Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 205

Brimming with energy, I couldn’t resist joining the others in dance, especially with Mila providing us with song and lighting effects fit for a club, not that I had actually snuck into one. My head was still fuzzy and I needed to burn off some of this energy before I made silly mistakes.

Not refraining in showing off my moves was probably a mistake, but I wasn’t about to let everyone ― excluding Portentia ― show me up by too much. Though graceful and a quick study, Portentia obviously hadn’t studied dance.

“She’s deaf.” stated Aaliyah after leaping into my arms to have me spin her around.

I stared at her blankly, hardly able to believe what I had just been told. Unable to hear the music, Portentia had to be watching us and feeling the vibrations for queues. Her abilities just raised themselves a couple notches in my eyes. I had thought her accent was a bit odd, but I merely assumed English was a second language to her. The girl was remarkable to say the least.

I misstepped slightly as Aaliyah kicked off me to flip backward out of my arms. As I spun around to catch myself, James easily snatched my hand, dancing with me now. I still couldn’t really believe he was “human-ish” as Aaliyah had put it. I could feel his strength in his hands and the very slow beat of his heart as we danced. His heartbeat was far too slow for a human at rest, much less one dancing.

Trying to shock him, I made my body grow taller. His eyebrow raised, but that was all. I knew I was being observed as I observed him, but being the one who was likely getting less from the exchange was rare for me when away from my parents. I had no doubt that Aaliyah was his secretary by choice, but who was he to have drawn her into such a position?

A stab of misery plunged through my heart as I thought of them, how I’d never see them again.

James dipped me back with such ease that I’d swear he had danced like this a thousand times, easily lifting me as he spun us around. When he set me down, I was facing Aaliyah again, so I shrunk to dance with her, my clothes becoming baggy sacks over my frame where they had been too snug a moment before.

My tiny friend thought nothing of it, of course, but nothing had ever surprised her to my knowledge. From the moment we met, she had held all the cards. My parents’ meager attempt to oppose her when they realized something dangerous was in our home was met with playful brutality as she demonstrated the ease with which she could kill them. She asked so little of us that my father spoke in shocked whispers about her for a week.

Did Aaliyah manage to shock James as much? I was having trouble gauging him. He smiled with such ease and seemed genuinely kind, but who gained such wealth at his age without misdeeds? He seemed young at least. Was he really?

Portentia smiled as James passed her my way, and I took on her appearance, surprising her immensely. I would wager that her vampire friends had been cautious around her. Invulnerability was an intimidating aspect to overcome if she ever became an enemy. I didn’t doubt her certainty in her ability to regenerate was well-tested, now that I had seen a fraction of it myself. If she actually acted the part of a superhero, she had surely been attacked countless times.

“Your heart’s not beating.” I stated a while into dancing with her.

“Nope. Don’t need a heartbeat.” she told me proudly.

“I could have sworn I heard a single beat when I fed off you.” I told her.

She shrugged, concentrating on dancing, but I was still wondering what she was. How many other oddities lived here beyond James and her? I was intrigued but a little overwhelmed. Why did Aaliyah bring me to such a place where I was obviously outmatched? Whom could I trust here? James… I wanted to trust him. As mysterious as he was, I already knew I believed in him. Such trust this early was worrisome.

“Master, you should probably change clothes and head to breakfast.” stated Mila hours later when she suddenly paused the lights and music. “Marco will have food prepared in seven minutes. You are scheduled to give your normal instruction this morning, though we might need to switch to the employee recreation center if the evil twins don’t give Cosette permission to use their gym.”

Dancing with Mila had been interesting. I was fascinated by the technology involved in her construction and even more impressed by the A.I. existing.

“Oh. Fair point. I’d best be on my way then.” replied James, taking a step toward the door. Then he turned to us and said, “Thank you, everyone, for the lovely time.” Looking to Aaliyah, he asked “Care for me to come back this way on my way to the kitchen, or should I just meet you there?”

She tapped her chin as if in thought before saying, “I’ll go to the kitchen with Cosette. I bet she’d love to try Marco’s cooking!”

“Wait. What? She eats food?” he inquired.

“I’m perfectly capable of eating, yes. See, I have teeth.” I assured him, causing my fangs to grow in size as I opened my mouth wide. Giggling at wry expression, I said, “Sorry. Vampire humor. You’d be amazed what my parents saved on dental work.”

“I bet, but you still won’t get paid extra for not making use of our dental plan.” he insisted with a wink.

I laughed and said, “You’re as bad as Aaliyah, ruining my perfectly good plans before I can get started. In all seriousness, I can consume human food just fine. I simply don’t get any nutritional value from it. As long as I keep my tongue active, I do get to enjoy the flavor as well.”

“Umm… Keep your tongue active?” he inquired.

“Well, I’ve been told I’m an amazing kisser, so I suppose I can demonstrate.” I replied, stepping toward him.

“What!? That has nothing to do with eating.” he stated.

“For a vampire, it can.” I teased.

“Vampires have a great deal of control over their bodies, boss-man, sir. She can ‘turn off’ her taste buds. Vampires keep a large number of their organs inactive to conserve energy.” explained Aaliyah.

Nodding, I said, “Generally speaking, it’s just easier as well. Keeping things active takes concentration. You wouldn’t believe how difficult carrying a baby is for a vampire. I have huge respect for my mother.”

Aaliyah walked over and hugged me. As well as I might try to hide my jumbled emotions, she knew.

“Ah. I see. I really must be going though. I’ll meet you both in the kitchen.” James assured us.

“I’m going too.” stated Portentia, obviously not wanting to be left out.

“Well, the three of you. Sorry. See you soon!” he exclaimed with a wave before turning to the door.

Mila followed on his heels.

“Any recommendations on what to wear?” I asked Aaliyah.

She grinned at me and went running to my bags.

“Why bother changing? It’s not like any of us worked up a sweat.” stated Portentia.

“I can’t be seen wearing what I arrived in last night.” I argued.

“Why not? No one will care.” insisted Portentia.

“That Alma girl will certainly look down on me if I do, and these clothes smell of where I’ve been the past day.” I replied.

She shrugged and said, “Everyone collects odors. What’s the big deal?”

“James doesn’t seem to smell of anywhere. He just smells…” I paused, trying to decide on the right word for him.

“Like James. Yeah, I getcha.” she told me, smiling.

I found myself wondering if Portentia had any clue how many heads she must turn with her flawlessly white skin and hair. She didn’t seem like she’d even consider it. We might well become friends, especially if her sincerity about letting me have her blood held true. If nothing else, I did have hope.

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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!

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 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.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 194

I bumped my coffee, knocking it over as I reached for the radio. Sighing, I started cleaning it up. I was later than usual for lunch already, and the coffee had gone cold. I’d just pick up a new one when I picked up my sandwich. While still trying to wipe up the coffee, a call came over the radio. Someone was injured just two blocks from me. Lunch would wait. I told the dispatcher that I was on my way, not wanting some rookie to get caught up in the affairs of the triangle. Dangerous neighborhood.

When I arrived, there was someone in a too-large, black hoodie kneeling over what hopefully was the victim and not a new body. The man in the hoodie turned, and I knew something was off. He was perfectly clean-shaven, had well-groomed hair, and his shoes looked expensive. He was also young, probably a teenager. I knelt down by him and told the man on the ground to sit tight. Possible broken arm and leg. No bleeding. Nothing I could do that wouldn’t just hinder the paramedics when they arrived.

“Mind telling me what happened here?” I asked.

“Oh. No, sir. I was just walking by when this man fell, landing here pretty much as you see him.” explained the kid, his accent further betraying that he didn’t belong around here.

“He fell? Tripped and broke his arm and leg?” I asked.

Shaking his head, he said, “No. From up there somewhere. I’m not precisely sure how high he was, since I didn’t see him until he screamed. He was still in mid-air, so I came running over.”

I looked up and didn’t see any broken windows, though there were a couple open. Was our “victim” trying to jump between windows? If so, why? He was lucky he didn’t end up even worse for wear.

“Mind if I take down your information? Name, date of birth, phone, etc.” I told the boy.

“Oh. Sure.” he replied before listing off his information.

I wrote everything down in my notepad for my report. “Thanks, James. You’re free to go. I’ll take care of him from here.” I assured him. I’d love to know what his story was. What brought him to this neighborhood? I was sure he had his reasons, but this type of place wasn’t safe for a kid like him.

As James walked off, I started questioning the man on the ground. I didn’t want him to pass out for one, and I was very interested in what he was doing that led to his fall. He wasn’t very coherent and probably had a concussion. The ambulance arrived before I asked too much, but I was betting his fall didn’t come about simply from goofing off.

I wasn’t even back to my car yet when another call came over the radio. Robbery just down the street. Did someone miss the flashing lights over here, or was I supposed to be too busy to respond? Someone replied to the dispatcher just before me and went flying past as I stepped into my car. I sighed, knowing the voice. Pat. Good kid, but he had a lot to learn still.

Another police car sped past. I followed. Seeing someone in a red hoodie running remarkably fast, I knew where Pat was going. He’d forget about checking for injured, accomplices, or anything else. The figure in the red hood had been acting as a vigilante for months now. Rumor was that he had a fancier costume now, so why the red hoodie again? Did we have multiple vigilantes running through the streets? Possible, but unlikely. Considering some of the people we’ve found tied up, the person was incredibly tough.

The car in front of me was quick to pull over. Peterson stepped out. He had enough experience to know what he was doing.

I slowed down, looking around. A silver DB5 had parked across from the shop, looking completely out of place. The owner perhaps? I was somewhat tempted to follow Pat and keep him out of trouble. I shook my head as I noticed James standing next to a man who was probably the shopkeeper by the uniform. The altercation was over, and I knew Peterson would be able to cuff the man on the ground easily enough without me. James seemed to have the man on the ground secured. Still, this was the scene of the crime, and the person in the hoodie had never injured an officer.

Wanting to hear what James’ story was now, I parked behind Peterson’s car. Peterson was already frisking the robber and had a firearm off the man.

“James, right? This just isn’t your lucky day, is it.” I stated. “Any idea who that guy in the red hoodie was, James?”

He shook his head and said, “Not a clue, sir. The whole thing happened in a flash. One moment, the robber there was stepping out of the store, and the next moment, the guy was taping up his hands.”

His blue eyes stared into mine, daring me to doubt him, but he seemed a bit nervous. Most people would be nervous this close to an armed robbery, but James didn’t seem to have a problem holding the man down.

“That’s what I saw too, sir.” claimed the shopkeeper.

Peterson had removed the robber from the scene as we were talking and came back.

“Would you mind showing Officer Peterson any surveillance footage you have?” I asked.

He nodded.

I waited for them to go inside before asking “Did you get a look at the guy in the red hoodie, James?”

“No, sir. Things happened too fast. Sorry. I was still mulling over what happened down the street when this fell in my lap. As you implied, this just isn’t my day.” he replied.

I nodded, though I still felt something was off about him, so I asked “You don’t really look like you’re from around here. Do you come this way often?”

“No. I just happened to be in the area today. I can’t imagine I’ll come this way again though. Things are a bit too wild for my tastes.” he explained.

Pulling out a card, I said, “Well, here’s my card. Give me a call if you remember anything else. Oh, and I didn’t get your address earlier. Mind writing it down for me?” I asked. I handed over my notepad with a pen. There was something about James that made me feel he was a good kid, but I really wanted to know how he ended up here today.

When he handed back my notepad, I looked to find he had written down an address. If he actually lived at the address, his parents had to be well off. I couldn’t afford to live in Naperhill.

“Thanks again, James. Take care of yourself.” I told him.

To my surprise, he crossed the street and hopped into the DB5. Where was the driver? Was the car his? If so, who was he? I quickly wrote down the license plate. Then I did a search on my phone for the price of his car. My jaw dropped. Who was he?

After I helped Peterson wrap things up, I ran James’ license plate. He was the registered owner. I called in my lunch break and looked up James’ name online. Turned out that he owns a business called Best Friend For Hire. If someone from the triangle had hired him, there was dirty money involved. Some of the suggested rates listed on Best Friend For Hire’s website were up there, especially for James himself.

My phone rang before I could look at anymore. I didn’t recognize the number but answered. As the Superintendent of Police announced himself, explained that he was informed I ran James’ plate, and directly ordered me to drop any investigation into James Michael Somerset III, I found myself wondering yet again who that kid is. He certainly had friends in high places.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 193

“Let us off here.” I ordered, not wanting to get too close to the triangle yet. Turning to James, I said, “I know Mila can take care of herself, but we’d stick out like a sore thumb in such a fancy car. Probably should do something about your clothing as well.”

James nodded, but seemed lost in thought. Then he shivered as if the cold just cut through his clothes.

“Oh! If you’re cold, we can get you a hoodie like mine. No offense, but even your hair is a bit too clean cut for this area.” I warned him.

“So says the girl with perfect white hair and skin.” he teased.

Grinning, I said, “Thank you! You wouldn’t believe how paranoid I’ve been about it lately. Everyone at your place is so beautiful. I sometimes wonder if you even notice me.”

I hadn’t meant to admit quite that much, but I was flying high on James’ compliment.

“There is a thrift shop just ahead on the right, master, if you do wish to change.” stated Mila as she displayed text for me to read. She also displayed a map for us, showing where we were and the simple path to take. “I’ll remain here and care for anything you wish to take off.”

“Okay. Thank you, Mila.” replied James just before stepping out.

If he said anything else, she didn’t show me, so I quickly hopped out of the car to follow him. His long strides carried him quickly ahead, but I kept up easily enough, half-jogging at times to close the gap.

I knew this store, having passed it numerous times. A sense of nostalgia swept of me as I looked around. Not so long ago, I came to stores like this relatively often, needing the cheapest clothes I could get when my clothes were too badly damaged to patch up.

“Oh! Try this on!” I exclaimed, noticing a very colorful, Hawaiian-style shirt. I didn’t really want James to buy it, but I wanted to see him in it.

He agreed, sliding the shirt over his own before looking in the mirror.

I grinned as I watched him. He looked so ridiculous. “I think that might make you stick out even worse!” I teased, helping him out of the shirt.

I found several more obnoxiously bright shirts for him to try, and I love how he smiled as he tried each. He seemed to be enjoying himself. Then he found a gigantic, black hoodie. I wondered how wide the previous owner was when the hoodie hung loosely on James.

“I’ll just get this.” he told me as he examined himself.

I wanted to stop him, suggesting anything else to have a bit more fun, but I shrugged instead. The hoodie hid his expensive shirt and hung low enough to cover the brand of his jeans. If he was happy with how he looked, I couldn’t argue.

“Let’s just hope no one looks too hard at your feet. Since I don’t recognize that brand, it’s gotta be expensive.” I cautioned.

James smiled and shrugged. He knew what his clothes were like. As I walked toward the triangle, he followed. I tried thinking of something to say, but he started texting before I managed to come up with something he’d find interesting. When he looked up again, he seemed startled, glancing over his shoulder and back in front of him quickly. I walked ahead, glancing back to make sure he was following again. He was.

How did this place look to James? He lived in such an enormous, well-kept house in a beautiful neighborhood. What did he think of people who lived like this? Did he realize that an area similar to this is where he would have found me a year ago?

I stopped, glancing back at him as he tapped my shoulder.

Pointing, he said, “I just heard glass break. I think from over there.”

I nodded. I would have glanced down the alley anyway, but now I knew someone was probably there. I frowned and turned down the alley after seeing a large man on the ground. James fell behind when I turned off, but he hurried to catch up now. I quickly moved to catch him as he slipped.

Seeing that the man was still breathing, I started feeling the man’s pockets, looking for a wallet. James tapped my shoulder again, so I turned toward him.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Finding out where he lives.” I replied. “How else are we going to get him home?”

“But what if he’s injured? Should we get him to a hospital?” asked James as I pulled a wallet from the guy’s back pocket.

“Most of the people in this area don’t want to end up in a hospital for anything minor. He probably just slipped like you. Can’t you smell the alcohol?” I asked.

There was even part of a bottle still in the man’s hand. Having seen his address on the ID in the wallet, I slipped Louis’ wallet back into his pocket and lifted him up. James looked surprised.

“Care to give me a hand?” I asked him.

He nodded and hunched down to put Louis’ arm over his shoulders as I had done. James struggled a bit as we walked the block, readjusting his position several times. Being that tall apparently was a disadvantage at times like this.

When we reached the right address, I knocked on the door. An older woman answered the door, probably Louis’ grandmother.

“Oh! What happened to my Louis?” she asked.

I glanced over to James, but he was already talking. I couldn’t really see what he was saying past Louis.

The woman shook her head, looking glum as she looked at Louis. What had James told her?

Motioning to follow her, she said, “Well, get him in here. Good Lord knows we don’t want the neigh-…”

I had no idea what she was saying now that her back was to us, but I followed till she stopped and pointed at the couch. I followed James’ lead positioning Louis on the couch. A young boy came running into the room, staring at Louis the moment he was in the room.

“Is he dead?” asked the boy.

I shook my head as the lady seemed to be saying something.

Turning to us, she then said, “Well, you two sit right there, and I’ll dish you up some pie. Louis will want to thank you when he comes around.”

I nodded and took a seat, not wanting to offend her. I tried not to laugh when I noticed how uncomfortable James seemed. Had he ever been in a house this small? I wondered what he would have done if the place wasn’t as well-kept, somewhat of a rarity in neighborhoods like this.

The lady came back with two plates and handed me one, saying, “Here you are. Now I baked that myself. Bought…” She turned to walk around over to James, leaving me clueless as to what she was saying. She smiled wide after giving James his plate. Looking surprised, she said, “Oh, heavens, I forgot to introduce myself. My name’s Edna. Now who might you be?”

“James. Meeting you is a pleasure.” he told her, holding up his hand to shake.

I quickly set down my plate as Louis moved. Standing and touching his shoulder, I said, “Easy. You hit your head.”

He stared up at me and said, “Are you an angel?”

I smiled, having had this happen before. “You’re home.” I assured him.

“Gran-gran?” he asked.

I turned to see if she responded.

“Who else would be in our house taking care of our guests?” she asked.

I backed up, so I could see them both more easily.

“What happened? Who are you two?” he asked.

“Sorry. I’m James.” replied James, holding out his hand again.

“I’m Portentia. We found you in the alley back there.” I explained.

“Alley?” he asked.

“You drunk fool.” stated Edna.

“Drunk? Nah, gran-gran. I was buying you more eye medicine. Smell my breath.” he told her.

“I can smell you from here.” she stated.

James quickly said, “He was on top of a shattered bottle.”

“I didn’t smell anything on his breath.” I assured her.

“Oh. Now that’s a good boy. You sit there, and I’ll get you a slice of pie.” she told him.

“Thanks for getting me back. Sorry if gran-gran’s pushing you around.” he told us. Looking to the door, he said, “What kind of question is that? Boy, you better learn yourself some manners!”

I looked to the doorway to see the young boy smiling.

“Portentia’s deaf. That’s why she often signs thing as she speaks.” explained James.

“Care to learn something?” I asked.

He grinned at me and said, “Sure!”

Demonstrating as I spoke, I told him “This is how you say ‘grandmother’ in sign language.”

“My word, aren’t you just precious.” stated Edna as she walked in with Louis’ pie.

Not much later, James and I were playing board games with them. Edna insisted, saying that James and I might keep her grandsons honest. The game took quite a while and we all ended up in the poor farm, but James seemed to be having fun. Despite Louis wanting another game, James and I excused ourselves when Edna left for work. We had more to do out there!