The Bloomer Legacy: 9.76 Anticipation

Larobb rushed up the stairs to the orphanage entrance. Before he could knock, the door slammed wide open. Hallie’s face appeared in front of him, filled with anticipation.

“So?”

2

“She said yes!” Larobb could barely contain himself.

A huge grin spread across Hallie’s face.

“I knew she would!” She beamed. “Congratulations!”

3

She gave him a quick hug.

“I’m so happy for you,” she told her friend.

“Thanks Hals,” Larobb said, looking relieved. Hallie could understand why, he’d been fretting about the proposal for weeks now, no matter how hard she’d tried to get him to calm down.

4

“I guess this means that you’re on best man duty from now on up till the wedding,” Larobb said jokingly.

“Oh please, I’ve been on best man duty long before you asked me!” Hallie waved it off.

“It’s getting real now though!” Larobb objected. Hallie couldn’t tell if he was actually serious now. “I don’t know the first thing about planning a wedding and stuff.”

“I’m pretty sure Alyssa’s not the kind of girl that would want you to do any of that anyway. Or let you,” Hallie laughed.

“Point taken,” Larobb smiled contently. “Yet another reason to marry her!”

***

5

Hope let out an excited squeal. They were home! Right in front of her. She couldn’t even decide which one to look at. Her eyes were ticking from one baby to another as she approached the cribs. This was the best day ever!

6

“Hey hun,” Carly gave her daughter a tired but happy smile. “Ready to meet your new siblings?”

Hope was so excited she could barely speak. She nodded eagerly instead.

“The one in the blue crib is your new brother Graham, and the one in the pink one is your new sister, Sadie.” Carly told her.

“They’re both so new!” Hope said giddily.

Carly laughed. “They are! So be gentle with them. They’re still getting used to the world. I’ll let you introduce yourself.” She took a step back.

7

Hope leaned over the cribs and gave the babies an uncertain wave.

“Hey guys!” She started, unsure what to say. Carly gave her a nod. “I’m Hope, your big sister! Eep, I’m a big sister!” She got distracted for a moment.

“I still can’t believe I get to have two of you,” she continued. “Aslan doesn’t even get one, and I get two! I know he says he doesn’t want any brothers or sisters, but still…”

8

“Oh right,” the girl reminded herself. “I forget you don’t know Aslan yet. He’s my cousin. And yours! He’s funny.”

Hope stopped for a moment, pondering briefly. “I guess you don’t know much about me either. Well, I like adventuring, like dad. And I like playing outside, like mom. I don’t really like school though. You’re lucky you don’t have to go yet! I used to want to be a space pirate when I grew up, but… I don’t think it’s a real job. I’ll have to figure out something else that’s cool. Oh, and guess what? The monsters under the bed aren’t real either. Don’t believe what Aslan tells you…”

9

Carly chuckled softly from the corner of the room.

“See how happy they look? I think they like you!” She told the girl.

“Really?” Hope’s little face lit up. “I like them too!”

10

She turned her attention back to the babies.

“It’s gonna be awesome, guys! When you get a little bigger, we can play all the time. And I’ll teach you everything I know. Maybe we can even prank Aslan together… I’m gonna be the best big sister in the whole world!”

***

11

Sera watched the petals float on the water. It was so serene. She soaked in the last rays of sunshine for the day. The sun was about to disappear over the horizon. Ah, this was bliss, she thought. She closed her eyes for a moment.

She felt a shadow cast over her. Had the sun set that quickly? She opened her eyes to see Lorcan standing above her.

12

Her lips immediately curled into a smile, almost like a reflex. “Hey.”

“Hi Sera,” he greeted her. He looked oddly jittery. Not very like him.

“Is everything ok?” Sera asked. “Did someone fall over during the yoga class or something?”

“No,” Lorcan shook his head, relaxing a little. “I just needed to talk to you about something.”

13

Sera looked at him quizzically. She wasn’t sure if she liked the sound of that. He wasn’t quitting, was he? Their friendship seemed to have bounced back after their failed date attempt… or didn’t it?

“You know you can tell me anything.” She did her best to look calm.

“I know,” Lorcan nodded, sitting down beside her. “And I should have. I’m not used to opening up to people, as you know…”

He attempted a little smile. Sera nodded graciously.

14

“The thing is, I wasn’t sure if I was going to do this. I’ve been planning it for quite some time, but then, with you in the picture, things changed. But I think I need this.”

Just get to the point already, Sera screamed on the inside. She nodded again.

“You know how meaningful Granite Falls to me, and how my first trip there transformed me…”

“Are you planning on moving to Granite Falls?” Sera joked, feeling uneasy.

“No. I’d like to travel around Asia.” He said simply. “I’ve been saving up for it for a couple of years now.”

That wasn’t quite what Sera was expecting. “Clearly I pay you too much.” She gave him a stiff laugh. “So, how long were you thinking of going for?”

“I’m not exactly sure yet.” Lorcan replied, avoiding looking at her directly. “Whatever feels right, a year, maybe two if the money can stretch for long enough.”

15

“A year!?” Sera burst out. “You can’t be serious! What about-“

What about ME, she wanted to yell.

“What about the retreat?” She asked instead. “We can’t go that long without a yoga instructor… and how will I find someone to teach your meditation classes?”

16

“I’ve thought about that, of course.” Lorcan replied calmly.

Of course you have, Sera growled inwardly. Because you have to be so annoyingly perfect at everything except for that one thing that matters the most…

“I care about what we’ve built here, and I wouldn’t want to leave it in the hands of someone that didn’t know what they were doing. So I talked to your aunt Yenn and asked if she would be willing to help.”

17

“You spoke to aunt Yenn?” Sera asked incredulously. “When?”

“At your brother’s exhibition opening night,” Lorcan said. “I explained the situation to her and she said she would be happy to help us out. She seemed quite excited about it, actually.”

Sera couldn’t fault it. She couldn’t think of a more capable person to take over the meditation and yoga lessons.

“She’s not you, though.” She said quietly.

18

“I’m sorry, Sera. It’s just, this is the best chance I’ve got. Going to Granite Falls was life-changing, but it’s not enough. It feels good to help people around here, but we both know the truth is I need fixing. Getting some space and a new perspective is the only thing I can think of to help me become better… for you.”

Sera looked at him, trying her best not to cry. She wouldn’t yell this time. He probably had a point.

“I do want you to be happy,” she managed to say. “I just wish it didn’t have to be without me.”

19

“Oh.” Lorcan stopped himself. He looked directly at her.

“Actually, I was sort of hoping you would consider coming too.” He said. “I know it’s a lot to ask, you have the family legacy to think of, but it wouldn’t be forever. And Newcrest will still be here when we get back.”

When we get back. Sera wasn’t sure if she should laugh or cry.

20

“You want me to go with you?” She repeated.

“I do… if you want to.” He confirmed. “Why else did you think I asked your aunt to look after the retreat?”

“You want me to go with you…” Sera breathed out with a hint of a chuckle. “You probably should have started with that.”

21

“I’ll remember for next time,” Lorcan smiled softly.

“You’d better!” Sera giggled with relief. “So… where do we go first?”

“Well, nothing’s set in stone yet. We need to figure it out together,” Lorcan grew serious. “I was thinking…”

22

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.75 Proud

“Hi mom, dad! Welcome to the This is our Newcrest exhibition,” Vito greeted Pauline and Leo in an oddly formal manner.

Pauline smiled. She could tell her son was nervous. “I love what you’ve done with the art gallery! Looks fantastic!”

“We can’t wait to see all the photos.” Leo nodded encouragingly.

“Go have a look around,” Vito said. “Tell me what you think. I hope you enjoy!”

“We will!”

Vito’s eyes followed his parents. He looked around anxiously. The place was starting to fill up.

2

“So you’re up for it?” Larobb asked Hallie, looking almost equally as nervous as Vito.

“Of course I am!” Hallie beamed. “You’re my best friend! I’d be offended if you didn’t ask me!”

“Good.” Larobb grinned.

“When are you doing it?”

“Tonight,” he breathed out, looking a little tense again.

“Don’t worry. “Hallie patted her friend on the shoulder gently.

3

“Aah. This is so great!” She said giddily. “I’m so excited for you!”

“Thanks Hals. Glad you’ll be a part of it!”

“Is this another one of your weird bro things I’m not getting?” Alyssa sat down beside them.

4

“Oh yeah, you know, some things need to stay between bros.” Larobb turned to his girlfriend.

“I’m sure.” Alyssa shook her head with a smile. “I guess I’ll leave you to it then…” She stood up, turning her attention to one of the photos.

“Actually, we’re just about done with the bro-ing, aren’t we?” Hallie pinched Larobb gently.

“Right!” He jumped up, joining Alyssa.

5

“Shall we have a look at the pictures then?” Alyssa asked. “Bro-style?”

“Definitely. Look at all the lighting in this one, it’s so… um… bright.”

“Nailed it!” Alyssa giggled. “Are you alright, Larobb? You’re acting funny tonight?”

“That’s just because you aren’t used to seeing the art connoisseur side of me…” He joked.

6

Ralph and Carly were admiring the art not too far away from them.

“I’ve got to say it’s kinda nice to see it all in one place.” Ralph noted. “The shop, the park where we got married, the path where Hope took her first steps…”

“Too bad the place where we got engaged and where we had our first kiss isn’t in Newcrest.” Carly smiled softly. “I need to ask Vito to take a photo of that place too.”

7

“I guess he managed to cover some of our other firsts, though,” Ralph said sheepishly, nodding to the picture of the Garden of Eden Gym and Spa. “If you look closely, you can see the hot tub where we…”

“Shh!” Carly hissed. “We don’t need my brother overhearing that!”

“And here I thought you got pregnant by magic,” Vito came over with a laugh. Carly blushed. “You’re huge, sis!” He changed the subject. “When are they due?”

8

“Any day now.” Carly relaxed a little. “Hopefully not today.” She let out a small laugh.

“It’s not your style to steal away the spotlight.” Vito replied gleefully. “Though the twins might have a different opinion, of course.”

“Speaking of spotlight, how does it feel to be the man of the hour again?” Carly asked.

“Ah, well, I don’t know… I just hope people like the photos.” Vito shrugged.

9

A wave of warmth overcame Carly. Her brother had changed so much it seemed hard to believe that boastful boy he once used to be and the man in front of her were the same person. She wrapped her arms around him.

“I’m so proud of you, Vito!” She told him. “Congratulations! It’s a wonderful exhibit.”

“Thanks Cary.” Vito replied, letting go of the hug. “I think I saw Sera around the corner, I’m gonna go say hi to her too.”

“You go ahead.” Carly smiled.

10

“Your brother is very good. Thanks for bringing me along, Sera,” Lorcan said. He would have loved to be able to tell her how beautiful she looked tonight too, but he knew that would just ruin things.

“I’m glad things are… normal between us again.” He said instead.

“Me too,” Sera replied with genuine relief. “I missed you… at the retreat, I mean.”

11

“I missed you too.” Lorcan agreed, pulling her into a hug. Sera melted in his arms.

“Well if it isn’t the lovebirds!” Vito grinned. “Glad you could make it, Sera. And that you’re finally introducing us to your man.” He winked.

Sera and Lorcan jumped away from each other instantly.

12

“What? No, don’t be ridiculous Vito,” Sera laughed awkwardly. “Lorcan and I are just friends.”

“Exactly,” Lorcan nodded.

Vito raised his eyebrows. “My mistake.” He said with a hint of a smirk.

13

“It’s a fantastic exhibition.” Lorcan told Vito. “You’re very gifted.”

“Thanks,” Vito replied. “So are you, from what I’ve told. I’ve heard good things about you.”

“Likewise.” Lorcan smiled.

“About me? From Sera? I doubt it!” Vito let out a laugh.

“Hey, I can be nice when I try!” Sera told her brother with a giggle.

“Sure, sure.” Vito turned his attention to Lorcan again. “You do know I’m kidding, right? She’s alright, my sister.”

“I do know.” Lorcan agreed. He seemed lost in his thoughts.

14

Just friends my plum, Vito thought. All he needed to see was the way these two looked at each other.

He knew that look. He couldn’t help but be feel a twinge of jealousy, though he was happy for Sera too. It had been a long time since he shared that look with someone. But it wasn’t like he could forget it.

15

These two may have managed to fool themselves, but there was no way they were fooling Vito.

16

“I just love this!” Yenn was almost dancing around the room, in spite of her age. Pauline couldn’t remember ever seeing her this energised.

“Vito really made all these buildings come back to life!” Yenn continued giddily. “Ah, this brings back so many memories…” She stopped herself abruptly. “Are you ok, Pauline? I know you don’t like coming here to the art gallery.”

“I couldn’t be better,” Pauline assured her aunt. “The place has an entirely different feel to it with Vito’s photos. Maybe we should make the exhibition permanent.”

Yenn studied Pauline’s expression for a moment, but she didn’t say anything.

“We could always move her paintings downstairs or something.” Pauline added stiffly.

“That sounds like a good idea.” Yenn nodded.

17

“Do you like it mom?” Vito asked eagerly. He felt like a little kid showing off a drawing to his parents, but he couldn’t help himself.

“I love it.” Pauline said warmly. “Well done, honey.”

“Thanks mom. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it.”

“The name’s great too,” Pauline looked at Yenn. “This is our Newcrest.”

18

“Yeah.” A smile spread across Vito’s face. “I wanted to… you know that time when I told you two I would leave the legacy behind?” He said uncomfortably. “I… I was stupid. It’s something huge this family has done. I wanted to find a way to honour it all.”

“And you have.” Pauline told him. “I’ve never been more proud of you.”

Vito’s eyes grew misty.

And then he spotted him. Maybe he really couldn’t see anymore.

He got on his feet as if in a dream, barely feeling his legs. He wasn’t moving deliberately. He was floating towards him.

19

“Hi Louis! So great to see you again!” Carly greeted the blonde man. “I didn’t know you were in Newcrest!”

“I’m just visiting. I didn’t know you had another one on the way, congratulations!” Louis said politely.

“Thank you! Actually, I-“ Carly noticed her brother approaching. “I’ve got to go find my husband.” She tweaked the end of what she was going to say. “It was nice talking to you again!”

20

“Louis.” Vito said simply. There were a million things he wanted to say, but none of them were coming out.

“These are beautiful,” Louis gestured towards the pictures. “Whoever took them must be a pretty decent photographer.” He smiled. “Hi Vito.”

21

“What are you doing here?” Vito managed. “I thought you live in Windenburg now…”

“I do,” Louis confirmed. “I’m staying over in Willow Creek, for business. I saw this article online, saying that Newcrest’s very own heir was holding an exhibition to celebrate the town’s legacy and I figured it wasn’t too long of a drive…”

“It’s good to see you, Louis.”

“And you.”

22

Vito suggested they sit down, mainly since his head was spinning. He felt drunk. He hadn’t had that much juice, did he? He was too busy making the rounds. Was it just his presence that made him so lightheaded?

Just… try to act normal, sheesh, he scolded himself.

“So, you said you’re in the country on business, what is it that you do these days?” He asked as casually as he could. “Did you get lured back into the modelling world when you moved back?”

23

“I did, I guess,” Louis shrugged.

“Oh really?” Vito was surprised. “I thought you hated the way things were done at that agency!”

“I did,” Louis nodded with a subtle smile. “That’s why I started my own.”

“Oh. That’s fantastic!” Vito exclaimed. “I’m impressed.”

“I’m doing alright,” Louis said modestly. “But look at you!”

24

“This is wonderful, Vito.” Louis gestured around them. “You’re really talented, Vito. I always knew that. I always hoped you would do something meaningful. I guess I’m trying to say… that I always thought you were capable of great things. And to see you do them now, be that person… well, I’m proud of you. I hope that’s not too presumptuous of me to say.”

“Of course not,” Vito said quickly. “I’m so glad you came here. Thank you.”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

Vito was all too well aware of his heart beating. Were his palms starting to sweat? But he had to ask.

“Louis… are you seeing anyone?”

25

He knew immediately that it was a mistake.

“Um… yes. I am actually.” Louis shifted in his seat.

“Oh. Of course.” Vito tried to recover. It was hardly a surprise a man like Louis wouldn’t stay single for too long. “How did you two meet? Is it… serious?”

Vito knew he sounded desperate, but he couldn’t stop himself.

26

“He’s one of the models for my agency.” Louis looked uncomfortable. “And it is kind of serious. We… we live together.”

The words pierced through Vito’s chest. “Right.”

“I’m sorry Vito. I gave you the wrong impression. Again.” Louis sighed. “I guess I shouldn’t have come here. I thought… I thought it had been long enough. That you wouldn’t think…”

“Don’t apologise. I’m glad you came.” Vito mustered up his strength. “And sorry for prying. Your private life is your private life. Look who’s being presumptuous now, huh?” He forced a laugh.

27

“I didn’t come to rub my new boyfriend in your face, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Louis said. “I came because I care about you, Vito. I always will. Maybe not in the way you want me to, but… I’d really like it if we weren’t strangers. Remember that thing you once told me, in the Bluffs? You said your life is better when I’m in it…”

Vito’s throat felt dry. “Of course I remember. I said that I don’t care if we’re just friends or enemies, as long as you’re in my life.”

“Well, I’d like you to be in my life. Hopefully not as an enemy,” Louis added with a quick grin. “I just… I don’t want us to be strangers, Vito. It doesn’t feel right.”

“I still love you, Louis.”

“I know.” Louis said quietly.

“I’d like us to be friends too, though.” Vito carried on. “And I’m not sure if I’m ready for that, but… I hope we can be, some day.”

28

***

29

Vito gave the empty room one last glance and nodded to himself approvingly. He did it. The exhibition was a success. It had been an emotional evening, but in a good way. He let out a content sigh.

A woman’s laugh echoed through the room. Vito looked up. He thought everybody had gone.

30

He found Alyssa and Larobb at the opposite side of the room, sharing some sort of a private joke. He felt that familiar jealous twinge.

“Uh, guys, I think you’re the last ones here… It’s not that I’m kicking you out, but…”

31

“You’re kicking us out.” Alyssa finished his sentence with a giggle.

“We’ll get going,” Larobb grinned apologetically.

“Sorry, it’s been a long day. Thanks for coming, though.” Vito told them. “I mean it.”

“It’s ok, we’re not offended.” Alyssa purred. “I know you can’t stay away from me for too long.”

Vito shook his head as he watched them make their way out of the building.

32

The moonlight greeted them outside. “Beautiful evening, isn’t it?” Larobb said to the woman.

“It sure was.” Alyssa agreed. “You made me feel like a lady. Almost.” She smirked.

Was?” Larobb turned around. “See, I was thinking the night’s not over yet.”

33

“Actually, I was thinking the best part of the night is only about to come.”

Alyssa looked at him curiously. He seemed so serious all of the sudden.

“What’s going on?”

She watched him kneel in front of her. So that’s why he’d been acting strangely, she realised.

“You know, you should have worn darker pants for this.” She told him. “The grass is going to leave stains on these…”

34

Larobb just laughed.

“Alyssa Leoni, you’re one of a kind. I’ve never met anyone like you, and I don’t ever want to. Your humour, your wisdom, your honesty… I consider myself a lucky guy to be able to be with you. But I’d be even luckier if we made it official. Will you marry me?”

“Get up and kiss me already!”

35

“That was a yes,” Alyssa whispered. And for once, she didn’t add a snarky remark and just stared in his eyes for a moment.

Larobb picked her up, gently swaying her from side to side.

“I hear this is what people do when they get engaged.” He explained.

36

“Oh really?” Alyssa seemed intrigued. “Now you have to carry me all the way home!”

“Hey, I didn’t agree to that!” Larobb protested.

“Darling, you poor fool!” Alyssa exclaimed. “You’re marrying me. You’ve agreed to everything!”

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.74 If the Streets Could Tell Stories

Vito took his eyes of the camera for a moment and examined the city below him without the lens. He smiled to himself. What started off as a casual activity to allow him to bond with Aslan had now become the most serious project he’d ever worked on.

Walking through the streets of Newcrest, taking photos of the buildings in them and discovering his ancestors through the legacy they left behind… it was like discovering new pieces of himself that he had no idea existed.

2

But it wasn’t just the buildings that have been around for generations that could tell stories. No, the more Vito engrossed himself in Newcrest, the more he realised the story was still playing out, every day. The streets of Newcrest told stories about his ancestors, yes, but there was so much they could tell about the present.

Stories of shared joy…

 

3

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5

And stories of sadness in solitude…

6

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8

Stories of newfound friendships…

9

10

And stories of old friendships that perhaps needed a bit of dusting to become as good as new again.

11

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13

But the one thing these stories had in common was that regardless of whether they had an audience or remained largely untold, they would continue evolving and moving forwards. As is the way with stories…

14

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31

Yes, so many stories that were happening in the very streets Vito lived in. He knew his camera had barely just scratched the surface. He couldn’t wait to share what he did manage to capture though. The most meaningful professional work he’d done, all to be revealed at the upcoming exhibition.

He felt a sense of pride. Not for being good-looking ad gifted, not for often having things work out his way. Not for being a Bloomer. Not for coming from generations of wealth who had many achievements. For his own achievements, which could now celebrate theirs. For being a part of it all.

It felt good.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.73 Unpacking

“Hi Sera, welcome back,” the host said over-eagerly. He eyed up the guy on her side with significantly less enthusiasm.

“Hey Max,” Sera greeted her one-time co-worker with a smile. “How’s things? Is the good table free?”

“For you? Of course it is!” He ushered them outside, gave Lorcan one last cold glare and disappeared back into the building.

2

“So…”

“So.”

The pair stared at each blankly other for a moment.

“Have you eaten in my dad’s restaurant before?” Sera took the initial plunge.

“No. I don’t usually eat out.” Lorcan replied curtly.

“It’s nice to treat yourself sometimes,” Sera wasn’t deterred. “Besides, I guess I’ve never viewed this place as being out, you know. It’s like an extension of my parents’ place.”

3

“Hm.” Lorcan nodded stiffly.

Sera examined his face. He seemed different. They’d never had forced conversations before. Lorcan would act peculiar on occasions, sure, but for the most part, their exchanges always felt natural. They once chatted through an entire night, for crying out loud. And now that it was their first official date, they were sitting here like two complete strangers.

Did Lorcan even want to be here? He was practically frowning…

He was probably nervous, Sera decided.

4

“I did tell you I used to work here as a teenager, didn’t I?” She tried again.

“Yes.” Lorcan cleared his throat. Sera waited for him to add something, but apparently that was all he had to say.

“I can’t really picture you as a teen,” She said desperately. “Well no, I can. You were probably all brooding and mysterious.” Sera smiled. “Though what do I know. You never really told me what you got up to as a teen.”

5

“There’s not much to talk about.” Lorcan muttered evasively.

“Don’t tell me we’re playing this game again.” Sera raised her voice. “You would have been a teenager for a fair few years, surely there must be something worth mentioning!”

“I lived in Oasis Springs.” Lorcan said finally. “In an orphanage. Not a particularly nice one, like Hallie’s. It was a miserable place, so I don’t really look back at it often. I just… came there when I was 14, and left at 18. That’s it.”

Sera’s throat felt dry. She cursed herself.

Lucikly, their food arrived at that moment, giving her extra time to figure out how to clean up this mess.

6

“Lorcan, I’m really sorry…”

“Don’t worry,” he interrupted. “We don’t have to talk about it.”

“Right.”

They ate their meal in silence. The waiter gave them a peculiar look when he cleared their dishes. He’d seen plenty awkward first dates at the restaurant, but this couple had him wondering if they even came here together voluntarily.

7

“Sera, please don’t feel bad.” This time it was Lorcan’s turn to break the silence. “It’s not a sensitive topic or anything. I just don’t bring it up because it makes people feel awkward. Like you just now. You always ask me why I don’t talk about myself much. Truth is most of the story isn’t exactly rosey.”

“I’ve gathered as much,” Sera sighed. “I didn’t mean to interrogate you. But you didn’t give me much of a choice. You’ve been acting off all evening…”

“Sorry.”

Sera sighed. “Maybe we should just go.”

8

They made their way out of the restaurant.

“I’ll walk you home,” Lorcan told her.

“Oh.” A look of surprise flashed on Sera’s face. “You want to?”

Lorcan frowned. “Did you expect me to just leave you in the middle of the street?”

“No. Of course not.” Sera almost laughed.

9

She slid her hand into his. Lorcan gave her a fleeting smile as they walked towards Newcrest. He didn’t let her hand go.

10

Perhaps tonight wasn’t that much of a disaster, Sera figured.

They reached her house before she knew it. Lorcan grabbed her other hand.

11

“Look, Sera, I’m sorry I’ve been crappy company tonight. I know this wasn’t what you’d hoped for.” He told her. “I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I was just… I got so nervous that I’d say something wrong and plum it all up I couldn’t really be myself. And plummed it all up.”

Sera let out a soft chuckle. “So you weren’t trying to deter me on purpose? I figured you got cold feet and were trying to push me away…”

“I was trying to avoid saying something that would push you away,” Lorcan smirked. “Clearly that worked out well.”

They laughed.

12

Elated, Sera leaned towards him. “Well, you know, we don’t have to end the evening here. Why don’t you come inside? There’s plenty of room for you to… spend the night.” She said seductively.

Lorcan immediately backed away from her.

13

“Why do you do this, Sera?” He wasn’t shouting, but he sounded angry.

“Do what?”

“You’ve told me about some of your… history with guys.” Lorcan said awkwardly. “Didn’t you say you originally give up dating because you were tired of getting taken advantage of? Why are you so desperately trying to fall back to the same cycle?”

14

“Because I didn’t think you’d take advantage of me,” Sera burst out angrily. “Or that you’d try to use the stuff I confided in you against me!”

“I’m not trying to use anything against you,” Lorcan pleaded. “I just see that your gut reaction is to fall back to that toxic pattern. We both know this was a terrible date, it makes no sense for you to try to push it there tonight. Sera, I care about you. You have so much more to offer than just woohoo. Let’s take it slow. Let’s do this right.”

15

“Were you even serious about wanting to be with me?” Sera asked him. “Or is this just an extended mentorship project? Are you just trying to fix me, like you trying to fix everyone else? So that you don’t have to think about you can conveniently avoid your own problems?”

Lorcan’s face twisted into an ugly grimace.

16

“I cannot believe you would say that after everything I told you in Granite Falls.” He clenched his fists. “Do you think I open up to people just like that?”

“I don’t know what to think anymore, Lorcan.” Sera took a step back. “I just know that you don’t really seem to want me!”

“You think I don’t want you?” He pulled her close to him abruptly.

17

“Lorcan no,” Sera pushed him away. “Whatever happened to doing this right?”

She placed her hands on her temples. “Wow. This whole evening… it couldn’t have gone worse, huh?”

18

“I told you, Sera. I’m no good at this stuff,” Lorcan shook his head. “I tried the only thing that’s been working for me in the past few years, I tried to be in control. But then I was like a robot. But when I let go… things explode. You saw it. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t think my own baggage helped there,” Sera said quietly. “I know you meant well. I do. I just… I don’t want to lose you, Lorcan.”

19

She pinned her gaze to the ground, not daring to look him in the eye. “Maybe we were wrong. Maybe we’re better off as friends. Things have been so good with us before we did this. We both decided to avoid dating for a reason.”

20

“So this is it?” Lorcan’s voice croaked.

“I don’t know,” Sera replied. “I just know tonight almost drove us apart. I know we said we’d take this risk, but… it’s not worth not having you in my life. You’re my best friend, Lorcan. I can’t lose you.”

“You won’t lose me.” He said quietly.

“So… do you think it’s for the best too?” Sera stalled.

“I guess so.”

“Ok.”

“Ok.”

21

“Well, I guess I better go.” Sera stepped from one foot to another uncomfortably.

“Sera…”

“Yeah?”

“See you at the retreat.”

“Right. See you there. Night, Lorcan.”

“Night.”

22

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.72 Normal

The kids gathered in the playroom, fidgeting on their stools impatiently. Hallie said she had big news for them that afternoon, and they’d all been excitedly exchanging theories all morning.

“So, are you guys ready?” Hallie kneeled down in front of them with a conspicuous smile, receiving eager nods and yes’s in return.

“I thought you might be.” She continued. “Well, I’d like you to meet someone special. As you know we’ve had one empty bed in the house for quite some time now after Sigrid’s adoption, so we’re ready to welcome someone new. I hope you show her how wonderful you all are – Emmeline, why don’t you come out now, sweetie?”

2

Oohs and aahs filled the room as the purple-skinned girl walked in.

“This is Emmeline,” Hallie introduced her. “She’s one of us now.  Make her feel welcome.”

“Cool!”

3

“Hi guys!” The girl’s lips curved into a grin. “I’m so excited to meet you all!”

“Are you from Sixam?”

“I thought all aliens were green!”

“Do you know Hope and Aslan’s grandma?”

“Now then, don’t overwhelm Emmeline guys,” Hallie reminded them. “She’s just like you. A child that needed a new home. Don’t forget now.”

4

“She’s cooler than any of us, though” Millicent proclaimed. “It’s so awesome!”

“Sigrid and I used to share a room, so that means you’re my new roommate Emmeline!” Marla beamed. “What do I call you for short?”

“I hope we get to be friends!” Donnie said shyly.

5

Nobody really noticed that Alexus was awfully quiet in all of the excitement. The girl watched as everyone started introducing themselves to the newcomer. Everyone seemed so happy to have an alien in the house. And Emmeline didn’t seem to try to hide what she was.

Alexus was confused. What did any of this mean? And did Emmeline somehow know her secret? The alien girl caught her looking at her, causing Alexus to jump.

6

Alexus couldn’t take it. She snuck out and ran all the way to the playground, climbing onto the monkey bars.

Maybe she should just stay here for good. Run away. These last few months… Everything she’d ever known seemed wrong. Alexus couldn’t make sense of any of it.

When they first found her in the streets of Willow Creek as an odd-skinned and bud-eyed baby, they took her to hiding. But to her carer’s relief, the child developed the ability to morph and take on disguises as she got older. Stick to one, they told her. Pretend to be normal. If you do it well enough, maybe one day you can join normal children.

7

She was elated when she was finally deemed convincing enough to be sent to live in the Newcrest orphanage with other children. She’d act as kind as she could possibly imagine, to make sure she’d fit in. And she did. She made friends. Was one of them. Or so they thought. And that was good enough, wasn’t it?

But then the girls was forced to question everything. It started with little things, like Donnie asking about aliens. The first real blow was Snowflake Day, when they all met those aliens. But they were old ladies. They’d lived here for a long time, and they were Bloomers at that. Not like her, a true outsider. Or so Alexus thought.

But now….

The girl suddenly noticed she was watched.

8

“Hey! What are you doing here? Are you stalking me? Go away!” She yelled over her shoulder. Aslan Leoni and his mean remarks about silly girls and cooties was the last thing she needed now.

“This park is for everyone!” Aslan told her. “Besides, dad said that when I grow up all of Newcrest will be mine. Well… and Hope’s I guess. But anyway, that means I can definitely be here!”

9

“Well, if you own it all why don’t you find any other monkey bars?” Alexus frowned. “Why do you have to come taunt me?”

“I don’t want to tease you. I wanted to tell you something important,” Aslan informed her. “I know!”

“You know what?”

“I know your secret. Because I saw you glow, on Snowflake Day.”

10

Alexus almost fell off the monkey bars. This was bad. Really bad. With this and Emmeline, what was left for her to do?

Of course, she could try to alter his memory. But none of that seemed right. The most Alexus had used her powers for in the past were instances like reading Camden’s mind when him and Marla hid Donnie’s helicopter to find out where it was, or to make Millicent zip up when she was about to deliver yet another self-important speech. But Alexus had quickly learned that most situations like that could be dealt with the regular way too. By talking to them.

Perhaps she should do that now too.

“Follow me,” she told Aslan as she jumped down to the ground.

11

She led him to a more secluded part of the park, out of most people’s sight.

“So… what do you think you know?” She asked the boy.

“Well, I saw you turn pink on Snowflake Day. Kind of like one of those plumbob-shaped lamps.” Aslan explained. “Most people can’t do that.”

“Do you think I’m a lamp?” Alexus stalled.

“No, duh!” Aslan rolled his eyes. “Hope and Donnell told me that grandma told them that aliens glow. When they think something strong, I guess. So, that means you must be an alien.”

12

A million frantic thoughts entered the girl’s mind. First things first.

“Did you tell them?”

“Who? Hope and Donnell? No.” Aslan shook his head.

“Why not?”

“You haven’t told them either,” the boy shrugged. “You must have had a reason. So, you are an alien, right? Why keep it a secret? And how does the glowing thing work? Why aren’t you glowing now?”

13

Probably because I’m feeling a million things at once, Alexus thought. Naturally, she didn’t tell him that.

“Because I’m not a lamp!” She said instead. “You said it yourself. Aliens don’t just glow all the time. Only when they feel something strong.”

“Like what?” Aslan was curious. “On Snowflake Day, you started glowing pink when I sat down next to you. What does that mean? Is it because you like the colour? Because you wear pink clothes?”

This was getting even worse, Alexus cringed. “What, you found out my secret and now you want to know all of my thoughts too?” She hissed.

14

“Well, you can read my thoughts, can’t you?” The boy asked. “Or can’t you?”

“I could. But I don’t. Cause they’re your thoughts.”

“That seems fair.” Aslan nodded. “It’s the same with your secret. That’s why I haven’t told anyone. It’s your secret. Not mine.”

The girls relaxed a little. “Ok. Thanks Aslan.”

“No problem.” Aslan hesitated for a moment. “So… what do you look like?”

“Why do you wanna know?”

“I’m curious! I mean, the reason you wear the disguise is so that nobody knows you’re an alien, right? But I know, so… I should be able to see you.”

“That makes no sense.” Alexus shook her head. The boy’s face fell. She sighed. “Fine. I guess you can see.”

She twirled around, revealing her true form.

15

“Woah!”

“Woah what?” Alexus asked nervously. It was the first time anyone in Newcrest could see the real her, after all.

“You look awesome! You’re blue! I thought all aliens were green!” Aslan brought Alexus straight to the earlier encounter with Emmeline. His reaction was so similar to the other kids’ reactions to the new girl… but it couldn’t feel more different.

“Aliens come in all sorts of colours.” Alexus explained. “I saw a purple one just earlier today.”

“What?”

“Never mind.” He’d find out about Emmeline soon enough, Alexus figured.

“Well, I like the blue the best.” Aslan shrugged. “It’s my favourite colour.”

16

Alexus beamed. “It is?”

“Yeah! I wish I could be blue… Wait, so can you make your disguise look like anything you want?” Aslan was getting excited.

“I can.” The girl muttered modestly.

“Wow! You should change it all the time! You could give yourself blue hair! Or pink. Since you like pink, right?”

Alexus giggled. “I do like pink. But you know, if I changed my disguise, people would notice I’m not normal. And that defeats the whole point.”

17

“I dunno. Why would you want to be just normal? You’re super cool! And blue!” Aslan enthused.

Alexus couldn’t remember the last time she felt this happy. She definitely never experienced such freedom, with or without her disguise.

“Thanks Aslan,” she smiled. “I was wrong about you, you know. You’re actually pretty nice. For a boy.” She added quickly.

18

“Hm.” It seemed something occurred to Aslan. “Do alien girls have cooties?”

“Cooties aren’t real, Aslan!”

“Neither are aliens, right?” Aslan shrugged with a smirk.

Alexus just winked and changed back into her human disguise.

“Hey Aslan… you’ll really keep the secret, right? No matter what?” She asked.

19

“I already said I would.” Aslan said impatiently. “I’m not a liar. Promise. Besides, I kept your secret waay before you asked me to.”

“True.” Alexus nodded. “Friends?”

“Yeah!” Aslan grinned. “Friends.”

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.71 Rage

Lorcan opened his eyes. All he could feel was rage. He was mad at the world and every single person in it. He wanted to kick the wooden panel wall next him, or tear the painting on it and smash it.

The painting. The wood. Where was he again? For a moment, he struggled to remember. And then his mind finally started to wake up.

2

Granite Falls. The cabins by the lake. His yearly spring getaway.

Cleansing.

Rebirth.

3

What a pile of garbage, he thought. Rebirth? He could barely get up.

He stared at the ridiculous painting in front of him for a while. Ok. Just do it.

4

The angry punk in the mirror greeted him in the bathroom. Lorcan couldn’t even count the times he’d taken a swing at his own reflection in the past. These days, he was able to limit himself to a disdainful glare.

5

Come on, you’ve done this a million times, he reminded himself. Just calm down. It should be getting easier. Every morning is the same.

He closed his eyes, taking a few deep breaths. When he opened them, the view of the lake outside was the first thing he saw.

6

He slid the window open and stepped over the meditation stool.

He could smell the woods. Hear the birds. He was suddenly very aware of the life pumping through his veins. His anger was starting to subside.

Taking a step back, he carefully sat down onto the stool.

7

For a while, he would keep his eyes open. Taking in the world around him with all of his senses. Nothing else mattered, it was just the nature and him.

And then they were one. He closed his eyes, melting into the world around him. There was nothing separating him from the tree on his side, the beetle at his feet, the seagull in the sky… They were all connected through a ray of energy.

And the people in the world, the ones he hated just a moment ago… how could he go on hating them? They were all one and the same too. They all came from the same place, and would one day all return, merging into the single stream of energy they truly were.

8

Of course he’d been angry. He’d been ripped apart from the perfect stream. They were all angry in their way, because they could feel they weren’t whole. But now that he reminded himself he was still a part of it all, he was calm again.

9

He was finally ready to face the day. Grabbing a bowl of cereal, he headed outside to eat his breakfast on the deck overlooking the water.

10

“Morning, Lorcan!” The most beautiful voice he knew called out to him from the neighbouring cabin.

She waved at him from the distance.

11

“This place is amazing,” she said gleefully. “And the water’s so clear! Makes you want to jump right in…”

She tossed her robe aside with a playful giggle.

12

Sera. She was perfect. Inside and out.

If he hadn’t been there all along, it would be hard to believe her transformation. When he first met her, she seemed almost as broken as he was. It was hard to believe the same person would build a meditation centre to help others and become this radiant woman in front of him. But she did.

He’d never deserve her.

13

“Cannonball!” Sera leapt from the table she used as a platform, landing in the water with a massive splash.

She emerged on the surface, laughing uncontrollably. “That was awesome! I bet you do this all the time when you come here, Lorcan!”

“Not really,” he smiled. “I do swim of course. But I’ve usually gone for more… conventional access points.”

14

“What?” She swam towards him, looking surprised. “But the way the cabins are set up around the lake practically begs for you to dive right in… You’ve got to join me! It’s life-changing!”

15

Lorcan couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, if it’s life-changing I guess I can’t miss out.”

“Exactly! In the interest of the whole rebirth thing!”

He shook his head and dove in after Sera.

16

“Tell me you don’t feel like a whole new person now?” Sera swam towards him happily. She noticed him grow tense when she approached. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah. Of course,” Lorcan replied quickly. “New person.”

17

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to change your ritual.” Sera became more serious. “I know this is your thing, coming here in the spring. I… I hope I’m not ruining it.”

“It’s not like I have a decree saying all life in Granite Falls must stop because I’m here,” Lorcan joked. “Just because I do things a little differently when I come here on my own doesn’t mean this is a bad thing. I invited you along, remember?”

18

“True… but do you regret it yet? I wouldn’t want to be invading.” Sera hesitated.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Lorcan reassured her. “I mean it. Besides, I’d miss out on the life-changing dive, wouldn’t I?” He smiled softly.

19

“So, what would you typically do for the rest of the day?” Sera asked.

“It really isn’t as precise as you make it sound.” Lorcan insisted. “I do swim… hike, meditate, do yoga… basically, whatever feels right. Just like you. There are a few nice hiking trails that I usually try to hit, but there’s not really a method.”

“I guess that’s the plan for the day then,” Sera said brightly.

“Hiking?”

“If you’re up for it? You can show me one of your trails.”

“That sounds good,” Lorcan agreed.

Sera grinned conspicuously. “But first… prepare for a tsunami!” She started splashing around her wildly.

“Don’t you think I won’t retaliate!” Lorcan responded with launching his own splashing offensive.

“Aah!”

20

***

21

Sera raced to the viewing platform, looking almost as if she wanted to hug the mountains surrounding her.

“Look at this view!” She exclaimed. “It really is perfect, isn’t it?”

22

Lorcan’s gaze didn’t leave Sera. “It really is.” He agreed.

“I definitely understand why you like to come here,” Sera continued enthusiastically. She turned around.

23

“Hey Lorcan, thanks again.”

“What for?” He was confused.

“For sharing it with me. It means a lot.”

24

Before he could say anything in response, Sera wrapped him in a hug.

“I… well, like I said earlier, I am glad you’re here.” Lorcan stumbled over his words.

25

He briefly gave in to the moment and just enjoyed her closeness. But he couldn’t allow it to last too long.

“So, I was thinking this would be a perfect spot for some yoga in the sunset?” He suggested as he drew away.

“Sure!”

26

Why did he always do that when they got too close, Sera pondered. She was struggling to focus on the yoga routine. Meanwhile, Lorcan was executing every move with complete precision, of course.

Maybe that was it. Maybe he thought she’d ruin his perfect composure. But Sera knew she wasn’t crazy. She knew she wasn’t the only one that felt something…

27

Perhaps there was a time when she was content just being around him, but it seemed silly to continue ignoring it.

“That’s another reason I like it here,” Lorcan said, oblivious to Sera’s internal fight. “You can really see the stars here. It’s not hard to picture…”

“Ok, this is enough!”

28

She jumped up to her feet.

“What’s going on?” Lorcan followed in her footsteps, looking confused.

“How long are we going to keep going like this?” Sera asked.

“Wha-“

Sera didn’t wait for his answer.

29

He didn’t push her away, perhaps because she didn’t give him a chance to. She only kissed him briefly, not allowing the exhilaration and the butterflies to get into her head too much. She forced herself to part her lips from his again.

30

“Now tell me that you didn’t feel anything!” She yelled at him angrily. “There’s been something there from the moment we met, I can feel it now and I’ve felt it every day I see you at the mediation resort. It’s been a year! A year we’ve been trying to pretend this isn’t real! Well, I’m tired of pretending. If I’m imagining things, if you really don’t want to be with me, then look at me and say it!”

31

“Sera…” Lorcan reached towards her arm, as if to try to console her. “You’re not imagining things. Let’s sit, ok?”

They walked over to the bench overlooking the lake in eerie silence.

32

“It’s not that I don’t want to be with you,” Lorcan explained. “Relationships, they bring out the worst in me. There’s a lot of anger inside me, always has been as long as I can remember. I’ve learned to control it as best as I can, but I can’t subject another person to it. Especially not you.”

Sera looked him up and down. “Anger? You? You’re the most composed person I know. I’m the one who was screaming just a second ago.”

“It’s an illusion,” Lorcan shrugged. “If I seem composed, it’s probably because I only allow myself to operate within really strict rules to hold it together. Every day I wake up and I see red. I’ve learned to control it, through a careful routine, but there’s got to be boundaries. Don’t get involved, don’t get too deep. Not for my sake. For yours.”

33

“Bullplum.” Sera hissed. “It sounds to me like you’re just making up obstacles in your own head.”

“It’s not in my head, Sera,” Lorcan replied. “I have had relationships, and they were disastrous. I don’t like the person I become…”

“My relationship record is pretty appalling too,” she shrugged. “Does that mean that should dictate what happens with us?”

“It’s not just about a poor relationship record!” Lorcan’s already deep voice suddenly became solemn.

34

Sera never heard him sound like that. “Do you know why I have those scars on my face, Sera? I got in a massive fight in a bar, and the guy threw me through a window.”

Lorcan, in a pub brawl? Sera couldn’t picture it.

“I’m sorry. I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”

“It was, that’s exactly the point,” Lorcan shook his head. “I provoked him. I chewed him out, for no reason. I didn’t even know him. I was just angry at everyone, and couldn’t control it. I was asking for it. I’ve had a lot of moments like that Sera. When I lost control. Most of them didn’t leave a mark. But after this happened, when I was in the hospital… I realised I needed to change things. “

Lorcan paused, looking into the horizon.

35

“That’s when I came here. I spent a month here just on my own. Discovered yoga and meditation. And it dawned on me that if I really want to stay in control, I can’t let people in. That I could try to help other people at loose ends some clarity too, through meditation, but no relationships. No getting too close.”

Sera didn’t say anything. It was the story he’d told her at the cemetery that night, on the Day of the Dead, about finding himself in Granite Falls, except this time, she got the full version.

“And then the most amazing thing happened,” Lorcan continued. “I started to make a difference to other people’s lives. By being a distant mentor. They didn’t just learn to control themselves through meditation like I did, it changed them. They found happiness. And I found my calling. I’m not meant to get involved. I’m meant to help.”

36

“No!” Sera burst out. She was shaking.

“You’ve convinced yourself that you can’t be happy, and that you’re acting all noble! For others sake. For my sake. But it’s not true! I need you, and not as a flipping distant mentor! You think you’re restricting yourself, but you’re restricting me too. And you might think your rage is bad, but if you don’t change your stupid rules to give us a chance, you’ll have my rage to deal with!”

37

She did not expect him to smile in response.

“Sera, all of my rules already have gone out of the window with you.” He told her. “Spending all this time with you, becoming your friend, taking you here, heck, even telling you all the things I’ve just said… it’s the exact opposite of not letting people in.”

“So… what are you saying?”

38

Lorcan reached for her hand cautiously.

“I’m saying that I just want what’s best for you. And that that probably isn’t me. And that I’m terrified. But… none of that means that I’m not giving us a chance.”

39

Sera squeezed his hand, wrapping it in his.

“Then we won’t have a problem.” She smiled.

Note: The beautiful cabins Sera and Lorcan are staying in were built by Simproved.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.70 Good Name

Vito felt giddy but nervous when he entered Alyssa’s house. He’d been thinking about it ever since Snowflake Day, but before he needed her blessing before he could do much. He took a deep breath.

2

“Oh, hey,” Alyssa looked up. “Aslan’s not here, Larobb took him to Hallie’s to spend some time with the orphans.”

“They’ve been hanging out a lot recently, huh?”

“Ugh, are you gonna interrogate me about how I can trust Larobb around his ex too?” Alyssa rolled her eyes.

“No, I actually meant Aslan and Hallie’s lot. He’s been going over there a lot.”

“Oh.” Alyssa drew back. “Sorry, I guess I’m getting annoyed by default. Everybody seems to be making my relationship their business these days.”

3

“Been there,” Vito smiled. “And for the record, I think it’s great that you trust Larobb that much. Not to mention you’ve got nothing to worry about with Hallie.”

“Well, if I couldn’t trust Larobb then what’s the point of being with him?” Alyssa shrugged. “Anyway, what’s with you trying to butter me up?”

Here goes nothing, Vito thought.

4

“So, I’ve had this chat with my dad recently, about how a part of him wishes he could have passed on his last name to me and my sisters…”

“Touching.” Alyssa sounded disinterested. “Get to the point.”

“I’d like for Aslan to have my last name.” Vito said finally. “I mean, we could hyphenate it with yours if you want. And I’ll understand if you don’t want him to. But… he is a Newcrest heir. It would make sense for him to be a Bloomer, if you…”

“I agree.” Alyssa interrupted.

“You do?”

5

“I wasn’t born yesterday,” Alyssa explained. “The Bloomers run the show in Newcrest. Aslan Leoni won’t get anywhere. But Aslan Bloomer… well, all the doors will be open for him. Why wouldn’t I want him to get a jump start in life?”

“It’s not like being a Bloomer automatically makes your life easy,” Vito protested.

“Oh please!” Alyssa smirked dismissively. “But let’s say I’ll play along and pretend the little bubble you live in is real. Having your last name definitely wouldn’t hurt Aslan in the slightest.”

“So… you’re ok with it?” He asked cautiously.

“I am.” She nodded. “You just need to see what Aslan wants. It’s his name, after all. Should be his call.”

6

Vito knew better than to question Alyssa leaving such a big decision up to a child. She was far from conventional, after all. He was simply overjoyed she’d okayed this to begin with. Surely the rest would be simple…

***

7

Donnell snuck into the boys’ room, looking around briefly before bursting into tears. Luckily for him, no one else was around. He crawled into his bed, hiding under the sheets.

It didn’t take Hallie long to hear the sobs and identifying where they were coming from.

8

“Donnie? What’s wrong?” She asked gently.

The boy peeked from under the duvet.

“It’s nothing, really…”

Hallie sat down beside him, concerned. “Doesn’t seem like nothing.”

9

“I should be happy.” The boy shook his head. “For Sigrid. It’s great for her that she got adopted…”

“Is that what this is about? Do you miss Sigrid?”

“No, well, yeah, but… I just… I don’t think anyone will ever adopt me.” Donnell admitted.

10

“Oh Donnie, I wouldn’t worry about that for one second.” Hallie told him. “You’re a joy to have around!”

“You think?”

“Of course I do. You’re smart, compassionate, kind, and you draw some awesome pictures.” She said encouragingly.

The boy smiled ever so slightly. “But still… what if I never get adopted?”

11

“Then you’ll always have a home here. And always have me as a friend.” Hallie reassured him.

“Really?”

“Sure thing.” Hallie nodded. “You know, Donnie, I lost my parents when I was about your age. My older sister’s family took me in, though I barely knew them. I never got adopted by them, because it didn’t feel right, but they gave me a home. And love. And friendship. Happiness can have many different shapes. So on the off chance you never get adopted, I’m still here for you, as long as you need me. Does that sound so bad?”

12

“No, it doesn’t” Donnie replied. “That doesn’t sound bad at all.”

Hallie beamed, relieved. “Now come here you little munchkin! How about a big hug to chase that gloominess away?”

13

***

14

“That’s a cool shot, dad! Though I don’t know if I like the creepy tree in it.” Aslan examined the photo on Vito’s camera.

“See, I like the creepy tree,” Vito smiled.

“But it’s so old!”

15

“Exactly,” Vito said to his son. “It’s been here as long as I can remember. When I was just a little boy. And probably long before that.”

“Like, when grandpa was little?”

“Yeah. I think it was probably here all the way back when your great-great-great… uh, I don’t even know how many greats the grandpa who first found Newcrest would have. But it would have been a long long time ago. And he started it all. Started building Newcrest for us. With this tree in it.”

16

“I guess that’s kinda cool.” Aslan shrugged.

Vito decided this was the best opportunity he was going to get.

“So you know how our family has been building up Newcrest for all these years? One day, it will be yours. And then you can build something really neat.”

17

“Like what?”

“Whatever you like.”

“Cool!”

“Exactly!” Vito nodded enthusiastically. “But, you see, up to now, all Newcrest heirs have been called Bloomer. And it would mean a lot to me if you could have that name too. It’s an important name, you see. That great-great-grandpa, he had it to. And now I do. So I would like to pass it on to you. Would you like that?”

18

“Me? I’m Aslan Leoni!” Aslan said immediately.

“Yes, but…”

“I like my name.” The boy didn’t budge. “Hope said it during Snowflake Day! Names don’t matter. She’s a Forrester, and she’s a Newcrest heir too! Why should I have to change my name?”

19

“Well, you don’t have to,” Vito replied slowly. “Hope has her dad’s name. And I thought it would be nice for you to have your dad’s name. But Leoni is a good name, of course.”

“It is a good name. Makes me sound like a lion.” Aslan grinned.

“True.” Vito tried to hide his disappointment.

20

“Are you sad?” The boy noticed something wasn’t right. “It’s not that I don’t like your name. Or that I don’t like you. Cause I do. I used to think I didn’t need a dad. And with any other dad, I probably wouldn’t. But I got you. And… well, you’re the best dad. Don’t tell anyone I said that, ok?”

Vito wasn’t sure what to say. While Aslan refused his last name, this was more of an expression of love than he’d ever had from the boy.

“I can keep a secret,” he told his son finally.

Aslan seemed torn for a moment.

“Dad? There’s this other secret I need to tell someone. But promise you definitely won’t tell anybody, ok?”

“I promise.”

21

Vito leaned down to hear Aslan’s whispering.

“It’s Alexus… she has a secret that she doesn’t want anyone to know. I can’t tell you what it is, but I’ve found out by accidnet, and I don’t know what to do with it.”

That was unexpected. Vito had hoped it would be a couple more years till Aslan started to have problems related to girls.

22

“Well, I think you should talk to her about it,” he gave it his best shot. “It’s her secret, not yours, so it wouldn’t be right to tell anyone. But if you tell her you know, maybe she’ll stop hiding it from others. And in any case, it might be good for her to share it with someone.”

“You’re right.” Aslan nodded. “I hope she does tell people. It’s pretty cool, actually. Thanks dad!”

Something was telling Vito this wasn’t the last he’d heard of these newfound girl troubles. He kissed Aslan’s cheek, knowing that his son’s innocence wouldn’t last much longer. Hopefully he’d stay this little sweet boy for just a little bit…

23

“Eww, dad, gross!”

Vito laughed. It seemed that the teen struggles were not far off…

24

But why think about that now?