The Bloomer Legacy: 9.63 Spirits

“Are you girls ready to set off?” Hallie asked. The three painted faces looked up to her in anticipation.

“Definitely!” Millicent nodded eagerly. “It already puts us at a disadvantage that the other two groups left already!”

“It’s not a race, Millie,” Sigrid reminded her friend gently.

“No… but that doesn’t mean we can’t win it!” Millicent insisted.

2

Hallie decided that it might both her and the children some good to celebrate the Day of the Dead this autumn. While this was something that had never been seen in Newcrest before, the whole family gave Hallie a hand in decorating the town cemetery, and some of them were even helping her out tonight, keeping track of all the kids.

3

“Sigrid’s right, Millie.” Hallie told Millicent. “Tonight is not about winning. It’s about celebrating the dead. We’ll all go to the cemetery and make an offering to those who have passed on, so that they know we haven’t forgotten. And perhaps they’ll give us a blessing in return. Tonight is the only night when the dead and the living come together, all in one big celebration. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

“Only if we win,” Millie muttered under her breath.

4

Alexus had been quiet that evening. She wasn’t sure who she should be commemorating that night. Unlike the other children, she never had parents on this planet. For all she knew, her alien parents could still be alive, somewhere on a planet far away from here. All she was aware of was that she’d been found, already disguised and her memory blank, and that she never told a single soul what actually hid behind her mask.

Funnily enough, tonight, she was wearing a mask on top of that mask. And everyone else’s faces were painted too. There was something nice about all of them being the same in that respect. Perhaps she couldn’t quite appreciate what they were celebrating, but she could feel that the night was special.

And more importantly, she actually felt like she belonged. That on its own was worth celebrating.

5

Meanwhile, Eun and Donnel, who were accompanied by Yenn, had just reached the cemetery. They all stopped in front of the skeleton couple by the entrance.

6

“Look how neat the cemetery looks at night!” Eun exclaimed. “I can’t wait to go in and investigate! Do you think we’ll be able to gather any evidence of afterlife?”

Eun’s inner scientist already seemed to be conducting experiments…

7

“Err, I hope not.” Donnie said nervously. “Maybe we should just stay outside. I wouldn’t want to disturb anyone, uh, in there.”

“Oh come on! Wouldn’t be amazing if we were the ones to actually prove that paranormal activity is happening here?” Eun insisted.

Donnie could think of several other words that would be a lot more fitting than amazing.

8

“Don’t worry, Donnie,” Yenn said. “The spirits will know we’re coming to honour them, not to disturb them. Besides, look at all the colours! It’s not scary, is it?”

“Um, I don’t know…”

9

“How about I go in first then?” Yenn opened the gate with a smile.

The boys followed right after her.

10

“See? Nothing to be scared of!” Yenn confirmed. The cemetery was filled with lights and colours.

And to Donnie’s relief and Eun’s disappointment, there were no ghosts to be seen.

11

“Now then, making an offering to those who passed away is something quite personal,” Yenn told them. “So why don’t you each both find the grave you’d like to honour, and I’ll meet you here at the entrance when we’re all done.”

12

Yenn herself had a particular grave in mind, of course. She’d known most of those who were buried here, but there was one person she’d never fail to visit, every time she’d be stopping by.

13

“Ethan, so here we are again,” she kneeled beside his tombstone. “I cannot believe I’m still here. Alive. That we’re still separated by that wall. I really thought that it wouldn’t be long until I get to see you, but it seems my time among the living is still not over.”

She shook her head, letting out a deep sigh.

“Sometimes I’m scared I’ll never get to join you,” she whispered.

14

“But what do I know. There’s a reason why I’m still hanging around, isn’t there? They still need me. I shouldn’t be impatient. One of these days, the time will be right. And we’ll finally be together again.”

15

The tombstone lit up in an ethereal glow. Yenn stood up in awe.

She’d released Ethan’s spirit many, many years ago. She knew that he hadn’t been attached to the grave for several lifetimes, and yet, she’d still come talk to him here.

But now, seeing the stone light up, she wasn’t so sure if he really couldn’t hear her. Perhaps she hadn’t been talking to herself. Perhaps…

16

A smile spread across her face. What did she know. Even having lived and died, and lived again, the great mysteries of life and death would always be something even she couldn’t comprehend.

She decided to have a little walk around the graveyard, to say hi to the Bloomer ancestors around as well.

17

Donnie ad discovered one of the Bloomer graves already. But it was unlike any of the other tombstones. Alien. The more he looked at it, the more he was sure of it.

He found it heartbreaking that an alien would end up buried here, so far from their home. Or was Newcrest their home after all? How would an alien end up on this very planet, out of all of them?

18

He decided that that was the tomb he wanted to make his offering to. He hoped the alien’s spirit was back in space, where it belonged.

“Or if you aren’t, I hope you go to back to the stars now.” he whispered pointing upwards.

A warm feeling surrounded him. Hopefully, the deceased alien was happy, wherever they were.

19

As for Donnie, he was left to wonder. If there could be an alien grave in Newcrest, chances were that the alien who had once lived here was not the only one. Could there be aliens in town still?

He wanted to share the theory with other kids. Perhaps Eun would be interested. Although Donnie probably didn’t have enough evidence to support the idea for Eun’s liking. They’d all just laugh at him. Well, maybe Alexus wouldn’t, Donnie decided. She was far too nice to mock anyone for even the most outlandish of ideas. Perhaps he could tell her.

20

Not too far away, another group was getting ready for their walk to the cemetery.

“Lorcan!” Sera greeted the man, trying not to give too much of her excitement away. “So Hallie roped you into this as well, I see?”

“It would appear so. That’s what friends are for, right?” Lorcan confirmed. “Looks like you’re stuck with me again, in case you weren’t already fed up with seeing me at the retreat every day.” He laughed.

21

“I could imagine worse,” Sera smiled slightly. “You’re not the kind of person people get fed up with seeing, you know.”

Especially me, she thought. She was more than happy to see Lorcan outside of the retreat for once. If it was up to her, she’d see a lot more of him…

22

“Ugh, this is boring,” Camden interrupted the grown ups. “Can we go now?”

“Of course,” Lorcan said.

“Actually, I don’t think we need them.” Marla told her friend. “They’re just slowing us down.”

“Good thinking,” Camden decided. “Let’s go!”

23

The two of them ran off towards the cemetery entrance.

“Seems that we’ve been rejected!” Sera laughed. “I guess we should still follow them from afar…”

“We should.” Lorcan nodded. “Besides, we need to make an offering too. Let’s catch up!”

He grabbed her hand, as if by reflex.

24

Their hands only touched for a brief moment, though it felt as if the time had slowed down to Sera. Lorcan looked at her, realising what he’d done, and he quickly let go.

25

She wished he hadn’t. Or that she had the courage to tell him that. But she was afraid that acknowledging the moment would make it fall to pieces. So she didn’t bring it up.

They headed towards the gate.

26

Marla and Camden already entered the cemetery.

“Woah, look at all the skeleton ladies!” Marla exclaimed.

27

For a moment, Camden grew pensive. He wondered if the graveyard his parents were buried at was also this colourful tonight. He was afraid it might not be. But…

“Hey!” Marla interrupted. “You’re not turning soft on me, are you?”

28

Camden snapped out of it. “Me? Soft?”

He crept over to her. “See, I think you’re the one who’s soft! Or worse, are you getting scared? Boo!”

Marla laughed.

29

“I think you’re just trying to change the topic!” She pointed right at him. “Well it’s not going to work on me! You’re a big softie!”

“Nuh uh, you are! After all, you’re the girl!”

30

The girl? What’s that supposed to mean! I can be a girl and still be way tougher than you!” Marla pushed him angrily.

“Oh yeah? You wanna see who’s tough?” He pushed her back.

“I think you fight like a girl!”

“That’s because I can’t shove a girl with all of my strength!”

31

“What’s going on here, guys?” Hallie separated the brawling pair. “You remember where we are? And why? We’re supposed to be honouring the dead, not yelling our lungs out in their home…”

“Right. Sorry.” Camden put his head now.

“Girl,” Marla mouthed.

The two of them begrudgingly sat down by the nearest grave to make their offering.

32

“Blah blah, abracadabra…” Marla muttered. “What are we meant to do again?”

“You’re really not into this Day of the Dead stuff, huh?” Camden looked at her.

“No.” Marla agreed. “I think it’s silly. Our parents are gone. None of this will change that. I think what matters more is who’s here now. Like you. You’re family now.”

She stood up, growing impatient.

33

“Woah, I think the tombstone just wiggled!” Camden yelled out.

Marla turned around. “You’re lying.” She said doubtfully.

“Why would I lie?” The boy tilted his head. “You’re family. Maybe there is something to this whole thing, you know.”

Marla smiled, deciding to humour him. “Maybe.”

34

“Hey Camden… I’m glad we met.” She told him. “You’re my best friend.”

The hugged briefly.

“Who’s a softie now?” Camden teased as they made their way out.

35

Hallie followed them out, making sure they make it back to the orphanage in one piece. Camden and Marla may not have been the most spiritual of the bunch, but she was glad that they had each other, and that they were both dealing with their loss in their own way too.

36

The graveyard was now empty, aside from Sera and Lorcan, who lingered.

“We still haven’t made that offering,” Sera looked around uncertainly.

“True.” Lorcan said. “I didn’t know anybody who’s buried here. Any particular person you’d like to honour?”

“Hm… can’t go wrong with the legacy founder, right?” Sera figured. She’d never been too sentimental about their family history, but how could she not admire the person who started it all?

37

“So… how does this work?” Sera asked Lorcan as they kneeled by the grave. He was the one that was more in tune with this kind of thing, after all.

“It’s not science.” He said. “Just do whatever feels right.”

They laid flowers at the grave and sat in silence.

Sera looked at the one right next to the Kirk Bloomer’s. Maranda Bloomer, it read. Wife, mother, friend, and much more.

She didn’t know much about the founder’s wife, other than that she’d spent her life by his side, and that they both passed away from old age at the very same time. They must have been true soulmates, she thought. She hoped that one day, she’d get as lucky as them and find hers.

And deep down, while she was scared to admit this even to herself, she’d hoped that she already had found hers, and that he was sitting next to her.

38

A flash of blinding light surrounded them. Sera could almost feel the warmth of love and wisdom the legacy founders had once possessed. And then it was gone.

39

“Did you see that!?” She jumped up, staring at Lorcan. “Did you feel that? I’m not crazy, right?” She asked.

“You’re not crazy,” Lorcan reassured her. “Something did happen. You must have really connected with the spirits. If that was not their response, I don’t know what would be…”

40

“Do you think they… agreed with me?” Sera managed to ask. She was glad the darkness concealed her blushing.

“Did you ask them a question?” Lorcan looked into her eyes. “I’m not sure if the dead can exactly answer questions, to be completely honest. But I do think they can help us realise what we already know.”

Sera beamed. She’d take that.

41

They decided to sit down for a while to process what just happened – it’s not every day one has an encounter with those from the netherworld.

Though they didn’t just stick to talking about tonight’s experience. Soon, they found themselves chatting about the retreat and how it could be improved. About why Sera wanted to build it in the first place. And about Lorcan’s trip to Granite Falls where he realised how life-changing yoga and meditation could be…

“I could see everything so clearly that day,” Lorcan reminisced. “The lake, the mountains, the birds flying around… that was when I realised we were all a part of this giant organism. And that by helping others find peace, I can find some too. Because we’re one. Anyway… I’m ranting. And the sun is rising already. You’re just too easy to talk to, Seraphina.” 42

Sera laughed. “I’m pretty sure you’re the first person that’s said that! And you’re not ranting… it’s the opposite, really. I would love to hear more. You said a lot about your experience in Granite Falls, but you never really said what made you look for peace in the first place, or how you felt before… it’s hard for me to imagine you without your perfect equilibrium!”

“You should see me in the mornings, when I first wake up!” He laughed.

I’d love to, Sera thought. “Quit deflecting!” She said instead.

“There’s not much to tell,” he shrugged. “I was born with a bit of an explosive personality, and I’ve learned to control it, for the most part. It’s hardly much a story to tell.”

“Sorry,” Sera said quickly. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

43

“You weren’t prying,” Lorcan shook his head. “We’re friends. You shouldn’t feel like there’s something you can’t say to me.”

Except that what she wanted to say was that she didn’t want to be friends at all.

“Well, I’ve been pouring my heart out to you from the moment we met.” She told him instead. “Do you feel like you can say anything to me, though?”

“I know you have a big heart.” Lorcan said simply. Sera smiled. “Anyway, we should probably go.”

“I know… can you believe we’ve talked through the night?”

“I can.”

44

As they exited the cemetery, Sera noticed the sun was already shining brightly in the sky.

45

And for the first time in a long while, she felt like it was shining on her.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.62 Swashbucklers

“Well, I hope this is as good as you imagined,” Vito let out a deep sigh, examining his costume.

“It’s perfect!” Aslan giggled.

“Uncle Vito?” Hope emerged from her house, momentarily forgetting all about her own epic outfit.

2

“Happy Spooky Day! You’re a hot dog!” The girl tried not to laugh. “It’s… very good!”

“Aslan sure thinks so,” Vito shook his head. He changed the subject. “You guys ready for the trick or treating?”

“Yep! All set in our house!” Hope confirmed.

“Awesome. You guys wanna head over to your first stop then? I’ll just, um, do some finishing touches on the costume…”

The kids burst out laughing again.

3

“Your dad’s funny,” Hope turned to her cousin. “Not as funny as my dad… but pretty cool, too.”

“He’s alright,” Aslan tried to downplay his own sentiments. “Anyway… go to yours?”

“Yess!” Hope got excited. “I can’t wait for you to see the spookiness!”

4

The two kids dashed over to Hope’s house, where they were greeted by Hope’s parents, turned pirates.

“Welcome aboard, me hearties,” Ralph greeted them. “Our ship is a sturdy one, though some say it’s a wee bit haunted, yo-ho-ho! Personally, I don’t know what they’re talking about.” He reached for a sweet with a shrug.

5

Both of the kids let out a shriek when a small ghost figure leapt out of the bowl towards Ralph.

“Arr matey, I guess it’s haunted after all!” Carly giggled.

6

“I suppose so,” Ralph grinned. “But that wouldn’t stop two bold swashbucklers like yourselves, would it?” He winked at the kids.

7

Aslan grabbed a sweet and quickly jumped straight back. He shoved it in his mouth, relaxing a little.

“It’s nothing, really.” He said with his mouthful. “Just a bit of mist.”

“Why don’t you grab another one, then?” Hope asked.

“You do it!” He nudged her. “It’s for little kids anyway… not big kids like me!”

8

Hope reached for the bowl. More fog came out. Was this a real ghost, rather than the ghost figure they saw earlier? Hope figured that if she were a ghost, she could imagine worse places to live than a bowl of sweets.

9

No matter what haunted the bowl, it did let her reap her sweet reward though.

Maybe it was a friendly ghost, Hope decided.

10

Meaning there was nothing to worry about. She’d already become friends with the monster under her bed, why not just add the ghost to her eccentric list of companions?

A part of her was quite excited to return back home at the end of their trick-or-treating trail to see if the ghost was still around…

11

“You’re both so brave,” Carly told the kids. “But just to be fair, let me have a go too!”

She placed her hand in the bowl, pulling another sweet out. Nothing happened.

12

“Looks like you guys have successfully defeated the ghost that haunts the ship,” She smiled. “Which means it’s time for you to continue your quest. Now where is…”

She jumped up suddenly. Did the ghost strike back in the end?

13

Her shock slowly transitioned into laughter. Turns out she wasn’t reacting to the bowl, but to Vito who had only just entered the room.

“Vito! You almost gave me a heart attack!” Carly could barely compose herself.

14

“No comments on the costume, ok?” Vito stopped her before she continued. “Aslan wanted me to dress up as a hot dog, so I’m a hot dog. Let’s leave it at that.”

Ralph and Aslan exchanged amused looks, trying not to laugh.

“It’s… very… good.” Carly managed.

15

“You and your daughter have a lot in common,” Vito smiled at Carly. “In any case, you kids ready to move on?” He changed the subject.

“Where are we going?” Hope asked.

“I hear there’s a wicked witch in town,” Vito announced mysteriously. “And that there might be treasure to discover in her dwelling…”

16

“That sounds epic!” Aslan exclaimed.

“Let’s go!” Hope joined in.

Vito took them outside of the house to continue on their path. Luckily, they didn’t have to go very far.

17

The “wicked witch” lived just next door.

Not that she seemed particularly wicked. She was laughing her head off at the sight of Vito.”

18

“Hi aunt Sera!” Hope waved at her. “But you’re not wicked!”

“Perhaps I am tonight,” Sera said in her best spooky ghost. “At the very least, my house is!”

19

“Many dangers lie inside, I’m even scared to go in myself.” Sera got more into character. “But those who overcome the perils are sure to reap rewards… if they survive!”

“Cool!” Aslan beamed. “Let’s go in, Hope!”

20

“I don’t know about this,” Hope became a little nervous when they opened the door, revealing a number of spectral figures.

“Don’t be a baby…”

“You’re a baby!” She yelled quickly, following Aslan into the house.

21

“I can’t believe you’re a hot dog!” Sera spiralled into fits of laughter as soon as the door shut behind the kids. “This is too good…”

“Don’t. Just don’t.” Vito sneered.

“I mean, you’ve always been a bit of a brat, but this is just a whole new level…” She giggled at her own pun.

“Very funny…”

“Sorry. I’m done now.” Sera wiped away a tear of laughter. “Seriously though, I’m impressed Aslan talked you into this.”

“The things I do for my kid…” Vito smiled softly.

22

“So… how are you?” Sera grew serious.

“I’m fine. Ok, that’s a lie.” Vito corrected himself after Sera gave him a funny look. “I’m not fine. But it gets a little better every day. Spending time with Aslan helps. It’s the days Alyssa has him when things get harder.”

Sera nodded. A part of her wanted to offer her brother to come over on the days he didn’t have Aslan. But she didn’t. He’d probably say no anyway.

They fell into an uncomfortable silence.

23

Meanwhile, the kids were busy exploring the haunted house.

“See Hope, all of this is just for show.” Aslan explained patronisingly. “Fake ghosts to intimidate little kids like you…”

24

“I don’t know Aslan, those ghosts over there look pretty real.” Hope pointed towards the window.

Aslan turned around, rolling his eyes.

25

“I told you, they’re not real,” he sighed. “There’s no real threat in this hou- aaargh!”

26

He jumped back in terror when Hope pounced at him.

The girl laughed happily. “No real threat, huh? You seemed pretty spooked… by a baby!” She added.

27

“Ugh! Like I was really scared…” Aslan muttered.

“I know what I saw!” Hope teased him.

“Whatever…” The boy grunted. “You’re so irritating! You’re like the annoying little sister I never wanted!”

28

An unexpected smile spread across Hope’s face, her eyes growing wider. “Really?”

“Really what?”

“Am I really like a little sister to you?”

“Little sister that I didn’t want… But yeah, you’re the closest thing I have to a brother or a sister.”

“Awesome!” Hope bounced up and down.

29

Aslan laughed. “Well you do have cool moments… which makes sense, since we’re related. Runs in the family, right?”

Hope jumped at him, trapping him in a hug before he could protest.

30

“You’re the best, Aslan!” She squealed.

“Oh, well… ok!” The boy said uncomfortably, freeing himself from the hug. “You’re right, I do rock. Anyway, should we grab some sweets and get out of here?”

“Yep!” Hope went straight for the sweet bowl.

31

Of course it turned out to be yet another haunted one…

32

The children raced outside of the house, pockets filled with chocolates.

“Well, did you guys defeat the monsters and find the treasure?” Sera winked at them.

“Obviously!” Aslan said quickly.

“Sort of,” Hope corrected him. “Don’t forget the part when you said I’m cool! And when you were scared of me!” She reminded him.

33

“I was so NOT scared of you!” Aslan yelled, resulting into laughter all around.

Vito realised this was the first time he’d laughed since Louis and him broke up. Perhaps one of these days, he would actually genuinely start feeling better.

One of these days.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.61 Seasons Changing

Autumn crept up on the residents of Newcrest. It seemed that one day, the kids were still playing on slipping slides and splashing about in pools, and the next the place was wrapped in reds and oranges.

Sera loved the way her retreat looked this season. Or maybe it was just pride about it being quite established now, without losing its magic. The place had been open for a few months, and it still felt like slice of heaven on earth to her.

2

Lorcan probably had a bit to do with it. She definitely didn’t regret hiring him. Many visitors came to the retreat purely to seek him out. He’d never pry, and always knew just what to say. He seemed to make strides as far as Sera’s own family was concerned.

And of course, on a personal level, Sera was more than happy to have him around, too…

3

“You’re getting really good at this!” He told her at the end of their meditation session.

“Well I do have the best teacher,” Sera smiled. “By the way, I wanted to thank you. Hallie seems to be doing so well ever since she opened that orphanage.”

4

“That’s her doing, not mine.” Lorcan shook his head with a grin.

“She said herself she never would have done it without your chat,” Sera argued. “You’ve really gotten through to her. She needed to feel like someone understands her, you know.”

Lorcan shrugged. “I’ve barely done anything. But I’m glad that it helped.”

5

“It made a huge difference.” Sera said, spontaneously hugging him. Lorcan seemed to grow tense at first, but then he relaxed into the hug. It felt good to be so close to him.

Sera could feel her heart beating faster than usual. Maybe she should just go for it.

6

“Hey Lorcan… I know you seem to really understand Hallie as far as the whole asexuality thing goes.” She started. She felt awkward already. “I just… I was wondering… you said you don’t date but… are you like Hallie? With… that?”

Really smooth, Sera, she cringed inwardly.

7

Lorcan seemed a little taken aback by her question.

“No.” He said finally. Seraphina suddenly felt as light as a feather.

“But I wish I was.” He continued. “It would make everything a lot simpler.”

“Maybe it would be simple, with the right person?” Sera suggested helpfully. She could feel her cheeks burning.

8

“No.” He said again. “I was serious when I said I don’t date. I have a good reason for it. Seraphina, I’ve gotten to be the person you see through a great deal of self-restraint. I wasn’t born like this. Relationships… they bring out the worst in me. Trust me.”

There were so many things she wanted to ask him, but she wasn’t sure how to put any of them into words.

“Anyway, my yoga class is about to start,” he said and walked towards the main pavilion.

9

Sera watched him till he was out of sight. She was confused. Was this a good thing, or a bad thing?

At the very least it meant that this was not without a chance, she decided. She smiled.

The world felt even more beautiful now. Perhaps she’d go for a walk around the retreat grounds, to take in all these beautiful autumn colours…

***

10

Vito would normally always pay attention to the aesthetics of his surroundings, but these days, the autumn colours were the last thing on his mind. He would have barely noticed the seasons have changed if he wasn’t supposed to be doing this whole Halloween thing for Aslan.

The closer to Alyssa’s house he got, the worse he felt. He was miserable enough as it was, and things were only going to get worse once he’d tell Aslan Louis was out of the picture.

He stopped in front of the glass door.

11

Alyssa seemed to have a boyfriend over. Vito almost didn’t want to knock and interrupt their day. They all looked so comfortable happy. Almost like a family. Why ruin it for them when he could make himself scares…

Wait a minute. Was that…

12

“Larobb?” Vito let himself in.

“Hey man,” Larobb waved at him casually. “Long time no see.”

“You could say that! You guys an item now?” Vito couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy.

“You could say that,” Alyssa smirked. “Aslan, get your stuff, time to go with dad.”

13

“I don’t wanna,” Aslan pulled a face. “Things were just getting intense with my helicopter chase!”

“Then take the helicopter with you.” Alyssa rolled her eyes. “Chop chop, don’t keep your dad waiting. Aren’t you excited for pumpkin carving?”

“No.”

14

Alyssa tried to keep a straight face. “Now then. I’m pretty sure there’s sweets involved in the trick-or-treating. Don’t count on that back here if you refuse to go.”

“Cool!” Aslan stood up and ran to his room.

“Great. Just great.” Vito felt defeated. Aslan was already reluctant to spend time with him, and he hadn’t even told him about Louis yet…

15

“For plum’s sake will you stop winging?” Alyssa turned to Vito. “I’m letting you look after my kid for Spooky Day, the least you can do is pretend to be excited!”

“I am,” Vito said weakly. “I’ve not been having the best time. Louis and I broke up.”

“Boohoo.” 16

“Ok, I deserve that.” Vito kept his cool. “It’s just, you know how much Aslan looks up to Louis. And now he’s gone. He’s going to hate me for it. Think I drove Louis away. I mean, he already doesn’t want to spend the day with me as is…”

Alyssa was underwhelmed.

“Oh my plumbob Vito, this is Aslan we’re talking about. Have you met your kid?”

17

“He’s got a blade instead of a tongue, don’t you know that by now?” Alyssa asked. “You can’t get this plum get to you. He does it all the time. Do you think he doesn’t do it to me? Oh, my room at dad’s is so much cooler than my room here. Oh, dad can take amazing pictures, what can you do? Get over yourself Vito. It’s just the way he is.”

“Huh.”

Vito didn’t have to go far to know who his son got his blade of a tongue from. But Alyssa’s words were unexpected. Did Aslan really say those things about him? He barely even called him dad to his face.

18

“Happy Halloween, guys!” Larobb saw Vito and Aslan off.

“Thanks, Larobb.” Vito replied stiffly.

19

“He’s pretty cool, Larobb, isn’t he?” Aslan asked Vito.

“Yeah. I guess.” Vito shrugged. “But Aslan… don’t get too attached to your mom’s boyfriend, ok? He’s no family yet.”

“I know.” Aslan surprised him. “He’s not the first one. Besides, it’s like Louis said, right? Friends can come and go, right?”

Friends can come and go, but your dad will be there for the long haul, Vito remembered. Plummit Louis. Were you preparing your exit then already? Vito sighed.

“Yeah. Right.”

20

Larobb joined Alyssa back in the house. “You were a little harsh on the poor guy, don’t you think?”

“Meh, he can handle it.” Alyssa shrugged it off. “This is Vito Bloomer, after all. His head’s so far up his own butt he probably didn’t even hear me.”

“I think he did,” Larobb smiled. “But I do love how feisty you are.”

“Love, eh?”

21

Over at the Bloomer condos, Vito pulled out a large pumpkin, ready for carving.

“So, what do you reckon, Aslan?” He forced himself to sound as upbeat as possible. “What kind of a face should we go for?”

Aslan eyed him up and down. This did look like fun, actually.

22

“How about a cat? Or a voidcritter? Ooh, I don’t know…” The boy was getting excited.

Vito almost smiled. Not for long though…

“What do you thin Louis would like? Is he coming over for the trick-or-treating tonight?” Aslan asked.

23

Vito realised he couldn’t put it off any longer.

“Listen, Aslan… I’ve got to tell you something. About Louis.”

“Is he not coming tonight?” Aslan pouted.

“No. He’s not.” Vito confirmed. “Or any other night. Louis’s not coming back.”

24

“What!? What have you done?” Aslan burst out. “This is not fair! I really like Louis! Why can’t I hang out with him anymore? It’s all your fault, isn’t it?!”

Vito’s throat felt dry. He looked at the upset child for a while, considering his next move.

25

“Yes, it is my fault.” Vito nodded. “Louis doesn’t like me anymore. But I think he still likes you. It’s not that he doesn’t want to hang out with you. It’s just that we kind of come as a package. So you can blame this one on me.”

He braced himself, ready for Aslan to scream his lungs out.

26

But it didn’t happen.

“But… why doesn’t he like you anymore?” Aslan asked. He looked so disappointed, upset and confused.

Vito’s eyes teared up. “I don’t know. I’m sorry Aslan. I’d like for him to still be around too. But we can’t make him.”

“Yeah.” Aslan seemed deep in thought for a moment. “Let’s just carve some more pumpkins.”

27

“Right.” Vito said, grateful. “So… a voidcritter, huh…”

Aslan watched his father start carving…

28

They’ve carved several pumpkins. They even started to have a bit of a playful banter going on. With every Jack-o-lantern, Aslan seemed more and more at ease, more excited and having more and more suggestions for the next.

Vito couldn’t remember them ever getting on so smoothly, just on their own.

And then something changed. One minute, Aslan was bubbly and animated, and then he drew inward the next.

29

“Something wrong, Aslan?” Vito asked. Maybe the feeling of ease was premature.

“No. I was having fun.” The boy said mopily.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Guess not. It’s just… everyone always leaves. Are you gonna leave too?”

30

Vito was touched. It was the first time his son actually insinuated he wanted him in his life. He held back tears and leaned to the boy.

“No Aslan, I’m not going anywhere. Not if I can help it.”

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.60 New Kids on the Block

Donnell shifted along the seat uncomfortably. Big groups made him nervous. It reminded him of that unfortunate time when…

Donnie peed his paants! He pushed back the memory. This was a new start for him anyway. A new start for all of them.

Except that the other kids seemed so much better at meeting everyone and getting settled in than he was. How did he do it? They’d all just gotten here, and you’d think some of them had been best friends for months…

2

“I chased the voidcritter up to the tree, where it couldn’t escape,” Camden boasted. “It was cornered. So I took my nerf gun and splashed it all the way down, capturing it once and for all! And that’s how I completed my collection…”

The girl he was talking to, Marla, seemed like a bit of a tomboy. More importantly, she didn’t seem impressed.

3

“Lies,” she yelled. “Most voidcritters would flee from the tree no problem. And you’d never catch a Pleuro with a nerf gun! It’s a water void critter! You probably just went and bought a booster pack…”

“Nuh-uh! Like I’d have money for that anyway…”

Marla didn’t seem convinced.

“Fine… what I actually did is I jumped into tons of bins around town and scoured them for cards until I got my hands on one.” The boy admitted.

Marla laughed. “That’s actually kinda cool! I’ve done that myself too, you know.” She winked.

Camden laughed with relief. “Ah, what can I say… All the cool kids are doing it!”

4

Right behind them, Sigrid watched in awe as Millicent moved yet another stick from the tower. She was rather impressed with her new friend’s Don’t Wake the Llama capabilities.

Millicent just grinned. She knew she was excellent at the game. She was excellent at most things, really. That’s because she read every book imaginable and practiced and practiced, no matter the subject or activity. Of course she knew better than everyone else, she smiled to herself smugly.

Donnie sighed. They were all already pairing up. And he was the odd one out. As usual.

5

Eun considered himself a budding scientist. He was very pleased when he spotted the chemistry set in the play room. He was even more pleased when he realised none of the other kids seemed to be heading for it immediately. Clearly they underestimated the power of science. Worked for him, he smirked, off to work on his first invention in their new home.

6

And then there was Alexus. Just looking at her made Donnie blush. She seemed in a world of her own, busy narrating a story with the doll. She exuded a strange aura of quiet confidence.

And she was pretty.

Donnie looked away nervously. Maybe he should go say hi. Maybe she wouldn’t laugh at him. She was playing by herself, after all. Maybe he could finally make a friend. Maybe…

“Hey!” Millicent’s annoyed shriek broke Donnell’s train of thought.

7

She was glaring at Camden. “You’re going to ruin it!”

Marla giggled. She thought the red haired girl was taking Don’t Wake the Llama (and herself) WAY too seriously. This should be interesting…

“Oh come on, it’s not rocket science,” Camden shrugged and tugged at one of the sticks.

8

“Wooaaaah!”

The tower collapsed with a loud thud.

“What have you done?” Millicent scolded him crossly.

“Oops!” Camden laughed. “Ah well. It’s a stupid game anyway.”

“I hate you!” Millicent pouted.

“It’s ok, we can fix it,” a soft melodic voice interrupted.

9

They all turned towards Alexus. She sounded so unusual, and oddly calm.

“Just put the tower back up. And apologise, Camden. You didn’t mean to upset Millie, did you?”

“No, of course not,” Camden said quickly. “Sorry Millicent.” He muttered his apology.

10

“See? This is looking loads better already.” Alexus smiled.

“But we woke the llama. HE woke the llama!” Millicent said grumpily.

Camden wasn’t paying attention to her. There was something about the girl in pink that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. She was definitely the first girl in pink that he was interested in talking to.

“Do you want to play, Alexus?” He asked.

Bullfrogs, Donnie cursed silently. He hung his head down, returning to his book with a loud sigh.

11

“Hi there Donnie,” Hallie, the lady that ran the orphanage, approached him. “How are you settling in?”

She seemed kind. When she greeted them earlier, she told them they’d be the first children to ever live in this particular house here, and that that made them very special. Not many people had ever called Donnie special. He liked the lady already.

“I’m ok.” He beeped nervously.

12

“Would you like to play Don’t Wake the Llama with the others?” She asked.

The boy shook his head. “It’s ok. I’m used to playing on my own. I’d just bother them anyway.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Hallie disagreed.

“I’m too clutzy,” Donnell shrugged. “And not very good at the game. I’m not very good at anything, really.”

“Everybody’s good at something, Donnie.” Hallie said. “And that includes you. Tell me, what is it that you like to do the most in the whole world?”

13

The boy’s face lit up. “I like to paint. I guess I’m ok at that.”

“I bet you’re more than ok,” Hallie encouraged him. “And guess what. Do you see how bare the walls around here are? I left them that way on purpose. I was hoping that you guys would help me decorate with your drawings. Would you like to help me, Donnie?”

“You need my help?”

“If you’re up for it, I’d love some help!”

14

She led him to the activity tables. “I can’t wait to see what you paint! The very first picture for the walls, how exciting!”

The boy smiled to himself as his crayon slid across the paper.

Hallie noticed the pouty Millicent watching them. One crisis averted, another to go, she thought.

“Something wrong, Millie?”

15

“It’s nothing,” Millicent laughed nervously. “Actually, it’s something. It’s Camden. He woke my llama. After I’d worked so hard on it… so unfair!”

She changed her tune quickly, Hallie thought. “Somebody always wakes the llama. It can’t sleep all the time, after all.” She said. “And I’m sure Camden didn’t want to ruin your work.”

“Maybe. But he did.” Millicent insited.

“Did he say he was sorry?”

“Yes, but…”

“If he’s really sorry, we should probably forgive him.” Hallie told the girl. “Looks like Sigrid and Alexus fixed the tower up again.”

16

“See? The llama is all fine again.” Hallie smiled. “Thank you, girls. Now, why don’t you and Camden have a rematch? We can all play.”

17

“Ok,” Millicent gave in. “I guess not everyone can be an expert.”

“Pfft, we’ll see about that!” Camden sat down. “I bet I’ll beat you…”

18

Meanwhile, Sigrid and Alexus noticed Donnell’s drawing.

“Wow, that’s a really pretty rainbow.” Alexus said to the boy. His cheeks turned pink.

“You like it?”

“Yeah, it’s very good.” Sigrid agreed, sitting down next to the boy. “I like to paint too, you know.”

“Hallie said she wanted us to do paintings for the room.” Donnie informed her.

“Ooh, I’d like that,” Sigrid smiled.

“I guess we can paint together?” Donnie looked at both of the girls shyly. “To help Hallie…”

“I’m not as good as you,” Alexus said. “But it sounds like fun! And I’d love to help!”

They all crouched around the activity tables.

Maybe this place would be different after all, Donnell thought.

19

All was well, Hallie breathed out with relief. The doorbell rang at just the right time.

“Aunt Yenn! You’re here early! Wait… is it three already?”

20

“I bet you have your hands full.” Yenn smiled. “Anything I can do to help to make the first day easier for you?”

“Not at all,” Hallie smiled. She looked tired, but overjoyed at the same time. “It’s a little manic, but all the kids are really great. I hope I can find them all amazing families.”

“Doesn’t seem they’ll have it too bad here until you do,” Yenn said. “Usually, when people say orphanage you’d imagine a dingy house from a horror movie… but this is truly wonderful, Hallie!”

Hallie beamed with pride. Took a while to get it all ready, but the results were worth it. “Would you like a tour?”

“I’d love one!”

21

Entrance

22

Hallie’s office

23

Playroom

24

Kitchen

25

Upstairs landing

26

Hallie’s bedroom

27

Kids room 1

28

Kids room 2

29

Kids room 3

30

Downstairs layout

31

Upstairs layout

32

Exterior – front

33

Exterior – back

34

They finished the tour in the back garden, with all the kids getting excited about the slipping side around them. Yenn and Hallie watched them line up, squealing.

“You’ve done such a good thing, Hallie.” Yen said. “I’m so proud of you.”

35

“It’s good for me too.” Hallie said with a soft smile. “It took me forever to figure out what I wanted to build, but once I knew, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

The kids took their turns on the slipping slide, one by one.

Donnie joined the back of the queue.

36

The closer he got, the more anxious he was.

“Millie… is it possible to do the slipping slide wrong?” He asked.

“For me, definitely not.” She said carelessly. “I’ll be amazing.”

And with that, she slid away.

Donnie stood on the edge of the slide. It was his turn.

Now or never.

37

“Weeeeeee!”

He wasn’t sure what he’d been so worried about. This was the most amazing thing ever.

38

“I hear we’re going to share a room,” Alexus told Millicent excitedly.

“Oh really?” Millicent was pleased. She liked Alexus. Though was it even possible to dislike her? The girl seemed to score points with everyone that day. “Have you seen it yet?”

“Yeah, I peeked in.” Alexus nodded.

39

“It’s very blue, I like it.” Alexus continued. “And it’s only ours, which means we can really relax there.”

“What do you mean?”

“The thing is, Millie, I’m not used to being around that many people.” Alexus said. “I like it, for sure, but…”

40

“Sometimes I just need a bit of time on my own. To really be myself.”

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.59 The One

Vito admired the view of the commercial district of Newcrest for a moment. The golden sunset glow made this evening on the rooftop terrace particularly pleasant. Perfect, he thought. Seems everything was working in his favour.

2

“You taking a photo of the scenery in your head?” Louis chuckled as he came over with can of juice.

“Yeah,” Vito smiled. He kept reminding himself that he needed to get more into landscape photography one of these days. He’d always felt working with models was his real strength, but he did like a challenge. “You know me too well.”

3

“You’re not hard to read. And we’ve known each other for what, over ten years now?” Louis shrugged. “You’ve got a point though, this is a pretty good spot for watching the sunset.”

“Sure is,” Vito nodded distractedly. “Over ten years, huh? That’s a lot of sunsets…”

“Not that we’ve watched all of them together,” Louis pointed out pragmatically.

“Well, no, true,” Vito uttered. Not quite where he wanted to steer the conversation tonight.

4

“We have been through a lot together though,” he recovered. “But I can still remember our first kiss like it was yesterday. I knew it was something special right then and there. That you were special.”

Louis looked amused. “No you didn’t. You were a hormonal teenager that was high on life after having his first kiss.” He laughed.

5

“Such a romantic,” Vito rolled his eyes. “Come on, I know you thought it was something big too.”

“Can’t deny that,” Louis’ expression softened for a split second. “But we were kids back then. Didn’t know much about life. Or love.”

6

“True,” Vito acknowledged. “But we’re not kids anymore, Louis. I know for a fact that I’ve learned a thing or two in that department…”

He stood up, not taking his eyes off Louis.

7

“…and that I know a good thing when I see it…”

Louis looked at him, perplexed. “You going somewhere?” He jumped up to his feet.

8

“Oh, you could have kept sitting,” Vito told him. “But I have something to say, and I want to do it before the sun escapes…”

“Hang on…” Louis looked petrified. “What are you doing?”

He watched Vito kneel in front of him, almost as if in slow motion.

9

10

11

“Louis, I look at you and I don’t want to spend a day without you. I want you by my side, today and every day after that. I see you with my son, and I can’t picture it any other way. I can’t imagine a future without you. And I don’t want to. You’re the one. So… will you marry me?”

12

Louis struggled to form a coherent sentence at first.

“I… uh…”

Vito looked at him hopefully.

“No.” He managed finally.

13

Vito’s entire body grew tense. He stood up stiffly.

“Well, that’s ok.” He forced himself to say. “I’m sorry. You weren’t ready. I rushed you into this. Let’s forget I said anything.”

14

He couldn’t quite read Louis’ expression.

“But we can’t really forget you said it, can we?” Louis asked quietly. “You went to spend your life with me?”

15

“Yes, I know what I want for my future. For our future.” Vito nodded.

“I don’t exactly feel that way,” Louis started slowly.

“You’re not there yet. I get it. And it’s fine.” Vito nodded. “We can just keep taking it slow. We’ve got our whole lives, after all. I’ll wait for you. Take as long as you need.”

16

“No. You don’t understand.” Louis said quietly. He looked very pale all of the sudden.

What he said next would echo in Vito’s head.

“I just don’t really see myself ever wanting to spend the rest of my life with you.”

17

Vito covered his mouth in shock, but he wasn’t aware of the motion. He felt as if he’d lost control of his own body. He just stood there, frozen in time. And in heartbreak.

“Never?” He whispered finally.

“I’m so sorry.” Louis looked at him sadly.

18

“But… but… if you don’t ever see a future for us, then what are we doing?”

As soon as he asked, Vito knew he didn’t want to hear the response.

“I guess we’re just holding on to the past.” Louis muttered.

“So it’s like what you said way back in Windenburg, isn’t it?” Vito said bitterly. “That you hope that someday, you’ll wake up and you’ll not love me anymore. Did you get your wish now?”

19

“Vito, don’t do this.” Louis said. “I didn’t want this to happen. I didn’t mean to string you along. I’ve not really been thinking about our future, until you brought it up. But now I’ve realised. We’re not in the same place, and we’ll never be. Not anymore. And I am so sorry. I didn’t want it to end like this. I did use to think you were the one too.”

Then don’t do this, Vito wanted to say. But his voice betrayed him. He couldn’t get a single word out.

“But things have changed. We’ve changed.” Louis concluded.

20

They stood in silence for a moment.

“I guess this is goodbye,” Louis said awkwardly.

Vito nodded, feeling powerless.

Louis kept giving him guilty looks on his way out.

And then he was gone.

“Bye.” Vito’s voice croaked.

21

Louis deserved to feel guilty, didn’t he? Vito wanted to be angry. He wanted to hate him.

But he couldn’t.

After all, it was nobody’s fault but his own that they fell apart.

***

22

He couldn’t bear staying in the studio, but he didn’t want to go home either. He paced along the evening streets of Newcrest until he reached the condos. But he didn’t head towards his.

He knocked on the door in an odd state of limbo.

23

“Vito?” Sera opened the door, gobsmacked. “What are you doing here?”

In spite of living next to each other, Vito had never even been inside of Sera’s studio. What was he doing, he thought. She’d just laugh at him, surely…

24

“Are you ok?” His sister asked, looking concerned.

Vito shook his head. “We broke up. Louis and I broke up.”

It felt surreal to say it. Especially to her.

25

But she didn’t laugh at him, or remind him that this was all his doing in the first place. She seemed genuinely shocked.

“I’m so sorry, Vito.” Funny, Louis said that as well, Vito thought. “Are you… sure it’s over?”

26

“I’m pretty sure.” Vito nodded. Louis may not have been certain about his plans for the future, but he did seem certain they would not involve him…

“That’s horrible,” Sera said sincerely. “I… is there anything I can do? Do you want to come in or… something?”

“No, that’s ok. But thank you.”

“Vito… I don’t mean this in a bad way, but… why did you come to me? We barely talk. And when we do… well, you know.” Sera looked away. “Why didn’t you go to Carly? Or Hallie?”

27

Vito had been asking himself the same question. But somehow, he already knew the answer.

“Because they wouldn’t understand. Hallie doesn’t know what it’s like to want to be with someone that way. And Carly? She’s never lost love. Even when Ralph and her split up for a while, he was always there, just waiting for her to take him back. What does she know about heartbreak?”

28

“I wanted to apologise, Sera.” He continued. “For the way I’ve treated you, especially when we were younger. I’ve been such a plumhead. I never knew how you felt. With all those guys. I’m sorry. I wish I’d been a better brother.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Seraphina looked at him uncertainly.

29

“You don’t owe me anything Vito,” she told him. “We’ve not had the best relationship, but you don’t have to apologise. And I really am sorry that things didn’t work out between you and Louis. I thought you guys were the real deal.”

“Yeah. So did I.” Vito said.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come in? I’ve got nectar…”

“No. I need to be alone. Thanks though. I mean it.”

30

And with that, Vito dragged himself to his place.

31

Leaving behind a rather baffled and worried sister.

32

Getting home didn’t particularly bring Vito much solace. It felt like Louis was following him, staring at him from pictures in every room.

A reminder of what could have been. Should have been.

And what was now never to be.

33

He’d have to take all the photos down, Vito thought.

But not tonight. He stared at the smiling Louis on the wall. He still couldn’t believe he was gone from his life. They were enjoying the sunset just an hour ago.

And now he was alone. Without the one he’d thought was his other half.

34

He slid the walk in closet open, crawling inside. Sliding the door shut behind him, he let his body fall to the floor.

And he cried like a baby.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.58 Babysitting Hope (Part 3)

Hope wigged her feet to the rhythm. As usual, her aunt Hallie’s house was filled with music.

“Are scrambled eggs ok?” Hallie asked.

“Sure thing,” the girl nodded. “Eggs are delicious. Besides, anything’s going to be tastier than uncle Vito’s protein shakes and salads…”

2

Hallie laughed. “Uncle Vito sure knows how to feed a kid. I bet you’re looking forward to your mom and dad’s cooking again, huh?”

“I dunno.” Hope shrugged.

“Well they’re coming back soon, at least try to make it look like you’ve missed them when they ask.” Hallie winked.

3

Hope pondered Hallie’s words. Truth to be told, she hadn’t really had a chance to miss her parents yet. It wasn’t that she didn’t love them, but while they were away on their trip, Hope felt like she was having an adventure of her own, staying with all the different relatives a couple days at a time.

This was the final stop before they returned, and Hope was pretty excited about it. Aunt Hallie always seemed so effortlessly cool. The little girl could only hope to be like her one day, when she grew up.

4

“These smell real yummy.” Hope sniffed the plate eagerly.

Hallie was amused. “You think? They’re nothing special. Clearly you’ve been on Vito’s protein and veggie diet for far too long… Tell you what, how about we have something that’s not even remotely salad-like tonight?”

Hope giggled. “I’d like that.”

5

“So what would you like to do on this fine morning?” Hallie asked.

“I don’t know, what would you normally do?”

Hallie blinked. Ever since she’d left DJing behind, she’d been at a loose end. She was making enough money off music royalties to live comfortably, but her life had lacked direction. Not that she was going to tell her niece that…

“Well, I like to start every morning with a bit of a dance,” Hallie told the girl.

“Ooh, I like that!”

6

So they spent the next half hour or so shaking to the tunes and laughing. Hope could most definitely picture a worse morning… and so could Hallie.

7

***

8

They’d passed a good chunk of the day in the park across the street – of course Hope wouldn’t miss out on a chance to play pirates for a while.

9

Hallie was actually having a blast. She’d always enjoyed spending time with Hope of course, but who knew looking after the tyke on her own would be so much fun? It felt strangely rewarding.

10

After Hope’s newest pirate cruise, they decided to give fishing a go to get a pirate dinner – apparently Hope was a more skilled angler than Hallie was. Probably thanks to all of her pirate experiences, Hallie joked.

11

“How about we stop by aunt Sera’s retreat?” Hallie suggested. “It’s on the way home, so we should go say hi.”

“Yeah! Maybe I can swim in the lake again!” Hope beamed.

12

They found Seraphina in the yoga pavilion with a handful of guests floating about.

“Oh, hi!” She greeted them. “You’ve missed the class!”

“That’s alright,” Hallie smiled. “I’m not too flexible anyway.”

13

“That’s why you need to go to the class,” Hope joined in.

“Very true!” Sera nodded with a chuckle.

Hope was no longer paying attention to the conversation, she spotted a man with a very comfy looking dressing gown and slippers.

14

“Aunt Sera, can I get a pair of slippers and a robe too?” She begged. “We can play dress up!”

“Of course you can Hopey,” Sera laughed. She figured the girl was too adorable to ruin anybody’s zen experience. “Let’s see if I can fetch something your size…”

15

Hope checked herself out in the mirror. She was pleased with the attire.

16

“Don’t you look snazzy!” Sera joined in.

“You’ve got a matching one!” The girl squealed.

17

“I figured we’d be robe buddies.” Seraphina grinned.

Darn Carly, she thought. Her cute kid was going to give her baby fever at this rate…

18

“Ooh, we need to document that!” Hope exclaimed, pulling out a phone to take a photo.

Sera was caught by surprise, but she tried to relax into a smile.

19

“Look at us all robed up,” she said softly, trying not to get even mushier over the photo.

Needless to say, with very little success.

20

She wouldn’t fight it. She couldn’t wait to have a little Hope of her own.

Of course, that was a lot easier said than done. She shook her head, laughing at herself. She couldn’t even keep a man, let alone find her soulmate and start a family…

Maybe someday. For now, meditation would have to do.

***

21

While Hope was bonding with her aunt, Hallie took a bit of a walk around the grounds. She’d not really explored the retreat yet. She was impressed with Sera, who would have thought that she of all people would have created this place for contemplation?

22

She noticed a man floating in the gazebo.

Hallie had seen Yenn levitate during meditation before, but something about the scene in front of her made her feel drawn to the man.

23

Perhaps it was the setting. Or maybe it was just how peaceful he looked. Even now, Hallie rarely ever felt completely at peace.

She hadn’t even realise how close to him she’d gotten and that she was probably gawking until he greeted her.

24

“Hi,” he said in a deep voice, slowly descending back on to the stool.

“I’m sorry,” Hallie muttered quickly. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“Not at all,” he shook his head with a smile. “We’re at a public retreat, after all. Anyone’s welcome to go about as they please. I’m Lorcan, by the way.”

25

“Oh, you’re Sera’s yoga instructor.” It dawned on Hallie. “I’m Hallie. Sera’s technically my niece, but… it’s a long story.”

“Seraphina’s mentioned you.” He spared her the explanation. Hallie wondered how much Sera may or may not have told him, but she was grateful she didn’t have to recount the story of how she found herself an orphan being raised by the Bloomers.

“In any case, sorry for staring.” She said, about to leave him on his own again. “It’s just, you looked so serene…” I couldn’t help but feel jealous, she wanted to say.

He tilted his head, studying her face for a moment.

“Would you like to chat for a bit?” He asked. “I’m a decent listener. Besides, it’s almost a part of my job spec.” He laughed.

Hallie hesitated for a split second, but then she nodded. They sat down by the pavilion, soaking in the late afternoon sun.

26

“I don’t really have anything to vent about, to be honest.” Hallie said brightly. “I’m quite happy now, really.”

“Never said you weren’t,” Lorcan replied. “You don’t have to be unhappy to feel uneasy. Though I can’t help but notice you said you were happy now.”

“I’ve been through a few bumps,” Hallie admitted. “I feel better now, but I wouldn’t mind a bit of that peace you’ve been exuding. I guess I’m still trying to find myself.” She laughed awkwardly.

“Aren’t we all?” He asked. “And for the record, I’m not a particularly peaceful person.”

“Are you kidding?” Hallie laughed. “You’re the definition of zen!”

27

“That’s just training,” Lorcan shrugged. “The honest truth is that I’ve always been really hot-headed by nature. Still am. I just don’t let it get the best of me anymore.”

Hallie’s eyes lingered on his scars.

“You seem to be managing more than fine.” She told him. “I’ve never had much of a temper problem. I just…” She stopped herself, embarrassed.

“Go on?”

28

“I just feel like I don’t have much of a purpose.” She said finally. “I… I no longer make new music, since DJing felt empty. I still haven’t figured out a way how to contribute to Newcrest. My parents are long gone, so I’m not anyone’s daughter, and I’ll never be a mother… Wow. Sorry. That was oversharing…”

“Wouldn’t ask for an honest answer if I didn’t want an honest response,” Lorcan encouraged her. “I still don’t see how any of those things would make you not have a purpose.”

29

If your heart’s no longer in making music, it might just mean it wants to go somewhere else.” He said. “You’ll always be your parents’ daughter, no matter if they’re dead or alive. And as for being a mother, is that something you want?”

“Well, I’d like to give a kid the childhood I’ve lost when my parents passed away…” Hallie said, thinking of her beautiful day with Hope. She hesitated. “But, it’s not that simple. I don’t know if Sera told you that I’m… that I don’t…”

“That you’re an ace?”

30

Hallie stared at him blankly.

“A what?”

“That you’re asexual,” he clarified. “She didn’t exactly say that, but I gathered as much from what she did say.”

“Huh.” Hallie wasn’t sure what to say. She’d known for all these years, but at the same time, she didn’t. It seemed that he’d given her the answer she didn’t know she was looking for.

31

“It’s just a label anyway,” he shrugged. “All that matters is that you’re comfortable with who you are, what you want, and what you don’t want. There’s no point in feeling bad for not wanting something, whether it’s getting intimate, making music, or building a specific lot. You do know there’s nothing wrong with you, right?”

Hallie’s mind trailed back to that night in Oasis Springs, when she saw the ghosts of her parents. She still wasn’t exactly sure if it was real or not. But there was a person made of flesh and blood sitting beside her and telling her the same things the ghosts had said. That she was fine the way she was.

32

She could just hug him, if they hadn’t only met less than an hour ago.

“Thank you,” she managed.

“No need to thank me.” Lorcan said. “You’ve made these invisible walls trapping you somewhere you didn’t want to be. I just pointed out they were there.

33

“But now that you know those walls are not real, go do what you really want.” He continued. “You mentioned something about giving someone their dream childhood? Whatever it is that you want to do, you can. There’s nothing stopping you from having a purpose.”

Hallie thanked him again, and they’ve said their goodbyes. It definitely wasn’t the last time she’d be visiting Sera’s retreat and seeking his advice, she knew as much already.

34

It wasn’t till much later that day when she’d realised that even though she’d told him so much about her innermost feelings, she still didn’t have the slightest clue where he saw his purpose or what his story was.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.57 Babysitting Hope (Part 2)

“Eww, I don’t want girl cooties in my room,” Aslan wrinkled his nose at the sight of Hope.

“Too bad, I’m staying here tonight whether you like it or not!” The girl retorted. “Besides, why worry about cooties, you already have voidcritters here!”

“Voidcritters are no cooties!”

“They’re both critters of some sort,” Hope shrugged.

“Shows how little you know about voidcritters…”

2

“Pfft, I bet I could beat you!” Hope said with vigour.

“You? Please, I’ve got years of practice on you! I remember when you were just a baby pretty much attached to a basinet!” Aslan snickered.

“I think you’re scared of being beat by a baby…”

3

Aslan eyed his cousin up and down:

“Scared of you? Not a chance!”

“Voidcritter battle?”

“You’ve got it! Not that it’s even a real battle with you…”

4

As Aslan predicted, Hope was powerless against him. He was crushing her voidcritters one after another. This was no challenge at all, he thought…

5

He didn’t notice when the tides changed, but suddenly, his cousin was winning. How did that happen? His poor voidcritters…

“What!? You must be cheating!” He exclaimed.

“Guess you’re not the voidcritter master you thought you were,” Hope giggled.

“This is SO not fair!” Aslan growled.

6

Vito peeked into the room. “It’s getting a little intense here!” he laughed. “I could hear you all the way downstairs.”

“Hope’s cheating!” Aslan sneered.

“No I’m not!” Hope interrupted. “You’re just a sore loser!”

“Ok, let’s take it easy, guys,” Vito told them. “You can do a rematch some other time. It’s time for food now.”

“I’m not hungry.” Aslan grumbled.

“Are you sure? Louis coming over for dinner…”

Oh. Ok. I guess I can eat.”

7

As soon as they got downstairs, Aslan’s mood improved as if by magic. He became giddy and impatient.

Hope didn’t know her uncle’s boyfriend too well, though he did seem like a nice person, and Aslan clearly looked up to him. And if Aslan was impressed, Louis had to be a big deal. Not that Hope would ever admit it in front of him, but she thought her cousin was one of the coolest people ever. Too bad he only thought of her as a silly baby…

8

“Hi there, little people,” Louis smiled when he entered the house. “Hey Vito.”

“Hi Louis! So cool you came! You’re almost never over when I’m here!” Aslan bounced up and down.

“Well I’m here tonight, aren’t I?” Louis chuckled softly.

9

“So Aslan, is Louis like your second dad now?” Hope asked.

“Oh, that would be awesome!” Aslan’s eyes widened. “What do you think, Louis?”

“Now, don’t get greedy, Aslan.” Louis let out an uncomfortable laugh. “How many dads do you really need?”

10

“I guess, that’s a good point.” Aslan said, sitting down next to Louis. “A few years ago, I didn’t use to have any dads. And now I’ve got one, and a half. Sort of.”

“Calm down, Aslan,” Vito interrupted. “You can’t just pronounce people your dad because you feel like it…”

11

“Whatever,” Aslan shrugged. “I just think Louis’s cool.”

“You and me both,” Vito smiled.

“Come on, you’ll make me blush here.” Louis laughed. “What’s with all the praise. Are you gonna ask me for a big favour by any chance?”

“Well, now that you mention it…” Vito joked.

12

Vito beamed while making the finishing touches to the salad. He was trying to play it cool in front of the little ones, but the truth was he loved the sight of Louis together with the kids chatting away and laughing at the dinner table.

He could definitely imagine this being a regular occurrence. Him, Louis, Aslan, maybe another child… or two?

13

In any case, Vito knew this was what he wanted. He wanted them to be a family. He could just picture it. Their future together. He’d never felt this serious about anything before. But this felt right. He wanted Louis in his life for good.

14

Vito served the meal and sat down at the table.

“How’s the salad, everyone?” He asked.

“It’s good,” Hope said politely.

“It’s alright,” Aslan seemed underwhelmed. “Better than mom’s cooking, I guess. But that’s not hard.”

“Hey, be nice!” Vito told him.

15

“So, I’ve been thinking,” Aslan ignored him. “With the dad thing… if I can only have one, could I not keep Louis instead of you, Vito?”

Vito nearly choked on a carrot.

“Woah, where did that come from?”

“I mean, you’re alright, but Louis is so much cooler… and nicer, too!”

16

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” Vito said slowly. “It doesn’t really work like that though. You’re stuck with me, I’m afraid.”

17

“But why? Shouldn’t I have a say in this?”

“You don’t pick your family, kid.”

“Well that’s stupid!” Aslan grumbled.

18

“I think you get your family because they’re right for you,” Hope interrupted. “If I did get to pick what family I’d want to end up in, I’d still choose mine. Because they’re the best. And they’re mine.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Louis nodded. He turned to Aslan.

19

“You’ve got yourself a pretty cool dad already, Aslan.” Louis said to the boy. “Don’t take that for granted. You can pick your friends. And you and I, we can be friends for sure. But you’ll find in life, friends can come and go. Your dad, he’ll be there for the long haul.”

“Wasn’t there from the beginning, though.” Aslan muttered.

“That’s because you only met when I was born, silly,” Hope reminded him.

Aslan rolled his eyes. Like the baby would ever get it.

***

20

“Well, that went pretty terribly,” Vito said with a dry laugh once the kids were asleep and he was clearing up the dishes from the table. “Though I’ve heard worse from Aslan in the long run!”

“I didn’t know what to say,” Louis said. “I’m sorry it got so out of hand!”

21

“No, I’m sorry you got caught up in that. You shouldn’t feel the need to apologise.” Vito told him. “And for the record, you handled it pretty well, actually. No wonder Aslan wants you for a dad.” He attempted a joke.

“Heh, I wouldn’t know the first thing about being a dad,” Louis chuckled.

“Welcome to the club!”

22

“Oh man, that kid is gonna make me go prematurely grey, I swear,” Vito shook his head. “But it’s not all bad. He can be kinda sweet at times, I promise.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Louis smiled. “Besides, he’s got no issue with me, I guess.”

They laughed.

“Well, can’t say I blame him,” Vito said finally. “He’s a smart kid, of course he’d pick you before me.”

“Hey, don’t say that!”

“You’re definitely better with him than I am,” Vito gave a small shrug, growing serious. “Do you want kids, Louis? I think you’d be good with them.” I know you would, he thought.

23

“I dunno,” Louis said non-committedly. “I’ve never really thought about it. Maybe someday, I guess.”

They both drifted into worlds of their own for a while.

Then Vito broke of the silence, wrapping his head around Louis.

24

“Well, it’s not like it’s something you have to worry about immediately, unlike me.” He laughed casually. Though I hope you will, sooner rather than later, he added in his mind.

25

Louis gave a look that could only mean one thing. “As far as I know, the kids are asleep. So it’s not something you should be worrying about right know either. I could definitely think of better things to do right here and right now…”

26

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.56 Babysitting Hope (Part 1)

Carly and Ralph may have felt guilty about leaving hope in Newcrest when they jetted off for their honeymoon, but their worries were unfounded. The girl was getting spoilt rotten.

2

With not one, but two doting grandparents eager to cater to her every need, she was having the time of her life.

3

“Would you like some ice cream, pumpkin?” Leo asked her enthusiastically.

“Ice cream? Really? But mommy never lets me have ice cream this late!” Hope exclaimed.

“Well, good job your mommy’s not around then, isn’t it?” Leo winked.

4

Hope stared at the cone in her hand adoringly. It was huge! Bigger than her head!

5

She could barely hold the thing. But it was delicious.

6

“Thanks grandpa!” She said cheerfully. “This is awesome.”

“Nothing beats your grandpa’s homemade ice cream,” Pauline nodded approvingly.

“You’ll have to stay over more often,” Leo laughed. “To see how many flavours you can sample.”

Hope pondered what he said.

7

She could get used to this.

8

After the copious amounts of frozen goodness, Leo reached for one of the thick books in the shelves by the fireplace and let Hope pick a night time story.

9

She was enthralled in his narration. Hope may have taken more after her father, but she ate up all of the bedtime stories Leo read with the same vigour her mother once had.

10

When she woke up the following morning, Hope made her way to the kitchen to find her grandparents in the middle of showering each other with affection. The girl didn’t make too much of it, after all, her own parents were usually like this too.

She wondered if all married couples acted like that. She’d probably not get married, she decided. The thought of blowing kisses to a boy sounded pretty gross to her. Besides, space pirates don’t have time for distractions.

11

“Are you excited for today, pumpkin?” Leo asked. “Aunt Sera should be picking you up later in the morning.”

“Can’t believe it’s time for you to stay with her already,” Pauline complained. “It’s gone by too quickly.”

12

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back,” Hope reassured them. “All the ice cream is here!” She giggled. “And so are my favourite grandparents!”

Leo and Pauline smiled at each other.

13

The girl hung around the garden until aunt Yenn called for her.

“Hope, aunt Sera’s here! Ready to go?”

Hope jumped off the monkey bars. “Maybe… where are we going?”

14

“I think she wants to show you something special,” Yenn beamed. “In fact, I wouldn’t mind coming along for a little while, I’m quite curious myself!”

“Please do,” Sera told her aunt as she approached.

“Aunt Sera has finished her Newcrest build, you see.” Yenn explained.

15

“Ooh, what is it?” Hope was intrigued.

“It will probably be a little boring for you once it’s properly open.” Sera laughed evasively. “But nobody’s seen it so far, so you can be like an explorer.”

“I like that!”

16

The three girls walked across to the brand new meditation retreat by the golf course.

“This is quite impressive, Sera!” Yenn said.

“You haven’t even seen it properly yet! Would you like a tour?”

“Would we, Hope?”

“Yeah!”

17

Seraphina led them into the main house.

“Here’s the main yoga space…”

“Wouldn’t be you if there wasn’t an opportunity to exercise,” Yenn smiled.

18

“Exactly,” Sera nodded. “It should fit a fair few people, I think.”

“Can I try?” Hope asked.

“Maybe I could teach you a couple basic poses,” Sera smiled. “Not that I’m a pro at expert myself…”

19

“There’s also a sauna downstairs.” Sera added. “To help with the stiff muscles. But my favourite bit is outside…”

She could barely contain her excitement. She couldn’t help it, she knew it wasn’t the most exciting of places for a little girl like Hope, but she was so proud of her little build she just had to show it off…

20

Luckily for Sera, Hope was always eager to explore new places. And this one didn’t look like anything she’d seen before.

The fountain could be bigger though, she thought. She wouldn’t even fit in it on her own, let alone if she wanted to play with Aslan! Or could she? She figured she could try when her aunt wasn’t looking…

21

“This is the meditation gazebo. I just love it,” Sera sighed happily.

“It’s a bit like a tree house,” Hope looked around. “You could do a pretend battle here! Like, one person defending the gazebo and one person defending the main house! That would be awesome!”

22

“Not sure if that’s what aunt Sera had in mind, sweetie,” Yenn chuckled.

“It could be done,” Sera shrugged with a grin. “Guess we’d just have to put off the opening…”

23

“When are you going to open this to the public, then?” Yenn asked. “It is stunning! I’m sure everyone in Newcrest will enjoy this slice of paradise…”

“Thanks,” Sera beamed. “I’m not too sure what I’m waiting for, to be honest. It feels like there’s something missing before it’s ready… but I guess it will always be like that, always thinking I can do more with it. I’ve got to open it sometime!”

“I think it’s cool!” Hope ventured in. “So… can you swim in the pond?”

24

“Go for it,” Sera told her.

The girl dove in with a big splash.

25

“Now that does seem quite delightful.” Yenn watched hope swim around. “I might just join in.”

26

She entered the pond carefully, swimming towards Hope.

27

Sera watched them try to scope out some of the petals for a while. She smiled. Perhaps she should go in too, she thought…

“Quite something you’ve got here,” A deep voice behind her interrupted.

28

It’s been quite some time since she’d seen the yoga instructor. She never did return to his yoga class after that first lesson. She did start practicing on her own, though.

“I must say I was surprised to see you’ve built this – didn’t think you liked yoga that much, after you never came back.” He said, as if he’d read her mind.

29

“Sorry, you probably don’t remember me. I’m Lorcan McCoy, I teach yoga over at the Garden of Eden Gym…”

“No, I do remember!” Like she could forget those eyes. “Though I don’t think we ever properly introduced each other. I’m Seraphina, by the way. Bloomer.”

30

“I gathered as much,” Lorcan nodded. “That’s why this is here, after all, right? Since the Bloomers build Newcrest.”

“I’d like to think I’d want to build something even if I wasn’t a Bloomer,” Sera told him. Though would she? She wasn’t sure. “But I guess you’re right.”

“Well either way, you’ve done great. Newcrest could definitely use a spot like this.” He said politely.

“Thanks.” She smiled. “Wold you like me to show you around?”

“Definitely.” He nodded.

31

“Well, what do you think?” Sera asked after they’d walked around the grounds. “I’m getting a hang of this tour guide thing…” She giggled.

“I think it’s perfect. I could definitely see myself spending a lot of time here.”

“Are you hoping to become a regular?” Sera joked.

32

“Actually, I was hoping to become an employee.” He told her. “If you still need yoga or meditation instructors, I do know a thing or two about both.”

“Oh.” She considered it. It seemed to make a lot of sense. She knew first hand that he was good at what he did. Perhaps this was the missing piece for the big opening… Then again there was a reason why she hadn’t come back to his class…

33

“I thought you worked at the gym.” She said cautiously.

“The gym only offers so many yoga classes.” Lorcan shrugged. “I spend most of my time driving around to teach classes in all sorts of towns. Of course I’d much rather work in this little oasis you’ve created. I could easily pop across the street to teach the few odd classes… that is, if you wanted to hire me.”

“Look, it’s not that I don’t want to offer you that steady gig…” Sera started. “And I genuinely think you’d be great…”

“But?”

“But I don’t think it would be a good work dynamic.” Sera said awkwardly. Because your face is too symmetrical and your eyes are too deep and the last thing I need is to fall for yet another guy that looks perfect on paper… Of course she couldn’t say that.

34

“Do you still think I’m trying to chat you up?” He asked.

Ok, seriously, could this guy read her mind or what?

“Not necessarily, but…”

“Would people actually go through the trouble of applying for a job just to get a date?” Lorcan raised an eyebrow. “Look Sera, I do think you are beautiful, but I assure you that’s not where I’m going with this. I don’t date. Prospective employers, or anyone else.” He added.

“Ah.” So he was like Hallie, she thought. Perhaps it wasn’t such a terrible idea, then…

35

“I’m not looking to date either.” She told him. “But you’re right, I could probably use somebody that actually knew what they were doing working here. I figured it would be more of a self-service meditation and yoga place…”

Lorcan laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say that!”

36

“Yeah… that’s why you’re needed around here.” Seraphina replied with a grin.

On second thought, this was a fantastic idea, she figured.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.55 For Better or for Worse

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Author’s note: The archelogical dig site where Carly and Ralph went on their honeymoon was built by the amazing Great Simphony.

And as a bit of an encore… In case you’re still not utterly nauseous from the sweetness overload, I’ve finally found the perfect Ralottie song (Ignore the crappy video. Maybe have another go through the pictures instead if you’re as in love with these two as I am. Just kidding, nobody loves them together as much as I do 😀 )

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk9G7OyKwLM] 

 

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.54 Space Pirates

Hope was on the captain’s deck, commanding her space pirate crew. It was a narrow escape from the planet of Blimphlus, but they were leaving with a huge treasure and with only a handful of monsters chasing after them. They might just make it… A tentacle landed on the control panel with a loud bang!

The little girl opened her eyes, waking up abruptly.

2

She jumped out of bed, scoping the room around her. It’s ok, she told herself firmly. It was only a dream.

Or was it? She could have sworn she just saw a tentacle crawling at her feet. She sped outside of the room, slamming the door shut behind her. There was a monster in her room! She had no clue what to do.

Luckily, she knew who would.

3

The girl peeked into the room next door. “Daddy?”

“Hope! You’re up early?” Ralph yawned. He studied his daughter’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“Um, nothing.” The girl looked over her shoulder nervously. “I… there might be a monster under my bed. But I’m not scared.” She added quickly, worry apparent in her face. “I’m a space pirate, remember? I just… thought maybe you’d like to look.”

“I would love to,” Ralph nodded. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good monster.”

They ventured into the hallway. Hope stopped before the door to her room.

“You’re a space pirate,” she whispered to herself. “You can do this.”

Ralph smiled, kneeling next to the girl.

4

“It’s ok, sweetpea.” He told her. “Even space pirates get scared sometimes.”

“They do?” The girl asked uncertainly.

“Of course! They’re exploring the galaxies, running into all sorts of dangers… It would be silly of them if they were never scared. Being scared just means that our body is telling us to watch out.”

“You’re never scared, though!” Hope pointed out.

“Not most of the time,” Ralph admitted. “But there was a time when I was terrified.” He grew serious.

“So what did you do?”

“Well, luckily I’ve got this fellow over here to help.” Ralph pulled out an action figure. “It’s Captain Duckhorse!”

“Like from the old books?” Hope asked. “The ones that great-great-great… hm… how many greats did that grandpa who wrote them have?”

“Exactly like from the old books!” Ralph said. “As for the greats… I’m not sure. You better ask your mom. But I can tell you one thing about the great grandpa, he sure knew a thing or two about superheroes. Everything he wrote in his books, Captain Duckhorse can do! So as long as we have him with us, there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Ok.” The girl took a deep breath.

“Shall we go have a look at that monster?” Ralph asked.

Hope nodded.

5

“Let’s see what we’ve got here,” Ralph examined the foot of the bed. “Looks like a classic example of a space monster.”

“It’s from the planet Blimphlus,” Hope told him.

“Ok, I know just the thing that works for Blimphlusese monsters,” Ralph said in a serious tone. “I believe this is the liquid solution Captain Duckhorse used.” He sprayed under the bed generously. “That should do it.”

6

“Thank you daddy!” Hope tackle hugged him.

“Don’t thank me! I’m just along for the ride,” Ralph smiled. “It’s your adventure.”

“So… what if the monster comes back?”

“You’ll know what to do. You’ve got Captain Duckhorse, after all!”

The girl smiled. “It’s getting light outside.” She looked out of the window. “I’m not sure if I can go back to sleep. I mean, there might not be a point…”

“How about we get you dressed and go play with your puppet theatre for a while?” Ralph suggested.

7

Hope was deep amidst performing a play by the time Carly came into the room.

8

Carly observed them silently, listening to her daughter alter her voice and watching Ralph’s animated reactions. She almost didn’t want to disturb them.

9

You had to give it to Ralph, he was a great father, Carly smiled to herself.

“Morning Lottie!” Ralph greeted her without looking away. “I can feel you looking.”

“Sorry to break up the party, guys.” She told them. “But it’s time to have a quick breakfast and set off to school, Hope.”

10

“But we’re having so much fun!” Ralph protested. “Five more minutes?”

“It’s ok,” Hope emerged from the booth, giggling. “I guess we’ll play later. Here’s Captain Duckhorse back, daddy.” She handed Ralph the action figure.

11

“You have him.” Ralph said.

Hope shook her head. “You can keep him. Well. Until I need him again. But I’m ok now.”

Everything seemed a lot less spooky in the light of the day. Hope decided that if the monster came back again, she’d confront it and see what it wanted.

12

They ate breakfast together, and Hope was ready for the school bus.

“Learn lots and stay out of trouble,” Carly told the girl.

“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Ralph winked.

“I’m a space pirate, I can’t make any promises.” Hope said.

“You know, a lot of space pirates don’t listen to their moms.” Ralph informed Hope. “But that’s because no other space pirate has a mom as clever as yours. She knows everything. So if you listen to her advice, you’ll come back from all of your adventures… which means more adventures!” He grinned.

Hope seemed to be mulling that over. “I guess that makes sense. I’ll be good.” She sighed.

13

“Thanks for that,” Carly gave Ralph a peck on the cheek. “You’re so good with her.”

“You’re not too bad yourself,” Ralph smiled. “Besides, I meant what I said. Hope’s lucky her mom stays on the ground when her dad gets carried away. Means we always come back from space when we need to.”

14

Carly laughed. “As long as you do.” She pulled him closer.

“Maybe we could open the shop a little later today…”

***

15

They arrived at the store, passing Vito’s photo studio on the way. Ralph beamed. It was shaping up to be a great day already.

16

And that was before they even opened the door into their kingdom.

17

They’d only opened their shop recently, but it had gained quite the reputation in Newcrest. Partially due to the fact that one could find almost anything there, from books to artefacts, from practical furniture to obscure knickknacks… depending on the day.

18

It was popular with folks looking for a bargain, or an unusual piece for their home…

19

And some people just loved it for the ambiance. Especially the bookworms.

20

Ralph was always in his element at the shop, turns out he not only enjoyed making and sourcing some of the goods, he also had quite the knack for talking people into buying them.

21

Meanwhile, Carly would stick to the more routine tasks like ringing up customers, restocking and inventory… unless book recommendations were involved. Which, to be fair, happened often. Half the store was filled with old books with the most delicious smells. Carly adored it.

22

Before they knew it, closing time rolled around.

“I can’t believe we sold the bathtub!” Carly laughed giddily. “A wooden bathtub…”

“You’ve got to have more faith in my craftsmanship,” Ralph said. “I reckon I shouldn’t stop at making the bathtub a one off!”

23

He started scribbling on a piece of paper with a focused frown. Carly admired his determination for the moment. She shook her head with a smile, making herself comfortable on one of the stools for sale:

“I have the utmost faith in your craftsmanship,” she corrected him. “Really, lately I find myself spending most of my time being impressed with you.” She gave him a timid smile.

24

“Well, the bathtub is one of my finest pieces yet,” Ralph lit up. “We should definitely make it a part of the regular stock. Or why stop at that… let’s make a whole range!”

“I wasn’t just talking about the bathtub, Ralph,” Carly said gently.

25

“Oh, really?” He seemed flustered. “I’m guessing you didn’t mean my ogre statue either.”

Carly laughed. “Hope loves that one though! But then again, she loves anything you do. And… I kind of do too.”

A wide grin spread across Ralph’s face.

26

“You know Lottie, this is just the beginning though.” Ralph squeezed her hand in his. “I know I’ll need to spend the rest of my life proving myself to you, and that’s exactly what I want to do. You’ll see.”

Carly shook her head. “You don’t have to prove anything Ralph. Not anymore. You already have, a dozen times over.”

27

She looked into his eyes. “But I do like the sound of the other thing you said. About the rest of your life. The rest of our lives.”

“Lottie… are you saying…” Ralph was speechless.

“That it’s about time we went through with that wedding? That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Carly said. “I do still have that ring, after all.”

28

Ralph picked her up in his arms and twirled her around.

“This feels like a déjà vu,” Carly laughed.

“Maybe, in a way,” Ralph pondered. “But I think it’s different.”

29

“This time, there really is no more secrets.”

30

They got the shop ready for locking up, though Ralph had been rather extra affectionate while tidying up.

31

“Hey Lottie… thanks for giving me another chance.” He said. “I won’t let you down.”

“You better,” she laughed. “But one thing though, Ralph…”

“What is it?” He looked panicked for a split second.

“We’ve got to sell that weird waiter statue,” Carly winked. “I swear it’s been staring at us this whole time. Creeps me out!”

32

Ralph laughed with relief. “Consider it done!”

Author’s note: I will be putting the shop on the gallery, but it’s actually on the same lot as Vito’s photo studio, so if you’ll want it you’ll need to download both (of course you can easily knock one or the other down). Also, you’ll need to check CC on in search to find it because the photos in the studio stupidly count as CC. As usual the origin ID is ThePlumbobBlog.