“I don’t want to go to school!” Chloe raged. She threw a couch pillow. Her small face was suffused with pink.
“I do’wanna!” Max echoed his sister gleefully as he rampaged around the living room, chubby legs pumping. “I do’wanna go to school!”
Chloe was, in fact, quite excited to start first grade. She had outgrown part-time kindergarten and needed full time schooling badly. Her behavior now was pure theater, enacted for their guest. And Max, bless his pure, loyal little soul, might not understand why they were acting out, but he was throwing everything he had at the endeavor.
“They are like tiny Godzillas,” Grace told the quiet, dignified Djinn who sat opposite her at the dining table, several feet away from the children.
“I know that reference,” Khalil announced as he read something on the electronic tablet he held in his long, powerful hands. “We watched that movie on DVD. Gracie is right. They are tiny Godzillas. They would destroy Florida if left unchecked. Here’s the source on human childhood development I was looking for. I read this late Monday evening. Max’s ability to speak in complex sentences is highly unusual for a thirty five month old. Most toddlers at his age are speaking in simple sentences.” Khalil set the tablet on the table. “He really is quite brilliant.”
Grace’s gaze slid sideways to admire Khalil’s powerful form. His regal face was relaxed, impervious to the children’s noisy behavior, and he wore his long black hair pulled back in a queue.
She turned her attention back to their visitor. Jamael was a first generation Djinn. His chosen physical form was that of a tall, elegantly spare male, with nut brown skin and darker chestnut hair flecked with gray at the temples. His eyes were like all Djinn’s eyes, like shining diamonds. He had crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes that deepened when he smiled.
It was a nice touch. Despite the fierce power Jamael held, the smile lines made him appear more approachable.
Grace wasn’t impressed. She knew better than to judge a Djinn by his appearance.
Chloe threw another pillow. Grace met Khalil’s shining, knowledgable gaze, and they shared a small, private smile. Normally they would never allow the children to behave in such an unchecked manner, but at the moment, it was useful to see how Jamael would react.
The other Djinn appeared fascinated, and unfazed by the ruckus. He wore a slight smile as he watched Chloe’s and Max’s antics. Jamael said, “I am unused to being around human children. They are amazing creatures. You are very fortunate to have children enrich your life.”
Grace smiled as she heard the truth in his words. “We think so, too.” Straightening, she pulled the conversation back on track. “Jamael, I’m honored that you want to perform some service as a response to my healing your son’s injury, but you owe me no debt. Besides, I’m not sure what we would have you do.”
Grace was up to her ears in Djinn. She had four Djinn housecleaners, two Djinn who got groceries for her, and several more who were taking cooking lessons and experimenting with providing the Andreas family with tempting dishes. She had Djinn babysitters—sternly vetted and strictly trained in all the ways to care for frail human children—and her car was meticulously maintained. Her lawn never grew a weed, and the grass was mowed twice a week. None of the Djinn considered the work too menial. They were amused and diverted by the physical pastimes.
She had the best, most vigilant twenty-four-hour security detail in the world. She had millions of dollars in the bank. She had a pile of rare jewels and a fortune in gold and jewelry stuffed in the back of her closet. Grace healed the Djinn of their injuries, and they fiercely adored her for it.
After living in poverty, Grace really didn’t know what to do with all the abundance that flooded her life. Rubbing her lower lip, she stared at Jamael in perplexity.
His attention was on Max, who had charged over to the bookcase filled with children’s books. Sitting on the floor, Max pulled out a book, opened it and pretended to read, stringing a babble of nonsensical words together while using Khalil’s unmistakable cadence.
Jamael’s smile deepened. “Perhaps,” he suggested in his quiet, courteous voice, “you would allow me to read to the young gentleman. You performed a huge service for my son. I would like to do something for yours.”
Grace glanced Khalil who gave her a slight nod. Nobody was more fierce in protecting the children than Khalil was, and if he gave Jamael his approval, she could relax. She told Jamael, “He would love that. He never gets tired of stories.”
Jamael’s diamond gaze touched her face. “Thank you, Oracle. Thank you for everything.”
She smiled. “You are most welcome.”
With a graceful hand, he gestured to Max and his book. “May I begin?”
She glanced at Khalil one more time. “Of course.”
Jamael rose, walked over to Max and knelt beside him. After talking with the small boy gently for a few moments, he held out his hands in invitation. Trustingly, Max climbed into his lap, and Jamael began to read. After a few more moments of Godzilla behavior, Chloe dropped the act and sidled over to sit by Jamael as well.
Grace watched the trio for a few moments. When she turned to Khalil, she found his gaze on her. She whispered, “I keep trying to tell them. I would heal all of them for free.”
Khalil enfolded her hands in his larger ones. “They know that, Gracie. They hear you. That’s why they want to give you so much in return. If you ever wanted to conquer the world, you could do so. No one else has ever had the capacity to call on such a large army of Djinn before. I think not even a dragon could withstand the Power of two thousand Djinn.”
Even though Khalil was serious, the idea made her snort. “I have all the world I want right here,” she told him. Her funny, adorable, overcrowded world, in which Khalil reigned supreme.
“As do I,” he said, pressing her fingers with a gentle squeeze while his Power enveloped her in an invisible embrace. He leaned forward to kiss her, lingering over her mouth in such a way that made her wish the day was over so that they could slip into the privacy of their bedroom where the other Djinn dared not eavesdrop.
There was a tug on her arm. Reluctantly pulling back from Khalil’s kiss, she turned to Chloe who stood fidgeting by her chair. The little girl’s tousled blonde curls tugged at Grace’s emotions. Chloe was such a strong personality, and yet so fragile. The Djinn had taught Grace that.
Chloe leaned forward to whisper, “Can we pack my backpack for school now?”
Grace shared an amused look with Khalil, who said, “I thought you did not want to go to school.”
Chloe looked over her shoulder at Jamael reading to Max, who was sucking his thumb. She whispered, “I was just pretending. I didn’t mean it.”
“School doesn’t start for another week, you know,” Grace said. “We have six whole days to pack your backpack.”
Chloe twisted her fingers together. “I really want to be ready.”
Grace relented. “Of course we can pack your backpack today, and you can check it any time you need.”
The anxiety vanished. “Thanks, Mom!”
Sometime over the last year, Grace had gone from Aunt Grace or Gracie to Mom. Every time she heard it, her heart constricted a small bit, but she thought her sister wouldn’t have minded. And she embraced it.
Grace had inherited the most wonderful things.