“What is it with you and Windenburg landmarks? You’re such a tourist…” Louis greeted him snarkily.
Vito was ecstatic Louis had agreed to meet him. He couldn’t stop beaming. Of course, the fact he suggested the Von Haunt Estate as their meeting spot was no accident.
“Well, I’ve only been here once, and it’s been ages ago. At aunt Peyton’s wedding.” He paused. “You remember it?”
“The wedding? Vaguely,” Louis shrugged. “The last time I’ve been here was about a year ago. Did a photoshoot in the garden.” He changed the subject.
Vito wasn’t deterred. “Oh really? How is your modelling going anyway?”
“Honestly? I’ve kind of re-evaluated the whole thing after my agent made me stay in Newcrest against my will. Made me feel like a piece of meat.” Louis said.
Vito’s heart sank. “Sorry…”
“No, it’s a good thing, really,” Louis added quickly. “I got into the management side of things instead, got a job as an assistant to the manager at another modelling agency. Not that I particularly want to stay in that industry, but it’s good experience for any kind of business career. So it’s a start. Much more future-proof too… Anyway. I’m ranting. Let’s go in. That’s why you wanted to come here, after all…”
Vito followed him into the manor like a puppy.
“It hasn’t changed at all, has it?” Vito observed when they entered the hallway.
“That’s kind of the point of preserving an old building like this,” Louis rolled his eyes.
“Yeah,” Vito felt stupid. “But… I mean, it makes it feel like yesterday when Carly and I were exploring the place as little kids… ”
“Please… you two barely scratched the surface!” Lois laughed heartily.
“Hey! I thought you said you didn’t really remember the wedding!” Vito pointed out.
“Well yeah, I kind of ditched the ceremony in favour of actually exploring the place,” Louis’ eyes twinkled. “I do remember the day itself.”
“You do?” Vito’s face lit up. “I do recall that you spent most of the day in the attic, didn’t you? I wonder if you can still go there…”
Louis’ gaze shot to the ceiling. “Well, you were never exactly supposed to go there… Doesn’t mean you can’t, does it?”
He looked around mischievously to check if the coast was clear and gently lifted the velvet rope separating them from the stairs to the attic.
“Cool,” Vito stepped into the tiny room, trying to avoid a cobweb. “Too bad Carly and I never made it up here. She would have loved this.”
“Not that she’d ever approve of sneaking up to the attic,” Louis laughed.
“True, she wouldn’t.” Vito smiled.
“How is Carly doing anyway?”
“Um…” This wasn’t exactly the mood Vito wanted to set. “Not great, to be honest. Her and Ralph just broke up.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.”
The room filled with awkward silence.
“Let’s not talk about that, ok?” Vito said desperately. “I mean, they do seem to really love each other. So maybe it’s not the end for them. Maybe it’s just a… bump on the road.”
Louis shook his head. “People do break up for a reason, you know.”
Plummit, Vito thought. This was so not where he was going with this trip down the memory lane…
“So anyway…” He wrecked his brain for a way out of this situation. “What else is up here? You’re the Von Haunt attic expert, after all… care to show the poor tourist the ropes?”
“Oh, there is something cool here, actually,” Louis perked up slightly. “This way…”
“Wow! Who knew you could get on this terrace!” Vito exclaimed, admiring how far you could see from the chateau’s rooftop.
“Well… could being a relative term, again,” Louis winked. “I was pretty impressed when I discovered this at that wedding.”
“You were such a rebellious kid,” Vito chuckled.
“I know… whatever happened, huh?” Louis’ mind drifted off.
“Please, don’t pretend you’re all that innocent now,” Vito teased him. “We’re standing on a balcony in the restricted access area for crying out loud.”
“Got to wake up that rebellious streak once in a while, I guess,” Louis sighed. But there was a hint of a smile on his lips.
“It’s a shame this isn’t publicly accessible,” Vito noted. “You get such a good view of the maze from up here.”
“That you do…” The mischievous spark returned to Louis’ eyes.
It finally dawned on Vito: “Hey! Is that why you knew your way around the maze so well?”
“I may or may not have spent the most of the day studying the paths from up here,” Louis admitted, laughing.
“That is so unfair!”
“You Newcrest kids never had a chance,” Louis smirked.
For a moment, it seemed that it really was just the other day when they’d entered the maze together.
With the angelic boy.
“No we didn’t,” Vito confirmed with a soft smile.
Vito was suddenly aware of how close to each other they were standing. He could almost feel Louis’ breath on the skin of his neck. It was so distracting. And wonderful…
Focus, Vito, he scolded himself. What was Louis saying again?
“I bet I could still remember the way around the maze, even know.” Louis said with confidence.
“I bet I couldn’t,” Vito chuckled.
“That’s a pretty poor bet!”
They both laughed.
“Ok, well, I definitely can’t find a way to the centre of the maze,” Vito acknowledged, “but how about this… If you can actually get us there, you win.”
“What’s the prize?” Louis got competitive.
“Whatever you want.”
Vito followed Louis to the entrance to the maze. The place they first met. He wondered if Louis was thinking about it too.
He could still remember it vividly.
Even back then, he knew there was something special about this angelic-looking boy. He seemed so… worldly. Like there was nothing he couldn’t do.
Even though they were just little kids back then.
It still felt that way. Vito was convinced that Louis was the most amazing person on the planet. He had no doubt Louis could make anything happen if he set to mind to it.
If only he could do the same. But all he could do just now was follow him through the hedges.
Vito cursed his younger self. He didn’t follow when they were younger. He was so stubborn. Wanted to find his own way. And where did that leave him?
But that was in the past. There was no way he was going to let Louis out of his sight now.
“And voila!” Louis interrupted Vito’s thoughts.
“Made it! Like I wouldn’t find my way…” Louis looked giddy. “Can’t believe you doubted me!”
“Me? Doubt you?” Vito beamed. “Maybe I just wanted you to win the bet.”
It could have easily be the night of the wedding, when they finally made their way out of the maze. Louis had the same victorious grin on his face.
Vito’s mind traced back to that evening. What was it Louis had said when they found the right exit…
“Told you it was a piece of cake,” Vito said.
“Hey, that was my line!” Louis pretended to be angry.
“Aren’t you clever!” Louis laughed. “Well you said something about Carly being silly, not having faith. Oh yeah!” He remembered. “That’s what you said… We had it all along.”
A wave of warmth washed over Vito.
“And we did. We did have it all along, Louis. Didn’t we?” He wasn’t laughing anymore.
Louis’s cheeks turned a pink colour. “You didn’t say it like that, when we were kids.”
“No, I didn’t.” Vito agreed. “I guess there’s a few things I’d like to do differently this time around.”
He took a deep breath and lightly touched Louis’ hands with his. He half-expected him to jump away.
But he didn’t. He closed Louis’ hands in his.
“It would be so good to go back to that time, when we were first stood here,” Vito said. “Before I made all those mistakes. I took you for granted. I didn’t realise that the distance was worth fighting. But Louis, if you take me back, it’ll not be anything like that.”
He waited for a moment. Louis still hadn’t moved away from him.
“I know I can’t go back in time, be that kid again,” Vito continued. “But maybe that’s a good thing. Because there’s things I couldn’t have done then.”
“Like what?” Louis asked weakly.
With his heart pounding, Vito erased the distance between them. And for the first time in years, he felt whole again.
He was terrified of the moment their lips would part. Because then Louis would say it was a mistake. And that he didn’t want anything to do with him.
And so he pulled him closer, burying his face in his shoulder.
“Is this what I get for winning the bet?” Louis said in a husky voice.
Vito shook his head. “I said you get whatever you want.”
“Ok,” Louis gave him that look. “Well, I do know there’s a particular kind of bush around the corner…”
Vito’s eyes widened.
“You gonna follow me or what?” Louis asked. “Before I change my mind…”
It felt like in a dream.
“How do you know where the woohoo bush is in the maze anyway?” Vito pondered.
“I’ve told you I’ve been here as an adult, remember?” Louis shrugged it off.
Vito wanted to ask who with, but he chased the question away. It was a dangerous territory to get into.
So he asked no more questions.
They peaked out of the bush, giggling.
And then the smile vanished from Louis’ face. He didn’t say anything. Instead, he sat on the ground, leaning back to watch the night sky. He looked lost in thought.
Vito grew nervous. It had all gone all too well, hadn’t it? But there was still so much distance between them.
He lied down next to Louis cautiously. He was almost too scared to say anything.
“Just for the record, this doesn’t mean we’re an item again.” Louis told him.
“I didn’t think so.” Vito nodded, though he couldn’t fully hide the disappointment in his voice. He bit his tongue. He should really leave it at that. So they were not exactly a couple again. One step at a time… “So… what does it mean?” So much for leaving it at that, you idiot, he cursed himself.
“I don’t know,” Louis replied. “I don’t want to think about it. Not tonight. It’s been too nice of a day to spoil it.”
“Yeah,” Vito agreed. “What do you want to do for the rest of the night?”
“Well, I guess we could stargaze for a bit longer,” Louis suggested. “Or we could keep wandering the maze…”
Vito smiled. “Didn’t the ghosts say that going into the maze at night was bad luck?”
“You’ve got good memory. Surprising.”
“Maybe we could just talk,” Vito told him.
“Sure. You got any more bizarre model anecdotes?” Louis asked non-commitedly.
“Nah,” Vito shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about you. You’ve barely told me anything about that new business job of yours. Or your co-workers. Or how you spend your time these days when you’re not exploring restricted areas of architectural landmarks…”
“You sure that’s not gonna bore you?” Louis raised an eyebrow.
“Not in the slightest.” Vito said. He prayed the day would never end.