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?

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.69 Reignited

A broad smile spread across Hallie’s face. Finally, after all these months, the documentation had been processed. The first adoption from her orphanage was about to take place. She’d made a difference.

She turned around, looking outside of the window. Having her office windows overlook the children’s playground was originally just for convenience, but today, as she watched them play on the monkey bars, he view had gained a special significance.

2

Sigrid had no idea how her life would change in the months to come. A kind new family was about to welcome her with open arms. She’d have a new home. A new life. But right now, the girl wasn’t even slightly aware of any of it. And still, she seemed content.

If that wasn’t going to give Hallie the reassurance she needed, nothing was. She’d done well. She smiled, deciding to head outside to join the kids.

3

Hallie wasn’t the only one watching the children play from the distance. Ever since meeting the orphans during the Snowflake Day festivities, both Hope and Aslan started to spend time at the orphanage. Hope dove straight in to playing with all of the new friends they’d met. She couldn’t quite understand why her cousin kept his distance.

Aslan, in the meantime, observed. Observed Alexus, that was. He just couldn’t make any sense of it. Watching her play horseshoes with Donnie, she seemed like any other kid he’d met. But he knew that wasn’t quite true. Should he approach her directly? See if she somehow blows her disguise? The boy was at loose ends.

4

“Hey Aslan,” the girl waved at him with a smile.

Plummity plums, Aslan thought, jumping back. Had she read his mind? He knew from aunt Peyton that aliens were capable of that. Was Alexus really as friendly as she’d like everyone to believe, or was she just playing a game and seeing right through him?

5

He wasn’t going to risk it.

“Mind your business, silly girl!” Aslan panicked. “Like I’d talk to you! You’re way less important than me, and you have cooties on top of that!”

Alexus frowned. Aslan wasn’t sure if she was onto him or if she’d bought the distraction. She couldn’t know he was interested in her, right? Who knew what aliens in disguise could do?

“Suit yourself, kerbal!” Alexus said angrily, storming off towards the monkey bars.

6

Their confrontation was over by the time Hallie’d gotten to the garden. All she’d come to was a bunch of children playing horseshoes peacefully, though she did notice Alexus sat way aside from the others. Than again, that didn’t surprise her. The girl liked to seek company.

7

She took in the view, feeling content. The days when she’d been lost seemed so far gone. Today and every day, these kids mattered. Her life mattered. What could be better?

It took her a while to notice the man reluctantly making his way towards her.

8

“Oh. Um… hi.” She stuttered over her words at the sight of Larobb. She’d heard about him from time to time over the years, of course, but they’d never really spoken to each other since that awful night back in high school.

From what Vito had said though, it seemed like Larobb was doing well for himself. That he was happy. And Hallie was pleased about that. Though there was a strange part of her that had a hard time accepting her once-upon-a-time best friend was no happy with his life, without her in it.

And now he was stood right in front of her. She wasn’t quite sure what to say.

9

“Hey Hallie,” Larobb said, sounding equally awkward. “I haven’t had a chance to tell you how, uh, neat this little orphanage thing is…”

“Thanks,” she forced a little smile. Then it dawned on her. “Are you here to pick up Aslan? He’s staying at his mom’s tonight, right?”

“Yeah.” Larobb confirmed. “But it’s not like Alyssa had to pick him up, you know. I wanted to do it.”

“That’s nice,” Hallie replied stiffly. “I’m sure she appreciates the help.”

Larobb took a deep breath. “That’s not what I meant, Hallie…”

10

“Look, there’s no good way to put this, but I really wanted you to know that I’m happy for you.” He explained. “That you’ve found what you’re looking for. I still don’t quite get it, really. But that doesn’t matter. Believe it or not, even after all these years, you’re the best friend I’d ever had. So I’m really glad that you’ve gotten what you’ve been wanting. That you’re happy. Even without me. Wow. Ok, this is embarrassing. I’ll go find Aslan…”

11

“Larobb, wait,” Hallie interrupted him. “Thank you for that. I mean it. I really do. And I feel the same way. For you.”

Larobb’s face was hard to read. “You do? I… I don’t really know what to say.”

“Should we sit down?” Hallie gestured towards the camp fire seating area.

12

“So… let me get this straight,” Hallie started. “You came over here because of me.”

“Well, yeah,” He agreed hesitantly. “Having a legit reason like having to pick up Aslan did help me drag my plum here, but… pretty much. I’ve missed you, Halls. Things got really weird between us, but when I remember the times before, that’s not what I remember. I just remember my pal that always had my back. Us being the only two sane people in Magnolia High…”

He almost laughed.

“Those were the days,” Hallie smiled. The fee-good memory didn’t last long though. “But… with everything that happened. I mean, does Alyssa know all this? How would she feel about this chat we’re having right now, given our history?”

13

Surprisingly, Larobb’s face actually lit up at the mention of his girlfriend.

“Believe it or not, Alyssa was actually the one who suggested I talk to you?”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense!”

“Clearly you don’t know her…”

***

14

They’d been going out for a while now, but Alyssa always found a way to surprise him. Larobb had never met anyone like her. It was the first time he’d ever felt quite as serious about a relationship.

“Babe, I was wondering… what if I moved in?” He blurted out one night.

“You what?” Alyssa broke off from the kiss.

15

“Well, it seemed like the next natural step. We’ve hardly started dating yesterday. I’m here most of the time anyway. Aslan likes me. And I’m pretty sure you do, too.” Larobb attempted a joke.

16

“Right… Don’t take this the wrong way, Larobb, but I kind of find it hard to plan for the future with you,” she confessed. “You’re an amazing guy, it’s just… I’ve known you since we were teenagers. It’s not exactly a secret that you’d drop everything if she suddenly changed her mind about things…”

17

Larobb let out a soft laugh. “What? You can’t be serious! That was ages ago. I’m way past that. I’m with you. And I want you. Only you, Alyssa. No other girls matter. Don’t you know that?”

“How can you even be so sure?” She asked. “You haven’t talked to Hallie in years!”

“Exactly! She’s not even in my life. So why are you worried about her?”

18

“Because she’s the one that got away.” Alyssa replied pragmatically. “Everybody and their cow plant knew you were in love with that girl. And right now, you’re not talking. That doesn’t sound like something that’s resolved to me. It’s a land mine waiting to be stepped on. Her orphanage is right across the street. And with Aslan spending more and more time there every day these days…”

She paused for a moment.

“What I’m trying to say that if you still are hung up on her, I’d rather find out sooner rather than later. So that neither of us wastes time. I mean, look me in the eye and tell me you don’t miss her.”

19

Larobb hesitated.

“See?”

“You’re right,” he agreed. “But only partially. I do miss her. As a friend. She was my bro. I never quite had that same thing with any other friend. But I’m not in love with her anymore. I’m in love with you.”

20

Alyssa tried her best not to get flustered by his proclamation. They had both been careful not to use the L-word with each other, until now.

“Then you should just go talk to her,” she said firmly. “I know you think you’re being honest, but it’s hard to believe you don’t have any hidden feelings there anymore. But in any case, it sounds like the answer is revisiting the past. If you’re still living in it, it’s better for both of us to know. But if you mean it, that you’re really over it, and only want her to be your friend… well, then maybe you and I can really have something.”

21

Larobb pulled her closer to him. “You’re quite the lady, you know that?”

“Of course I do.” She smirked. “Do you?”

He just laughed. “Well you should know you have nothing to worry about.”

 

22

***

23

“So there you have it,” Larobb concluded. “Not only Alyssa knows why I’m here, she instigated it.”

Hallie chuckled. “Sounds like she’s testing you.”

“Yeah. And I do want to prove that she’s who I want to be with. But that doesn’t discount anything, Halls,” Larobb added quickly. “I’m not here to tick a box. She has a point. If we both miss being friends, there’s no need to avoid each other anymore, right? Because we can just be. Isn’t that what you said, back then?”

24

Hallie looked at him, wondering what it must have taken for him to become this whole new person.

“Yeah. I did want that,” she nodded. “I still do.”

25

Neither of them said anything else, but they were both beaming. Hallie noticed the sun had set while they were talking, she lit a match, starting the camp fire to warm them up in the winter night.

26

And then it dawned on her.

27

Years ago, their friendship ended by a fire pit. Dying fire, dying relationship… She thought he was gone for good. That they’d never speak again. And for the longest time, it seemed that would be the case.

28

But looking at the newborn flames right beneath her feet, it appeared that perhaps, nothing was ever gone forever.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.68 Circle

“Today’s session was fantastic, Lorcan!” The woman purred. “I feel like it really relieved my tension.”

“Glad to hear that,” Lorcan said politely. “The next class I have planned will be quite similar, so you might want to join us, um…”

“Destiny,” The woman smiled flirtatiously. “The name is Destiny. And I’ll definitely make sure to come along for the next class. I do like a good workout, especially when it involves stretching.” She winked.

2

“Right.” Lorcan shifted uncomfortably. “That’s nice. I’ll see you next time.”

“You will!”

Lorcan couldn’t get away fast enough.

3

Destiny didn’t seem quite done with him, pondering her next move, but as soon as Lorcan escaped the exchange, it left his mind completely.

He smiled to himself, watching Sera finishing up her routine.

“The class is over,” he said to her gently. “Are you trying to score brownie points with the instructor? You do remember that’s just me, right?” He joked.

4

Sera turned around with a grin. “Well, the instructor seemed pretty busy with all of admirers.” She giggled. “It’s no secret all the ladies come here for you.”

Lorcan laughed it off, shaking his head. “It’s good to see you, Sera. Did you have a nice Snowflake Day with your family?”

“I did, thanks,” she replied. “We should catch up! You wanna go for a walk around the grounds?”

“Sure, sounds good.” He smiled.

“Let me grab my coat!”

5

“How was the big Bloomer gathering then?”

“Crazy. Manic. Crowded.” Sera laughed. “It was really great, actually. We don’t all get together as a family enough. And all the little kids were too adorable, even though they’re a handful…”

“Hallie brought all the orphans along, didn’t she?” Lorcan asked. “That must have been nice for them.”

“I hope they had a good time,” Sera nodded. “It was too hard to keep track of everyone! I don’t know how Hallie does it… Anyway, how was your Snowflake Day? I missed you over the break.” She blurted out before she could stop herself.

6

“I missed you too.” He agreed.

Sera’s heart skipped a beat. “You did?”

“Of course.” Lorcan seemed to feel he’d covered all on that subject matter. “But you haven’t really told me all that much about your family’s festivities…”

7

Sera stopped in her tracks.

“You’re doing it again!”

Lorcan looked at her, confused. “Doing what?”

“Changing the subject! You haven’t said a single thing about your holiday!” Sera pointed out. “You really don’t like talking about yourself, do you?”

8

“There’s not really that much to say.” Lorcan shrugged. “I didn’t do anything special.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Sera objected. “Didn’t you see your family?”

“I don’t exactly have a family.” Lorcan said hesitantly. “Don’t look at me like that, Sera…”

9

“And here I go yapping about my family,” Sera scolded herself. “I’m sorry! I can’t believe you were alone on Snowflake Day! You should have said something… you could have joined us! With so many extended family members, one person wouldn’t have made a difference…”

“It’s alright, really.” Lorcan shook his head. “I’ve never really celebrated Snowflake Day. Yours sounds lovely, of course. But don’t feel bad for me. It’s not a big deal.”

“I still wish you’d said something.” Sera insisted. “Nobody should be alone that time of the year.”

“Don’t worry, it was just another day to me. You know what I do celebrate?” Lorcan asked, trying to make her feel better.

“What?”

10

“The new year. Rebirth. Circle of nature. Every year, in the spring, I like to go to Granite Falls, just when everything in the wild starts to wake up after the long winter slumber. It feels cleansing. Like a fresh start.”

“But… you go alone?”

“Nothing wrong with that. I enjoy solitude. Gives you space to think.”

“Right.” Sera muttered. She was invading his personal space, wasn’t she? “Well I guess I’ll… head back in.”

“Oh.” Lorcan seemed to contemplate something for a moment. “Seraphina… Would you like to come with me? To Granite Falls?”

11

That took a turn, Sera thought. “You want me to go with you?”

“I do.” He didn’t sound too sure. Sera wondered who he was trying to persuade, was it her or was it himself?

“Listen, Lorcan, I didn’t mean to force my way in.” She told him. “I remember how you talked about Granite Falls back when we were at the cemetery on Day of the Dead. How the first time you went there gave you a whole new outlook on the world. Obviously this is something very personal to you.”

“It is,” he agreed. “That’s why I’d like to share it with you.”

This was not what Seraphina was expecting. “I’m honoured.” She managed. “Right. I’ll, uh, go check if everything is ok in the sauna.”

She dashed off. She needed a moment to compose herself.

12

Lorcan didn’t move for a while. She was coming with him. Was it a mistake? It probably was. It definitely was. But… a hopeful smile found its way to Lorcan’s face regardless.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.67 Father to Son

Alexus was drumming with her fingers distractedly when Hope found her in front of the restaurant.

“There you are!” She smiled broadly. “We were worried about you.”

The girl looked up. “I’m fine! Now go away!”

2

“I can’t do that!” Hope objected. “It’s cold out here. And it’s Snowflake Day! Nobody should be alone!”

“I don’t mind, really.” Alexus was a little taken aback. “I wanted to be alone, remember?”

“Yeah, because you go scared.”

“How… how did you know?” Alexus looked alarmed.

“Well, you got all worried when Donnie started talking about aliens… But don’t worry, aliens won’t hurt you. They’re nice…”

3

“What do YOU know about aliens!?” Alexus lashed out. “You’ve got an alien and a half in your family and suddenly you think you know all about them? Well guess what, they’re not all the same!”

She jumped up, trying to walk away from Hope.

4

Hope ran after her. “Sorry! You’re right. I don’t know everything about aliens. But those I do know are kind. So I just wanted you to know that you didn’t need to worry.”

Alexus seemed to be struggling with her emotions ok.

5

“I’m not mad at you, Hope. And I’m sorry too. I just… need to be alone for a while, ok?” Alexus said as calmly as she could manage.

“Ok.”

6

Hope mopily made her way back to the restaurant. She failed. Alexus was still sad, and she couldn’t figure out why, or how to make her feel better.

***

7

Alexus wasn’t the only one seeking solitude outside. Away from the party, Leo stood on the back patio, looking into the horizon.

“Dad?” Vito opened the door, peeking outside. “What are you doing? It’s freezing out here!”

“Frankly, I just got a little emotional.” Leo gave him a small smile. “Seeing everyone in my restaurant, together… it made me feel like I have a legacy too, you see.”

8

“What?” Vito laughed. “Of course you have a legacy, dad! The legacy? It’s kind of a big deal, remember?”

“No, that’s your mother’s legacy,” Leo corrected him. “It’s a huge deal, and I’ve done my best to support her with it over the years. But this restaurant… it’s all mine. Something I can leave behind. Something that maybe would have made my family proud.”

“Sorrano Specials…”

“Yes. Exactly.”

9

Vito studied the wrinkled face of the man in front of him. All his life, he’d known his parents to be inseparable. Vito rarely thought of one of them independently of the other. They were the loving couple that raised him and his sisters, that wanted the best for them, and the best for Newcrest.

“Dad… how did you feel about none of us carrying on your last name?” He asked carefully.

10

Leo gave him a funny look.

“Honestly? When you were born, I didn’t make much of it at the time.” Leo contemplated. “Your mother was the heiress to the Newcrest legacy. It seemed obvious that you’d have her last name. The Bloomers build Newcrest, everyone knows that. How could you, the future heirs, be called anything else?”

“Do you have any regrets?”

“I wouldn’t call it regrets. But… a small part of me selfishly wishes the Sorrano name lived on, yes.”

His father looked so old and fragile in front of him. Vito spontaneously hugged the man.

11

“You’ve left a legacy, dad. Not mom’s, not the Bloomers’, nobody else’s. You’ve made a difference. It’s not the name that makes the difference. It’s the people.”

Leo smiled at his son, misty-eyed.

“Have I told you how proud of you I am, Vito?”

12

The two men didn’t want to prolong the emotional moment, so they headed back inside.

Leo’s chest was filled with pride. Vito was right. He was the living proof that he’d left a legacy behind. Leo had raised a good bunch of kids. The restaurant, that was just a cherry on top.

While his father seemed to have a weigh of his shoulders, Vito was mulling their conversation over. Certainly gave him a lot to think about…

***

When they walked in, Leo spotted Aslan kicking into the bar, pouting.

“Hey kiddo.” He sat down beside him. “What’s the bar done to you?”

13

“Sorry grandpa.” The boy looked guilty. “I didn’t mean to break your furniture.”

Leo watched him, not saying anything.

“I didn’t mean to break anything… But I break everything. Why do I always do that?” The boy asked.

“I think you’re not talking about the counter anymore, are you?” Leo smiled.

“No… I think Hope hates me now. Because I was mean to Donnie. But I didn’t mean to. I just… I was just being honest? Is being honest wrong?”

14

“That seems like quite a pickle,” Leo acknowledged. “There’s nothing wrong with being honest. But there’s being honest, and being hurtful. They’re two different things, you see.”

“So you think I was wrong.”

This was way more than Le had bargained for.

“I think I don’t know enough about it. You should talk to your dad.” He said brightly. “He has a good head on his shoulders. And he was once like you. He’ll know what’s right.”

***

15

Leo’s wife was talking to a whole other set of kids in the meantime.

“So, you’re a half-alien, right?” Donnie was checking if he understood it all correctly.

“Yes, that’s right. My mother was an alien, and my father was human.”

“Wow!”

16

“So, wait, was your alien mom the same alien that was Peyton’s?” Donnie asked.

“Err, no… it’s a little complicated.” Pauline didn’t particularly feel like going into detail.

“I bet!” Donnie nodded enthusiastically. “Do you think there’s more aliens here, on our planet?”

“Quite likely,” Pauline said. “I doubt Peyton and I are the only ones…”

“Exactly! I found an alien grave at the cemetery, actually! So that was a third, right?”

17

“Yes.” Pauline grew quiet.

Hope observed her grandmother. “You look sad, grandma! Did you know the alien who died?”

Pauline sighed. Seemed there was no avoiding it. “She was my mother.”

18

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Donnie said sympathetically. “My mom is dead too.”

Pauline was lost for words for a moment. Not that this was particularly news, she’d known all the children were orphans, of course. But that didn’t make it any easier.

“I’m sorry too, Donnie.” She simply said in the end.

“It’s ok. I didn’t really know her. I was too little when she died. Did you know yours?”

19

“Yes.” She wrecked her mind for something positive to say about Astrid. “She was a painter. A very good one.”

“Oh really? I love to paint!” Donnie lit up. “I didn’t know aliens like painting too!”

20

Pauline smiled. “Aliens aren’t all that different from you, Donnie. They have their likes and dislikes, their fantasies, their fears… and feelings. They can love, just like anyone else, too.”

They can also hate, she thought. But this was not the day for getting into that.

“See?” Hope said victoriously. “I told you!”

“Makes sense,” Donnie nodded. “But then, if aliens are like us, why would they even need disguises?”

“Grandma and Peyton don’t use disguises!” Hope reminded hm.

“No, but you can, right?” The boy turned to Pauline.

21

“I can’t since I’m only a half-alien,” Pauline explained. “And Peyton can, but she doesn’t, since she doesn’t feel like she was anything to hide, as she should. No need to try to be something you’re not.”

“What about your mom?” Donnie could help his curiosity.

“She did wear a disguise, yes.” Pauline admitted. “Plenty of them, actually.”

“Why was she hiding?” Hope asked.

“I think she was scared. Scared of the world, scared of herself…”

“So, did she look just like a human in her disguise? How would you even be able to tell if someone’s an alien then?” Donnie pondered.

“Most of the time, you can’t.” Pauline answered. “But nobody can pretend to be something they’re not forever. So sometimes, even aliens give their disguises away, when they get very emotional.”

“How?” Hope was interested now too.

“It’s simple.” Pauline smiled. “They glow.”

***

22

“Hey… dad.” Aslan dragged his feet towards Vito.

“There you are! It’s not like you to hide away from the spotlight.” Vito noticed.

“Well… I didn’t want to make even more of a mess.” Aslan sighed.

“What do you mean?”

23

“I called Donnell a weirdo. By accident!” he added quickly. Vito tried to keep a straight face on. “And now everyone thinks I’m evil. Even Hope.”

“I’m sure nobody thinks you’re evil.” Vito reassured him. “Everybody does things they regret sometimes. But if you show everyone that you feel bad about it, and that you’ve learned your lesson, they might just forgive you.”

“Do they always forgive you?” Aslan asked.

Vito looked at the precious face. “Well… it depends on what you’ve done.” He started slowly. “But I think you’ll be ok. If you’re genuinely sorry, they’ll forgive you. Just… don’t wait too long. Never wait too long with apologies, ok?”

24

Aslan seemed visibly relieved.

“Thanks dad!” He hugged Vito. “You’re the bes… I mean, you’re ok. I guess.”

25

“You’re ok too.” Vito grinned. “More than ok. Now, what did we say about waiting? Why don’t you go find Hope and Donnell?”

26

They weren’t too hard to find, both Donnell and Hope were listening to Pauline’s concerto.

Aslan watched them from the distance for a while.

You can do this, he told himself. Remember what dad said. He took a deep breath.

27

“Hi, guys.” He said awkwardly.

“What is it Aslan?” Hope said defensively. “Did you come to make fun of us again? Haven’t you had enough? It’s Snowflake Day!”

“I came to say I’m sorry, actually.” Aslan said. “So… I’m sorry. I was a jerk. I don’t think Donnie’s a weirdo. Well, maybe a little. But that’s not a bad thing. Like… a good weirdo, you know?”

Thankfully, Aslan’s audience wasn’t a harsh one.

28

“Oh, in that case, we’re friends again.” Hope smiled.

“Really?” Aslan asked, scared to believe that things got fixed so easily.

“Yeah. Just be nice, from now on.” Hope said simply.

“I’ll try… Donnell? Are we ok, too?”

“Sure,” Donnie smiled shyly.

29

“Actually, on the whole, today has been pretty amazing.” Donnie continued. “I’ve made friends! And found out so much about aliens, and how to find them!”

“Well duh, you find them in this room,” Aslan started to say. “Sorry. Again.”

30

“Donnie meant how you can find aliens that you don’t know are aliens!” Hope explained, the excitement apparent in her voice. “Grandma told us how to recognise that someone’s an alien wearing a disguise.”

“Oh really?” Aslan was actually a little curious now. “How?”

“It’s simple.” Hope repeated in her grandmother’s words.

31

“They glow!” She and Donnie finished in unison.

Aslan opened his mouth in disbelief. “They what? Are you sure about that?”

32

Turned out he might know the most about aliens in disguise out of the three of them.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.66 A Bit Bigger

Leo couldn’t help but grin at the sight of the last dish he’d prepared. After hours and hours in the kitchen, the feast was finally ready.

Sure, it wasn’t the experimental haute cuisine that he’d been proudly serving at the restaurant lately, but Leo knew that some occasions called for good old home comfort dishes. Most of today’s guests would probably not be able to fully appreciate a jungle moss egg with lavender wisps anyway…

2

“That smells divine,” his wife joined him, tilting her head back as if to allow even more of the scent in. “I can’t wait to tuck in!”

“Do you think it’s enough food? 19 people is a lot…”

“Calm down, honey,” Pauline tried not to laugh at her husband’s nerves, wrapping him into an embrace. “You’ve done this a thousand times. The restaurant gets more than 19 visitors a night, doesn’t it?”

3

“Yes, but that’s what I have my staff for,” Leo pointed out. “It’s a whole other ball game to pull it off all on my own.”

“Just relax. It’s family. They’d love it even if you served up plain mac and cheese!”

“The kids would probably prefer it,” Leo laughed.

4

“Thanks, Pauline,” he continued. “You always know what to say. Where would I be without you?”

Pauline just smiled. She could of course reminisce about their beautiful life together, and marvel at the fact that all the wonderful people that would soon fill the room would only be here thanks to their union… but it was too early in the day to get sentimental. No doubt she’d get misty over some eggnog later on regardless…

5

No time for that now! The guests had already started arriving.

“Grandma!” Hope rushed towards her, stretching her arms out. Pauline pulled the little girl into a cuddle.

“How’s Hopey-bug?” She asked her.

“Pretty good!” Hope bounced up and down eagerly “Have you seen all the kids? So many new people my age! How awesome is that?”

“Pretty awesome.” Pauline smiled softly.

“Oh, and there’s presents too! Eeep!” Hope ran off excitedly. Pauline and Leo giggled at the sight of her.

6

“Your kid is too cute.” Sera told her sister. “I just want to steal her!” She joked.

“You’ll have one of your own someday,” Carly smiled.

“I don’t know about that. It takes two, as you’d know…”

“So? Don’t be so hard on yourself, Sera.” Carly said firmly. “Besides, even if you don’t find who you’re looking for, you could always adopt – just look around the room!”

“True,” Sera nodded. “Though it’s tricky, since all of them already feel like a part of the family… How could I possibly just pick one? And how would the others feel?”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Carly sighed. Sera wondered if her sister had been giving this some thought already. “Besides… weren’t we talking hypothetically, anyway?”

Sera hesitated for a moment. “Hey Carly… what if I think I have found the guy I’m looking for already?” She asked. “Except… I don’t think he’s looking for me. Or anyone, for that matter.”

Carly tilted her head. “Ok, you need to tell me more…”

7

Aslan was sitting right beside them, but he had way more interesting things to focus on than eavesdropping on the grown-ups’ silly conversations.

The girl next to him was glowing. And not in the figurative sense of the word. Was he imagining things? Had nobody else noticed?

8

She noticed him staring.

“HI! I’m Alexus!” She introduced herself with a smile.

“Aslan.” He eyed her up and down. “Have you eaten something weird?”

“What? You mean the zombie cake?” She asked. “But you had that too!”

Aslan frowned a little. “Never mind…”

9

He didn’t have much more time to mull it over, the girl’s pinkish glow subsided as everyone gathered around the table for their meal, squeezing tightly around the table.

10

Carly’s couldn’t help but trace back to her conversation with Sera. Seeing all these little kids about made her mind raise. A part of her wanted to give them all a new home – but what would be the point of that? Hallie had already done that, and far better than she could in her own house.

But with Sigrid’s cute smile, Eun’s clever remarks and Marla’s tomboyish ways… how could she resist the urge of welcoming another child into her home?

11

And seeing how excited Hope was, and how good Ralph seemed at entertaining all the little ones certainly didn’t make it go away.

But her sister was right. Adopting one of them and having the others live just around the corner, witnessing what could have been their life so close they could almost reach it… it seemed cruel.

Carly shook her head. It was a silly thing to think about. The children had a fantastic life with Hallie.

12

“Hey Sera,” Vito greeted his sister at the other side of the table. “You look good. Has that hunky yoga instructor of yours noticed yet?”

Sera blushed a little. “I don’t know. He’s a bit of a closed book, even now. Maybe I should set you up with him, since I’m clearly not getting anywhere and you think he’s hunky…” She joked, deflecting.

“Haha, very funny! Nah, I think I’ll be kind and let you keep this one.” Vito teased her.

13

“To be honest, going to that singles’ night thing the other day made me realise I’m not really ready to date again yet.” He got more serious. “I’m just… still not really over him.”

“Sorry.” Sera said quickly.

“No need to be sorry. It’s just how it is.” Vito shrugged. “I’ve got more important things to worry about anyway. Aslan’s what matters most now, you know?”

14

“Who are you and what have you done with our Vito?” Hallie chimed in, overhearing the conversation.

“Guess he’s grown up, huh?” Sera smiled. “Guess we all have…”

“Except for Carly.” Vito added. “She’s always been a grown up.”

“If only!” Carly called out to him across the table.

15

Yenn beamed, looking at them contently. She never thought she’d see the day when all the four heirs would get along so well, sitting around one table and actually seem happy about them. They all still had their own troubles to face, but now they had each other.

Involuntarily, her mind slipped back to her own brother and sister. How much time had her and Booker wasted before they fully buried the hatchet? How many more times could they all have had, together with Chell, all three of them? Not judging each other, not hiding away from one another in rough times…

But these kids, they got it right, Yenn thought.

16

Yenn was brought back to the present with Peyton’s unmistakable voice resonating through the room.

“This is a public Peyton announcement! We will now take a short break from all the eating, to resume shortly with… more eating! I hear Leo has several more pots bubbling away in the kitchen, so prepare yourselves for more… if you can handle it!”

Her and Pauline then headed for the bar giddily. It had been a while since the two sisters had a chance to catch up properly.

17

But no matter how long it had or hadn’t been, no matter how busy they were with their own lives, the two of them would always lip right back into their old ways, as if they’d only just seen each other a moment ago. Their friendship was one of those that you could pick right back up at any time, right back where you left off.

Far from subtle, the presence of the two bubbly green-skinned women hadn’t escaped any of the orphans.

18

“So, it is confirmed,” Eun turned to Millicent. “Aliens. Right here, in Newcrest! And I thought Donnie’s imagination was running wild when he talked about that tombstone… Who knew?”

“Well, I for one always knew they existed.” Millicent told him smugly. “I mean, wasn’t it obvious?”

“But you didn’t believe Donnie either!”

19

Donnell was barely listening to them. Eun and Millie were the two kids he went to with his alien grave discovery after Alexus had shrugged it off. And they didn’t believe him. Alexus didn’t believe him. Clearly, they were all wrong.

If there were two aliens already living in Newcrest, out in the open, how many more were hiding around, going unnoticed?

20

“Hey Donnie, is your head in the clouds again?” Camden nudged the boy.

“Donnie’s a dreamer!” Hope smiled. “Besides, wouldn’t it be boring to always have your feet on the ground?”

Camden frowned. Getting lost in airy-fairy stuff like Donnell was not his thing. He liked to play in the mud, and see what was in front of him.

21

“Whatever, point is Donnie is a looney!” Camden burst out.

“Hey!” Donnell turned to him helplessly. “What’s your problem?”

22

“Yeah, not everyone can be cool like us,” Aslan nodded with his mouth full.

I think Donnie’s cool!” Hope jumped in.

“Thanks Hope!” Donnell’s face lit up. He’d never been described as cool in his life.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Hope thinks everyone’s cool.” Aslan shot his confidence right back down.

23

“I mean, honestly, you do seem like a bit of a looney. But some people have to be the weirdos, right?”

Donnell buried his face in the palms of his hands. Hope started to open her mouth to scold her cousin – she knew most people couldn’t handle Aslan’s harshness – but Camden beat her to the punch.

24

“Oh, you think you’re the best thing in the world, don’t you? Just because your family owns this restaurant doesn’t mean you’re better than us! There’s seven of us and only one of you, we can take you on!” He said to Aslan angrily.

“My family owns the whole of Newcrest!” Aslan hissed.

“I thought the Bloomers owned Newcrest.” Camden shrugged. “And what’s your last name? Leoni!”

“And I’m a Forrester.” Hope interrupted. “It’s just a name. It doesn’t matter. We’re all family here, aren’t we? Now, are you boys done fighting?”

Aslan and Camden fell silent. Marla shook her head with a soft laugh. Silly boys…

25

“I’m sorry Hope.” Camden turned to the girl. “You’re right, names don’t matter. And I’ve got nothing against you. I was just… looking out for Donnie.”

Donnell looked at him, confused. “But… you’re the one who called me a looney in the first place.”

“Well, yeah,” Camden agreed. “Only I get to call you a looney, though! You might be a looney, but you’re our looney. Which means nobody can mess with you!”

“Aww!” Hope beamed.

Donnie smiled shyly. “Thanks Camden.”

Aslan watched them all be stupidly mushy for a moment. “You’re all lame!” He rolled his eyes, walking away.

“Don’t worry,” Hope waved it off. “He’ll come around.”

26

Ralph and Carly had been watching the children.

“We’ve got such a good kid.” Ralph grinned proudly.

“I know.” Carly agreed. “How did we get this lucky?”

“I think luck has nothing to do with it.” Ralph looked at his wife lovingly.

27

“Listen, Lottie, I’ve been thinking… Do you think it’s time for us to have another one?”

Carly almost laughed. “Have you read my mind?”

“I wish I was that good.” Ralph said. “I just figured that it would be nice for our little family to get a bit bigger. Maybe it’s all the kids. Maybe it’s Snowflake Day. Maybe it’s because I think Hope would make an amazing older sister to another munchkin. Or maybe it’s just because I think we’re in a good place, and I feel like more good should come of it.”

28

“Then you have read my mind.” Carly said. “Since I’ve been thinking the exact same thing…”

Unbeknownst of her parents’ plans, Hope’s mind was preoccupied. She found Donnell by the entrance.

29

“Hi, Donnie! I just wanted to check if you were ok?” She approached the boy.

“Yeah, thanks!” Donnie was appreciative of her concern. “This is a really good day for me, actually.”

“Really?”

“You bet! Camden actually likes me now. And none of the other kids think I’m a joke anymore. Because I was right. Aliens exist! And I got to meet one, kind of. Well, not that I’ve gotten to talk to them, but…”

“Oh, you want to talk to grandma or her sister? Great aunt Peyton is right there!” Hope pointed at Peyton.

“Uh, I don’t know…”

“Don’t worry, she’s really nice. Aunt Peyton!”

30

“What’s up, little one?” Peyton joined them.

“Donnie here really wanted to meet you.” Hope gestured towards her new friend.

31

“Well, hello there, Donnie.” Peyton smiled at the child.

“Um, hi.” Donnie half-waved.

“You look like you have something on your mind.”

“He finds it interesting that you’re an alien.” Hope said helpfully.

“Shh!” Donnie was alarmed.

32

“I sure am an alien,” Peyton confirmed. “Though I’m probably not as exciting as you might think! I was born on this planet, raised by human parents, never tried to use any of my powers, never wore a disguise… I’m just enjoying being myself. And so should you.”

She was going to stick around for longer, but her husband Grady called her over.

33

“So that’s aunt Peyton,” Hope laughed. “I’m sure you’ll get to speak to her some more today!”

“Woah. Did you hear her?” Donnie asked. “She has powers? And aliens can have disguises?”

“I guess,” Hope shrugged. “I’ve never really thought about it. Her and grandma have just always been like this. Why would they even disguise themselves?”

“So that you don’t know they’re aliens!” Donnie explained. “Just imagine, if they can disguise themselves, who knows how many there really are! There can be a hidden alien in this room!”

He noticed a rather upset looking Alexus standing next to them.

34

“Don’t worry Alexus, I don’t really think there’s an alien in disguise in the room!” He tried to cheer her up.

“Yeah, grandma is a half alien, and aunt Peyton is a total alien, but nobody else in the family is.” Hope added.

“And other than your family, it’s just us.” Donnie nodded. “And we all know each other.”

35

“Just stop it, ok!?” Alexus yelled out all of the sudden. “Mind your own business!”

She turned around and ran towards the door.

Millicent, who was passing through raised an eyebrow. “What’s her problem?”

36

Donnie looked at Hope helplessly. “That was so weird! Alexus is never like this, I promise! She’s always really nice to everyone.”

“She looked upset.” Hope agreed. “Maybe she’s worried about aliens?”

“She must be.” Donnie felt guilty. “I didn’t want to upset her… I really like Alexus. She was the first person to say something to me, at the orphanage. And now I made her mad…”

“It’s ok. I’ll go talk to her.” Hope offered.

“Really?”

“Of course. I’ll just tell her that aliens are just like us and that she has nothing to worry about.”

“Thanks Hope!” Donnie said gratefully.

Hope did a little twirl.

“I’ll be back!”

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.65 Visitor

Hallie picked up another toy from the floor. It’s getting there, she thought, looking around the room. She’d always try to make herself get the tidying up out of the way as soon as the kids left for school.

Luckily, today was one of the more manageable days – unlike when Camden and Marla decided to have some of the dolls go “bungee jumping” using chewing gum as their bungee. Hallie laughed to herself, shaking her head at the memory.

The doorbell interrupted her. Odd, Hallie thought. She wasn’t expecting any prospective parents to come by today. As long as whoever it was got her out of cleaning for a bit, she smirked as she answered the door.

2

They may have only known each other briefly, but Hallie recognised the smile instantly. Sweet and genuine. Though the woman in front of her did look a little nervous, she noticed. What was she doing here?

“Hi! You might not remember me, but being in Newcrest, I felt like I should still come by and say hello…”

3

“Bonnie!” Hallie stopped her right there. “Of course I remember you. And before you say anything else, I need to apologise. I acted really plummy towards you, back in Windenburg, when you did nothing wrong…”

“I was being a more than a little presumptuous,” Bonnie objected. “There’s really no need to apologise. I actually wasn’t sure if you’d even want to see me. But we got along so well at first, and we did say that we’d let each other know if we’re ever in the same area at the same time, so… here I am.” She laughed awkwardly.

4

“I’m glad you’ve stopped by,” Hallie assured her. “What brings you to Newcrest, anyway?”

“Funnily enough, I’m doing a piano duet with your older sister, Pauline. It’s a festive concert, with Snow Flake Day coming up soon… a bit of a dream come true, really. Pauline Bloomer! She’s such a talented pianist! Anyway, she’s the one who told me where to find you, actually.” Bonnie realised she was getting side-tracked.

5

Hallie couldn’t help at smile, seeing Bonnie’s giddiness. She was planning to spend the day doing Snow Flake Day shopping for the kids, but she had a better idea now.

“Hey Bonnie, are you in a rush? There’s a really nice café just over in Magnolia Promenade, Monty’s Goodies. Would you like to grab a hot chocolate or something?”

Bonnie’s face lit up. “I’d like that very much.”

***

6

Once they finished choosing the most delicious looking pastries, the two women made themselves comfortable at a table by the window.

“So, you’ve opened an orphanage. Can’t say I saw that coming when I first met you, back when you were still going by DJ Eillah. What a change!” Bonnie seemed impressed.

“I know,” Hallie laughed. “I can’t say I particularly foresaw it myself. But once it came to me, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. And I haven’t looked back since. Those kids… they’re amazing. I feel like I’m actually making a difference now.”

7

“Not that I didn’t like making music, or that music makes no difference, of course,” she added quickly.

“Oh don’t be silly, I wouldn’t claim I make as much of a contribution to the world as you have for a second!” Bonnie told her.

“That’s an unfair comparison. It’s just a different contribution,” Hallie smiled. “Music makes life so much better, I know that first hand! I’ve heard your solo album, by the way. It’s fantastic!”

“Oh, thank you,” Bonnie seemed surprised. “That means a lot to me!”

“What made you leave the Neon Sirens, if I can ask?”

8

“Well, you might remember that I wasn’t a huge fan of the whole rockstar lifestyle,” Bonnie explained. “And the Neon Sirens were nonstop. The parties, the whole scene… I just grew so tired of it over time. Going back to my roots seemed like an obvious choice.”

“Classical music?”

Bonnie nodded. “It’s been really good so far. Like I’ve rediscovered my love for music all over again.” Her eyes sparkled. “Not to mention it’s opened up all these opportunities. Like the duet with Pauline. Or… reconnecting with someone that could have been a good friend, if I hadn’t jumped into conclusions.”

She looked at Hallie shyly.

9

“Honestly, Bonnie, the fault was all mine there,” Hallie told her. “I was really lost back then. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted or how to live. I was so unhappy and uncomfortable with who I was. And I took it out on you at the first sign of a misunderstanding. It was hardly justified. It wasn’t your fault.”

Bonnie smiled at her brightly. “It looks like you’ve gone far since then. You seem far from lost to me. The first thing I thought when I saw you today was that you look so… fulfilled.”

“Thank you. Yes, I’m finally happy in my skin. Took quite some time.” Hallie said.

10

“So… does this mean we could turn a new leaf?” Bonnie asked hopefully. “Friends?”

“Friends.” Hallie nodded. “I don’t see a lot of travelling coming up for me in the future, with the kids and all, but I would love to stay in touch, Bonnie. And whenever you’re in Newcrest, do let me know.”

“Well, I’m not touring all the time anymore, so I could definitely find some time to go to Newcrest every now and then.” Bonnie beamed. “To visit a friend.”

11

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.64 Back in the Game

Vito stared at the drink in front of him blankly. He was trying to remember what he did the last time he went to the bar for a single’s night. It used to come to him so naturally. Get a couple drinks, through a couple dirty looks somebody’s way and take them home for the night… Seemed like a lifetime ago now.

Now he was the one sitting awkwardly at the bar while other people were giving him that look. It felt unnatural. But it was time to get back out there again.

2

He wondered what Aslan was doing. Newcrest had been covered in snow for a while, maybe him and Alyssa had a bit of a snowball fight. Aslan was the kind of kid to enjoy any type of fight, after all, Vito smiled to himself.

Wow. How pathetic was he, out on the town and thinking about his kid, wishing it was his turn to have him rather than Alyssa’s. He needed to get his head back in the game. How much longer did he have to stay here? He checked his phone. It was only 7 pm.

3

“You’re doing this all wrong,” a voice next to him said. “It’s single’s night, you should mingle and not look at your phone. Please don’t tell me you’re one of those people who are glued to their Simder profiles even when they’re actually out and about….”

Vito turned around slowly.

4

“Um, no. I’ve never even used Simder, to be honest.” Vito admitted. Was that considered a good thing or a bad thing? Vito had no clue.

“Ah. You just got out of a relationship recently, right?” The guy gave him an understanding nod.

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“Well, number one, the fish out of water vibe you have going on and the shocking lack of Simder knowledge are dead giveaways on their own… but I actually know who you are. Vito Bloomer, right?”

“Right. You seen my photos? Or do you know me because of the legacy?” Vito asked hesitantly.

“I know of both,” the man shrugged. “Though what I mainly know you for is the reputation you had a few years ago. The player who could have anybody he wants.”

5

Panicked, Vito studied the guy’s face. Had he woohooed with him in the past? Was he a scorned one time fling?

“Don’t worry, I wasn’t even on your radar back then,” the man laughed, as if he’d read his mind. “And if I was, I wouldn’t complain.” He winked. “I was just curious about your… transformation.”

Vito was confused. Was he all that different now? “I’ve never thought of it that way.”

“It’s kind of sweet,” the man said. “Besides, I’m sure you’ll find the ground under your feet again soon enough. How about we get you started with a real drink.”

“I have a drink.”

“I said a decent drink. Oh, by the way, I never introduced myself, have I? It’s Levi. You’ll thank me later.”

6

Levi ordered Vito a Woohoo on the Beach, winking.

The bartender rolled his eyes, looking underwhelmed. He hated single’s nights. The crowd might change over time, but each of these evenings was the same story.

He made a mental note to brush up on his comedy skill to finally make that career move…

***

7

Vito finished his drink, placing the glass on the table with a bit too much vigour. How many glasses was he on? He’d lost count… Wat did it matter, anyway? He was having fun. Louis who?

“You should come to my studio some times.” He said, slurring slightly “I bet I can take some awesome pictures of you.”

8

“I’m flattered!” Levi grinned. “So… does that mean I get the same treatment as your models used to, back in the day?” He winked.

Vito’s lips curved into a crooked smile. “I guess you’ll have to come over to find out.”

“Hm… I don’t like waiting.” Levi stood up.

9

“You going?” Vito asked, confused.

“You could always give me a reason not to…”

10

It seemed strange, kissing someone who wasn’t Louis again. Vito had locked lips with enough people to appreciate that Levi was a good kisser, but… something was missing. It felt so hollow. Like he was just going through the motions.

The again, surely another juice or two would fix that. If the flirting could come back to him, so could the rest.

11

“I’ll consider that a preview of the photoshoot.” Levi said playfully. “Unless… how about we head over to your studio now?”

Vito laughed. “I’m way too juiced for the photos to be any good…”

“Who said anything about photos?” Levi asked.

Vito only just noticed the colour of Levi’s eyes. They were brown, like Louis’. Perhaps a little lighter. Not that this guy particularly reminded him of Louis.

12

“Actually, no. I… sorry. I can’t do this.” Vito heard himself say.

“What?”

“Nothing against casual hook-ups. But it’s not me anymore. I was ready to settle down. I had the real thing. And now, I want the real thing again. But until then…” Vito was struggling to finish the sentence in a way that wouldn’t offend Levi.

13

“What the plum!? I’ve wasted an entire evening on you!”

Clearly, Levi was offended already in any case.

14

“Sorry. It’s not personal. I thought I wanted to get back in the game. I guess I just… don’t really feel like playing anymore.” Vito tried to explain himself.

“Whatever…”

15

Levi didn’t give him another glance and proceeded back to the bar in the hopes of identifying a new target before closing time.

Vito wondered if this used to be him. Had he really changed so much?

16

He felt a billion and one emotions as he walked through the door into the cold night. He really should have brought a coat. The thin layer of snow crunched beneath his feet.

If Alyssa hadn’t challenged Aslan to a snowball fight yet, he definitely would, he decided. Hopefully the snow would stay for another few days, till Aslan would stay at his place. They could probably make some really neat snow sculptures together. They could…

He definitely had changed, it hit him.

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.”