off reasonably well for a single person with the right equipment and software, but getting the perspective right for multiple pairs of eyes was trickier.
I also didn’t understand how the restaurant could afford to have such an elaborate setup per group of patrons. Portentia hadn’t seen anyone else in the restaurant, so the room had to be subdivided in some manner. Even if the floor could open to allow for a realistic ocean swim, how did James and Portentia never reach a wall?
“James, are you coming to see me off?” asked Duncan, bringing me out of my thoughts.
Smiling, James said, “Of course. I’d feel remiss as a host if I did not. I only wish I could have been more successful in protecting you from your sisters during your stay.”
“If you learn that trick, I would be grateful for you to share.” replied Duncan with a laugh.
“I’d appreciate learning that one as well.” I teased, earning me an elbow to the gut from the girl under my arm.
I would actually miss having Duncan around. Having him here really helped me learn more of Ai and Mai’s family and traditions. Plus, I was able to see a different side of them. I was a little concerned over Duncan’s joy of visiting the fey, not that anyone wouldn’t enjoy seeing the creatures. I simply worried that Duncan was studying them more than simply playing. As much as I grew to enjoy his company, I still couldn’t entirely trust him.
“Be sure to give mother-dear our gifts, nii-san.” ordered the girl I hugged.
“We’d hate a repeat of two years ago.” insisted the other.
Duncan grimaced as he said, “That was two years ago, and I’ve told you that someone had moved the gift!”
I was careful not to roll my eyes. Ai and Mai had probably set him up. They did seem to care about their brother, but he was often on the receiving end of their pranks. We all followed as James and Alma led the way outside, but Ai and Mai continued poking fun at Duncan.
“Must she come too?” asked Alma.
“You know she doesn’t really listen to me.” explained James as he watched the little fairy land on his shoulder.
“I know, but I still feel you should work to fix the situation. She’s no less dangerous now than she was when I first warned against letting her off the grounds. Aaliyah is quite obviously capable of helping you if you simply ask.” she suggested.
I sometimes worried that Alma was going to break James’ hand on accident one of these days. She was far too strong for anyone’s good.
Shrugging, James said, “I don’t doubt that she’s capable, but she seems amused by the situation. Have you ever attempted to convince Aaliyah to end something that amuses her?”
“Perhaps you do have a point. Still, you could at least try to act like her boss for once and assign her a task.” she insisted.
James laughed before saying, “Sorry, but I really doubt her contract with me actually gives me any sort of authority. Care to look over it sometime? I’d take at least a year to read through the thing even if I had the time.”
Alma didn’t argue further, and I wondered again about the relationship between her and Aaliyah. I considered Alma’s temper legendary, but Aaliyah felt no qualms about teasing her mercilessly. What did Aaliyah have over her that somehow kept Alma from losing her cool?
The drive to the airport remained as chatty as ever, though Duncan just had to bring up the forest and the fey. He was borderline obsessed with them. Again, I couldn’t blame him. The creatures were remarkable, and knowing that one was Emma’s ancestor was fascinating for me. Their genetics could hold the key to magic itself, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with Duncan’s immediate family being the ones to discover that key anymore than I would be with Alma doing the same. There were too many hidden agendas that had nothing to do with the betterment of humanity.
I was amused when we entered the airport. The limousine received some looks, but our group received even more. James always received attention, and Alma’s inhuman presence was guaranteed to cause a stir. That was inevitable, but I was used to being James’ shadow more than in the spotlight with him. Having Ai and Mai each holding an arm did draw attention. They were intelligent, funny, and incredibly beautiful, so they always drew people’s eyes. Duncan surely caught the eye of plenty himself. When not speaking with Alma, he had an air of importance about him, and he looked wealthy with all of his fine suits. I’d wager most girls found him attractive. Frowning, I realized that I probably would have to order more suits for myself to satisfy the twins.
After a great many well-wishings and goodbyes, Duncan departed, and I wondered if I’d see him again before marrying into the family. Unfortunately, that would rely on his mother’s mood. Between Duncan and his sisters, I learned much of what dealing with Izumi would be like. She was an unbending, overbearing woman with a cutthroat take on business. I hoped the twins wouldn’t want to visit her much in the future.
“Would any of you protest a trip to the theme park?” inquired Alma as we walked to the car. When no one spoke up, she said, “Excellent. Let’s have some fun.”
Ai and Mai seemed as confused by the sudden request as I was, falling to silence as we followed Alma and James. I really wished I could join in on the telepathic conversation they surely were having. Even with their ability limited to each other, it was incredible. Feeling what the other one felt wouldn’t always be so pleasant though.
Once we were in the car, Alma asked “Why are you so tense, James?”
“Oh boy. You’re not remembering that time Michael lost his lunch, are you?” I teased.
He laughed and said, “No. I had blissfully forgotten all about that. Thanks so much for reminding me.”
“Were you next to him?” asked the girl on my left with a big grin.
“No, thankfully.” he replied with a shake of his head. “I did find him some new clothes though.”
Laughing, I said, “Yeah. James couldn’t get out of there fast enough after being stuck for five minutes in a cart with three girls from some other school.”
James rolled his eyes, still smiling, but the smile didn’t seem quite real. Something was eating at him, and I wished we were alone for him to tell me what. All I could do was hope that he was worrying over something silly again. If something serious was bothering James, we’d all be involved soon.