The Bloomer Legacy: 9.52 Hope

It was lucky meet Hope that day.that the studios were built as spacious ones. The whole family was over at Carly’s to welcome baby Hope that day.

“Here she is,” Carly was beside herself with pride. “Look at her chubby little cheeks. Isn’t she wonderful?”

2

“She really is,” Pauline beamed.

Yenn was overjoyed. After the gloom of recent months, there was such a breath of promise in the air. Not one, but two generation 10 children were now in this world. Sure, perhaps none of them came about particularly conventionally, but did it matter? The legacy was still going.

“Dad, are you really just going to keep reading all afternoon?” Carly scolded Leo jokingly.

3

“Err, of course not,” Leo sprung from the couch, slamming the book closed abruptly. “Let me see the little one.”

Carly chuckled softly and lifted the baby once again. She couldn’t get tired of this. Luckily, hope seemed like a happy baby so far and was cooperating.

4

The whole family did notice Ralph in the background, doing various household chores. A bit of dishes here, some cooking there… Nobody brought it up though. It seemed that things were looking up between him and Carly, and none of them were foolish enough to scare that vibe away by drawing attention to it.

5

But it certainly couldn’t escape anyone’s attention. The way Carly was looking at Ralph and the big grin he had on his face seemed to suggest happier times were ahead. They could only hope the joy the baby brought would be contagious.

6

Pauline sat down with Sera for a moment. She knew the girl had been battling with various demons throughout the years, but she’d never brought herself to talk about it directly. Her approach was trying to subtly check on her every so often without raising suspicion. It seemed especially poignant after the recent threats to the legacy’s continuity.

“So, how have you been lately, sweetie?” She asked her daughter casually.

7

Sera’s face lit up. “Really good actually. I mean, how could I not? Hope is so lovely!”

Pauline studied her face hesitantly, but there didn’t seem any indications of Sera lying.

8

The truth was, Sera was in love with the chid from the moment she laid her eyes on her. Hope was so small, so precious… and so innocent. She hadn’t made any mistakes yet. She had her whole life ahead of her. Sera couldn’t help herself. It filled her with, well, hope.

“Isn’t your auntie a sentimental joke?” She cooed at her the baby. “But you don’t care, do you?”

9

She held the baby in her arms. And from there, everything changed. Sera promised herself that one day, she’d have one of her own. That she’d be good enough. That she’d get her life on track. And it was going to start now.

First things first, she’d lay off chasing love for the sake of it, and shift her focus to something more productive. Perhaps she could use the energy for something more useful than constant heartbreak.

Perhaps she could make use of her numerous punching sessions and actually pursue a career in sports. Become an athlete…

10

Perhaps she could finally do something worthwhile with her life.

In any case, she felt excited about the future. That was a first.

11

It wasn’t just Pauline checking up on the young adults. Yenn approached Hallie with a casual smile.

“What eventful times are upon us,” she remarked.

Hallie laughed. “You could say that! But it’s all kind of nice, isn’t it?”

“Most certainly,” Yenn nodded. “I hope it’s taken some of that pressure of for you as well.”

12

“You know what, it has,” Hallie told her. “It’s interesting seeing the guys with their non-traditional families. It got me thinking…”

“Oh?” Yenn tried to act neutral, but she couldn’t hide the twinkle in her eyes.

“Maybe I won’t give up on the whole legacy deal just yet,” Hallie continued, well aware that this was music to her aunt’s ears. “So maybe I won’t ever have a conventional family of my own, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t contribute, does it?”

“I like the way you think,” Yenn grinned approvingly.

“I could most definitely do the building part,” Hallie indulged her. “And as for the kids… Well, maybe I could adopt or something like that. Seeing Hope actually makes me kind of like that idea. Besides, if even Vito can be a parent, surely I can do it too!” She laughed.

13

Vito felt like the odd one out. There was so much joy in the room, and he was struggling to feel any of it. He was still mourning the loss of any relationship prospect with Louis, and on top of that, things were hardly a walk in the park as far as Aslan was considered. He was so awkward around his son, and the boy had little patience for him in return. He definitely wasn’t a natural at parenting.

14

Of course, it would be impossible to make up for all the lost years in a few days, and Vito knew that. If only he’d known about Aslan from the time when he was this small, he looked at baby Hope in her crib. Surely something so tiny couldn’t dislike him…

“Are you ok there, Vito?” Pauline gave him a concerned look.

“Yeah. I was just thinking about what Aslan would have been like at this age.”

Now that he said it out loud, all the time he missed was hitting him even harder. Did Aslan resemble him as much as an infant? Did he cry a lot, or was he a quiet baby? At what age did he realise his father wasn’t there?

Vito couldn’t bare thinking about it. “I wonder if he had such tiny feet.” He said instead.

“I assure you he did.” Pauline chuckled. “All babies do.”

Vito forced a smile. “And he probably had these tiny hands too…” He gently reached for the baby’s hand with the tip of his finger. Hope started crying instantly.

15

“Shh!” Vito jumped away nervously. “I’m sorry Hope! I didn’t mean to disturb you there….”

So it was official. All children hated him, regardless of their age.

He dragged himself to the other side of the room and sat down on the bed, as far from the baby as possible.

16

Not that that was a lot better. All he could see now was Carly and Ralph chatting away happily, almost as if they had never parted ways. Sure, they weren’t being touchy feely and their interactions seemed mainly friendly, but the enamoured looks they were exchanging were telling a different story.

Vito felt a twinge of jealousy. And then guilt. He should be happy for his sister. Why was it so hard?

17

“Hey,” Carly crashed onto the bed right next to him. “How are you holding up?”

“Me? Oh, I’m fine,” Vito lied. “But hey, Hope is really great. And you and Ralph are looking great. This is really great. Everything’s just… great.”

Carly laughed.

“I’ve said great too many times, haven’t I?” Vito sighed. “Here I go again. This is your moment. It is great. I’m sorry I’m ruining it. How do I stop thinking about myself, Carly?”

18

“You’re not ruining anything,” Carly smiled at him. “And you’re allowed to think about yourself. Just make sure to consider others too. But I’m saying the obvious. You’re fine, Vito. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Just keep trying your best.”

“You’re the best sister ever,” Vito said gratefully. “When I grow up, I want to be like you.”

They both laughed.

“For the record, I’ve been thinking about you in the past couple of days.” Carly told him.

19

“How did you even have time for that?” Vito’s eyes shot towards the crib.

“Practice,” Carly shrugged. “Anyway, I was thinking that you should stop by dad’s restaurant some time soon.”

“What?” Vito was confused. “Oh, wait, is that like a selflessness exercise? To support dad?”

“Sure.” Carly said. “To support dad.”

20

***

21

Vito was ashamed. As he approached the building, he realised he hadn’t been to his father’s restaurant in years. Ever since he stopped working there, his visits of the place had been sporadic.

He should make a point of stopping by regularly. Maybe bring Aslan along. He’d probably find it fun to go inside the kitchen to see his grandpa. All kids loved going to places with restricted access, right? Vito smiled to himself.

22

The place seemed to be as bustling as he remembered it, if not more. Good to see dad was still doing well for himself, Vito thought.

And then he froze in his tracks.

There he was, greeting customers like it was nothing out of the ordinary.

23

“Welcome to Sorrano Specials,” Louis said to him with a cheeky smile.

“What are you… how did you… huh?”

Louis laughed. “I’m the new assistant manager here. Carly was looking for a replacement for herself and she offered me the role. And it was too good of a package to refuse.”

Carly. That incredible being, Vito thought.

“She’s very thoughtful,” Vito sighed.

“She is. You’re very lucky to have her.” Louis replied.

24

Vito paused. How should he even phrase this?

“Listen, Louis, I know you most likely didn’t move to Newcrest because of me. And that you probably hate me more than ever now. And I respect that. I’ll… I’ll stay out of your way, if that’s what you want. But I’m happy you’re here. I’m happy you’re living near me. I’m happy I can see you be happy, even if it’s from the distance. Wow, that made me sound like a creep. I’ll shut up now.”

“Thanks Vito,” Louis smiled. “You’re right, the main reason I took the job is because it was such a great opportunity for my career. Way better than what I was doing at the modelling agency in Windenburg, and much more hands on.…” He got sidetracked.

25

“But anyway, what I was trying to say was that the job being based in Newcrest isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” Louis looked directly at Vito. “A few months ago, if I was offered a long term job in the same town where you are, the answer would have been a straight up no from me. But I don’t see it as a negative thing anymore. It might almost be on the positive side of the spectrum, actually.”

Vito’s eyes widened. “What are you saying?”

“Nothing overly intense,” Louis clarified quickly. “I don’t want to jump back into a full blown relationship or anything like that. But why don’t we try to start fresh? I remember Monty’s Goodies had a great cake selection. Why don’t we grab a coffee or something? I mean, you still need to tell me all about your son…”

Vito was overcome by emotion. “Yeah. That would be good.” He managed to say. “Really good.”

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.51 Selfish

Vito hit the Send button with a heavy heart. He wasn’t happy with the email at all. But he’d reread it a dozen times, and still couldn’t come up with a better way of expressing himself. He closed his eyes. It just wasn’t meant to be.

2

Hey Louis,

I know what you’re probably thinking, that I’m a wimp telling you this over email – and you might be right – but this was the only way I could make sure I actually say everything I need to say. So please hear me out. Though if you don’t, I wouldn’t blame you.

3

I’m guessing you’ve already figured out what this is about. I’m not coming back to Windenburg. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this. Letting you down. Once again. You’re probably used to it by now.

You know that talk we had, about being selfish? How I thought moving to Windenburg for you was the more selfless way, and you said ditching the legacy was more selfish? Well, I kind of get it now. Except neither of those things even matters anymore.

4

I now get more of what the selflessness deal is all about, I think. It’s not about picking whichever option seems like the less selfish one. It’s about doing the actual right thing. Even if it means sacrificing something you actually want more than anything else in the world. And that something is being with you.

I really wish there was another way. But this time, it’s different. And you’re probably thinking that I’ve given you that line before. Honestly, I wouldn’t buy this if it were me either. But all I can say is that in any other situation, I would go back to you and never look back.

Ok, I’ve been going on for ages and still haven’t gotten to the point. This is hard. So I’ll just say it.

I have a son.

5

Yeah, it’s crazy. I had no clue until just a few days ago. It’s still surreal. I ran into Alyssa (yeah, that Alyssa), and well turns out that my experimenting was even more stupid than I’d realised.

That came out wrong. Makes it sound like I don’t want Aslan to exist. That’s not true, obviously. But the whole thing about an accident turned best thing that’s ever happened to you… yeah, I still don’t get that.

6

Wow, I sound like a plumhole. Aslan is a cute kid. Smart, from what I can tell, and I’ve seen some of his drawings and they were pretty good for his age. I wonder how he’d be with a camera. He said it didn’t interest him, but he’s never tried and as an artistic little guy, I bet he’d warm up to it. I wish somebody had introduced me to photography when I was his age.

7

He’s kinda snarky too, like he’ll take no plum. Especially not from me. I don’t think he likes me at all. Not that we’ve spent too much time together so far.

8

But I have tried. And I will keep trying. I’ve been out of his life for way too long.

So I’ll be a father, or attempt to be, even though I have no clue what I’m doing, know nothing about children, and the kid seems more annoyed with me being there all of the sudden more than anything else. But I’ll stick around no matter how many evil glares he gives me. Because that’s the right thing.

9

Which is my point. I’m not just randomly gloating about a kid I barely know and that I’ve had zero impact on so far anyway. I’m just trying to explain that there is no other way. I can’t leave Newcrest now, with him in the picture, as much as I want to. Not even for you. I guess in a weird way, I’ve ended up continuing the legacy after all.

10

If you’ve gotten to this point and haven’t moved this email to junk after reading the first couple of sentences… I hope you can find a way to forgive me, but I’ll understand if you won’t. Know that I’d give anything to be able to hold you in my arms again. But this is out of my control.

Acting selfless sucks.

I still love you.

Vito

11

12

13

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.50 Alone

“Oasis Springs! Give it up for DJ Eillah!”

Another day, another festival. In the desert this time around.

2

It wasn’t the first time Hallie had played Oasis Springs. But it was the first time she didn’t really want to be in the DJ booth. In fact, she didn’t want to be in this town at all.

Not that the crowd wasn’t great. Not that she got tired of her own music.

But…

3

Of all the days possible, why did Carly have to go into labour today? Hallie learned Vito was taking her to the hospital just before going on stage. Vito, of all people, was the one who was there, and here she was, stuck at a gig she didn’t feel like doing.

4

It was funny how things changed. DJing used to be Hallie’s escape. Getting lost in the music and forgetting all about the legacy and her duties.

But now that she was no longer under the pressure of being heir, she longed to escape from the clubbing and be with her family instead.

5

And then it hit her. Why was she even here?

She’d spent such a long time running away from living her life that she’d lost track of what it was that she wanted to do in the first place. Always on the move, from club to club, being everywhere but never making a true connection.

Perhaps running one last final time wouldn’t be such an awful idea, she thought.

6

And so she stopped mid-tracked, and walked off the stage, to the utter shock of all of the party goers.

“What’s happening?”

“DJ Eillah? Come back!”

“Boo!”

“She’s so hot!”

7

The sounds of their voices became muffled in the distance. Hallie wished she could snap her fingers and magically be in Newcrest, with family.

But she knew she wouldn’t be able to get back home till the next day. So she just kept on walking, to get as far away as possible.

8

Maybe it hadn’t been the legacy she wanted to be liberated from after all.

9

Maybe she was just trying to run away from herself.

10

Who was she, really? Someone people never understood. Did she understand herself?

The burden of the legacy was placed upon her without her doing. The fake persona she had to become for every gig to put on a show was her doing. Now they were both gone. So what was left?

Maybe she just wasn’t worth anything. No wonder she couldn’t love anyone the way they wanted to be loved. She was a shell of a person. With something missing inside her.

11

A tear rolled down her cheek, and suddenly she was sobbing uncontrollably. Why couldn’t she be a full person like everybody else? Why did she have to be this sad, pathetic empty vase?

And then they came to her.

12

She didn’t realise she wasn’t alone at first. But then she got a strange feeling that you get when somebody enters the room but your back is turned towards them so you only know they’re there because you can sense their presence.

She felt their gaze on her.

She looked up.

13

“Mom? Dad?” She asked uncertainly.

“Don’t look so worried, sweetheart.” Candy smiled at her. “We just came to check on you.”

“It’s like you don’t want your folks to drop by, tsk tsk,” Paolo joked.

14

Hallie stared at them as they made themselves comfortable on the bench beside her. Well… did ghosts ever get comfortable?

Scratch that. Did ghosts even exist? Of course, she’d heard the old Bloomer tales about Ruby, and Yenn’s sighting of Ethan, but…

“Are you real?” She asked them.

“Real is a funny concept when you’re dead,” Candy told her. “What we consider real might be very different to what feels real for you.”

“Real or not, does it matter?” Paolo asked. “The important thing is we’re here.”

15

That was true, Hallie thought. She’d been missing her parents for so long. And now that they were here, all she’d come up with was stupid questions. So what if she was hallucinating? So what if it was all a dream? If it was, she didn’t want to wake up.

“We’re here because you needed us.” Candy said simply. “What’s going on with you, honey?”

16

“Everything’s wrong. I… I’m wrong. There’s something really wrong with me. You would be ashamed.” Hallie was on the verge of tears again.

“Ashamed? Of our perfect daughter? Never.” Paolo shook his head.

“But you don’t understand. I’m different.” Hallie sighed.

“Everybody’s different, Hallie,” Candy told her. “There’s no two people in the world that think the same things, and dream the same dreams. And… feel the same love. We all perceive the world a little differently.”

17

“So… you know?” Hallie asked.

“We know everything,” Paolo smiled. “Everything you’ve told us when you’ve visited our graves in Windenburg. Everything you’ve wanted to say to us but didn’t or couldn’t.”

“We’re always with you.” Candy explained. “And always will be.”

18

“You are?” A spark lit up in Hallie’s eyes.

“Where else would we be?” Paolo shrugged.

“We don’t exactly have a lot of places to go,” Candy chuckled.

19

“So you know I’ve turned down the legacy. Disappointed Pauline. Ran away from my fans at the gig. And from everyone that just wanted me to love them in the way everyone wants to be loved. Because I can’t… because I can’t love.”

“But of course you can love.” Paolo said. “We have seen that too.”

“You’ve seen me… love?” Hallie was dubious.

“We’ve seen you love your best friend. Love Pauline. And Leo. And all of their children. And their unborn children.” Candy looked at her daughter. “You have so much love in you. Don’t let anybody tell you what that love is supposed to look like.”

Hallie pondered that for a moment.

“What do I do with my life? What do I do next?” She asked them finally.

20

“You can do everything. Anything. Whatever you want.” Candy told her.

“Just remember to always be you.” Paolo added.

“But I’m not even sure what that is anymore. Without DJing, and the legacy…”

“Let me tell you a secret,” Candy leaned over towards Hallie, patting her shoulder. “Everyone leaves behind a legacy. Heir or not. And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that you’ll do great things.”

“So what do you want to do now?” Paolo asked.

“Well…”

21

The three of them gathered around the bonfire.

“Well, that’s part of your wish done,” Paolo said. “Fire check.”

“I don’t remember it being green when I was little,” Hallie laughed.

“We ghosts have a way…”

22

“Well, now for the dancing part.” Candy announced, swaying from side to side. “Good job my joints can’t hurt from this anymore…”

“Like that was ever an issue. Your dance moves were on point to the end,” Paolo complimented his wife.

Hallie giggled. It was just like she said she’d wanted. In that moment, she was just a little girl with her silly parents who loved to dance around the bonfire and be way too affectionate to one another.

23

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Candy asked. “Join in!”

“Don’t let the old folks embarrass themselves on their own!” Paolo agreed.

24

And so Hallie started dancing…

25

“Wow, she’s really showing us up, isn’t she?”

The ghosts were getting excited.

26

Hallie could only focus on the fire. The energy of the moment. There was no music playing, but she had music in her.

The same way her parents said they’d always live on inside her as well.

She thought that becoming a DJ would bring her closer to them, since it was something they’d both done in the past. But maybe that wasn’t the case.

Maybe she didn’t have to be like them to remember them.

Maybe she didn’t need to be a professional musician to love music.

Maybe she didn’t have to be a lover to feel love.

27

Candy and Paolo were cheering wildly at this point.

28

Hallie could barely hear them though. But she felt them. They were there for her. As they always would be.

29

The ghosts hugged happily.

30

“I think our work here is done.” Paolo told his wife.

“We’ve done well.” Candy smiled.

“Couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Likewise, my love.”

31

They gave their daughter one last proud look.

And then everything disappeared in flash of intense green light.

32

Hallie looked around, confused. The ghosts had disappeared, and the fire was almost out as well.

But she wouldn’t go back to feeling sorry for herself.

33

She may have been lonely for most of her life, but she now knew she never truly had to be alone.

Author’s note: The festival lot was created by Moja0273 and can be downloaded here.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.49 Father

Ralph dashed towards the hospital. There wasn’t a chance in the world that he would miss this.

He made his way straight to the reception desk.

2

“I need to see Carlotta Bloomer,” he got straight to the point.

“Are you a relative?” The receptionist asked apathetically.

Ralph had very little patience for the man. “I’m the plumming father of her child. Where is she?”

3

Carly eyed the doctor nervously. It would be ok, she tried to tell herself. It wasn’t scary. A baby coming to the world was a beautiful thing…

She was terrified regardless. And where was Ralph?

4

“Don’t worry, Miss Bloomer,” The doctor smiled reassuringly. “You’re in good hands.”

Let’s hope so, Carly told herself silently as she lied down.

5

Ralph flew through the corridor. That receptionist took his sweet time, so he eventually gave up and figured he’d figure it out his own. It wasn’t a particularly large hospital, after all.

And then he found her.

6

“Lottie!” He yelled out. That machine she was in didn’t exactly fill him with confidence. Was this normal?

“I gather you must be the father,” the doctor greeted him calmly while manning the handles. He didn’t seem phased at all. “You’ve come right on time for the main show.”

7

And with that, the doctor manoeuvred a little crying bundle from the machine and into the cradle.

“Ralph! Look at that!” Carly was weeping with joy. She didn’t take her eyes off the baby for even a split second.

8

Ralph watched the doctor wash the baby girl and place it into her mother’s arms. It felt surreal. He was a father.

He’d never been so scared in his life. Would he be any good at it? Would he be an awful influence? What if somebody hurt his baby? What if he did?

He realised that from that moment on, he would never stop worrying.

9

But then he saw how Lottie held her, and how she looked at her, and he couldn’t help but smile.

He was a father. But more importantly, Lottie was his baby’s mother.

10

His daughter would be just fine, because she had the best mother on the planet.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Carly asked.

“She really is,” Ralph said, holding back tears of his own. He’d never forget this.

11

“Thank you for being here, Ralph,” Carly said when she finally put the baby into the cot. She hugged him.

“Are you serious? Where else would I be?” He wrapped her in his arms tightly. “I belong with my girls.”

***

12

Vito watched the kid. His kid. Supposedly. What made a kid his? Was it the hair colour? The same cocky smile? He didn’t feel like a father. Just yesterday, he had no clue this person existed. And now he was there.

Was he supposed to love the kid immediately? He had no clue how to feel. He wasn’t sure of anything. He knew it wasn’t love, but he felt… something.

He definitely felt angry about not being able to go through this mental process years ago, when the boy was born.

13

Alyssa sat down next to him. “The doctor said the baby was born. You have a niece.”

She smiled, as if nothing was wrong.

14

“Oh, nice of you to mention that I have a niece. Trying to make up for not telling me I had a son?” Vito snapped.

“This is hardly the time and place, Vito,” Alyssa looked around. “Can’t we talk about this later?”

“No! You’ve put this off for way too long,” Vito hissed at her. “Didn’t you think I had the right to know?”

15

“Oh, you’re gonna make this about you, what a surprise! Unbelievable…” Alyssa shook her head. “There are sick people all around us. Your sister just had a baby. But all you can think about is you, you, you!”

16

Vito couldn’t believe it. “You’re seriously trying to spin this like I’m the one who’s way out of line here? You’re questioning my timing? Yours is several years late! Actually, scratch that, since if we didn’t run into you at the park, you would have probably never told me!”

He breathed heavily, attempting to calm down.

“I just want to know why, Alyssa? Why didn’t you tell me?”

17

“Why?” Alyssa glared at him. “We hooked up once, and then you never talked to me again. I didn’t exactly have a lot of opportunities to bring it up! You just moved on to the next guy or gal, whatever you were into at the time…”

“You still should have come to me,” Vito said weakly. “I would have talked to you if I knew it was important…”

“Oh please,” she almost laughed. “Did you even notice I dropped out a few months after we messed around? That I never came back to school?”

18

Vito stared at her blankly.

“Didn’t think so.” Alyssa nodded to herself victoriously.

“I… I’m sorry.” Vito said. “I get it. You thought I wouldn’t care. And why wouldn’t you? I’ve done so many plummy things over the years. But I have changed since high school days. I’m trying to change.”

He drifted away for a moment.

“But Alyssa, trust me, even at my worst, if I had known about the kid, I would have done the right thing.” He studied her expression. “You don’t believe me, do you? Do you really think I wouldn’t want to be in my son’s life?”

19

Her lips twisted into a crooked smile. Or was it a smirk? “I’m not a big fan of what ifs.” She shrugged. “But hey, if you want to be involved, there’s nothing stopping you now. Aslan is right there.”

His eyes shot back to the kids corner of the waiting room. The boy was still playing.

“I promise I won’t stop you,” Alyssa told him as she stood up, leaving the two of them alone.

20

***

21

Ralph and Carly were still enjoying their moment. Ralph didn’t want to let go. The minute he’d let her out of his arms, things would go back to being fractured and messed up again. Just a minute longer, to pretend they were all a happy family… Whole.

But it had to even eventually. Reluctantly, he let her slip out of his embrace.

22

“We’ve still not talked about names,” he said, pretending to be causal. “Did you have anything in mind?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “I have actually decided on one, unless you don’t like it of course…”

“I’m sure I’ll love it,” he smiled.

23

“Well, for starters, I thought her last name should be Forrester.” She almost sounded shy when she said it.

“Really? I thought that wasn’t allowed in the legacy?” Ralph pointed out.

“I can break the rules too.” She winked at him.

24

Ralph would laugh, if he wasn’t so touched by what she said. “I’d like that very much. But make sure you don’t get in trouble for it.”

Carly burst out laughing. “Have we switched places or what? Don’t worry. She’ll still be a Newcrest heir. Bloomer is just a name. The legacy is about people.”

“I wish I was half as smart as you,” he smiled. “So, what about her first name?”

“I was thinking Hope.”

“Hope?”

25

Carly took a deep breath and softly held onto one of Ralph’s hands. “Remember when I said that sometimes love was not enough?”

Ralph was confused. She was still holding his hand. But why was she bringing this up?

“Well, I still believe that,” Carly continued. “Love isn’t always enough. But if you were to add Hope to the mix…”

She was smiling. And not letting go of his hand.

26

“The name’s extremely cheesy,” Ralph teased her, “but I like it. Hope it is.”

“Hope it is.” Carly repeated. “Hope Forrester.”

Ralph realised that maybe he was going to cry after all.

27

***

28

Vito sat next to the kid.

“Hey there.” What the plum do you even say to children, he wondered. “So… you like toys, huh?”

Wow, strong start, Vito, he mentally scolded himself.

29

“Yeah! Do you?” Aslan bounced his feet happily.

“I like taking photos.” Vito told him.

“Why?”

Was he quizzing him now? “Um… you know, it’s nice to capture a beautiful moment forever.”

“I don’t get it.”

30

Who knew kids were so tough to please?

“I can explain,” Vito tried. “If something really nice is happening around you, don’t you ever want to hold on to that moment forever? With photos, you can.”

“I still don’t get it.”

Maybe he wasn’t particularly bright, Vito sighed.

31

“I think it’s stupid. If something cool is happening around me, I don’t want to freeze time and stop it. I want it to happen!” The boy informed him. “And why would I want to stick to an old moment? I bet something even cooler will happen next!”

32

“Well, some memories are worth saving.” Vito said helplessly. “And worth reliving.”

“That sounds boring.” Aslan was getting fidgety. “I can explain. Yesterday I was playing with my toy rocket, and I made a dog out of playdough. And that was awesome. But today I touched a baby that was in a lady’s belly and I got to go to the hospital. That’s even awesomer! Tomorrow will probably be the awesomest, I think.”

The boy shrugged. “So of course I don’t want to freeze the time. Or go back to making a dog out of playdough. I’ve already done that.”

33

Vito was crushed. A little kid just ripped apart all he believed in. All he’d been trying to save in the past month. Either Aslan was really silly, or really clever. Vito wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer.

The boy looked at the despairing man, confused. Did he say something wrong?

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.48 Whale

Carly stepped out of the changing room. Those photo studio lights were really not forgiving…

“I don’t know if this is the best idea,” she told Vito again. “I look like a whale.”

2

“Nonsense, you’re glowing,” Vito grinned. “The photos will look awesome, I promise!”

“I’m not too sure about that… I’m feeling so uncomfortable…”

“Do you want to sit down for a bit?” Vito asked.

“No, no, it’s fine… it’s just… I’m hardly a model. And all these beautiful people staring at me from the frames aren’t doing that much for my confidence…”

3

“Hey! Don’t say that, you’ve got the pregnant lady glow and the awesome Bloomer genes going for you!” Vito told her. “You’re prettier than any of them!”

Her eyes shot to the frame with the angelic boy. “Even Louis?” She giggled.

Vito hesitated for a moment. “Even Louis,” he grinned in the end. “I don’t think he could pull off growing another person inside him while looking amazing, that’s for sure.”

4

Carly laughed. “You’re such a schmoozer.” She hugged her brother. “But thank you.”

“Now, question is, will we get that star shot?” Vito smiled as he walked back to the tripod.

5

Carly chuckled. Vito hoped to capture that soft laugh, but for some reason, the radiance just wasn’t translating on film. Carly looked beautiful and vibrant right in front of him, but tired and worried in the frames.

09-05-16_11-03-49 PM

Vito wondered which was the truthful one. Was the camera lense telling him something he couldn’t see in person? Or was it just the harsh lighting?

Either way, this wasn’t working.

6

“I told you Vito, I’m no model,” Carly shook her head.

“You’re just not a studio type,” shrugged. “I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you go get dressed and we go for a bit of a walk? I reckon field photography is more of your thing…”

Carly rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say, Mr Photographer…”

7

She slipped into the dress as quickly as her state allowed her and joined her brother again. He was admiring the photo of Louis, with an unusual softness in his eyes.

“He messaged me the other day, you know,” She said casually. “Looks like he was concerned about me when you mentioned my baby situation to him, so he wanted to see if I was ok.”

“He’s such a nice guy,” Vito sighed. “I’ll never deserve him.”

8

“He looks good in that photo,” Carly changed the subject.

“Yeah.” Vito smiled. “Forget what I said, I bet he could pull of being pregnant. Too bad he’s not in modelling anymore.”

“Is he not?”

“Well, technically he is, just not in front of the lense. He decided to get into management side,” Vito explained. “Though I’m not sure if he likes the industry all that much. He’s not vain enough for it.” He laughed.

“I’m sure he’ll find something that suits him,” Carly said.

9

“I should take off that picture of Alyssa.” Vito pondered. “Louis hated it.”

“Why?”

“It made him feel uncomfortable since he knew we messed around…” Vito blushed.

“But Vito, didn’t you hook up with a whole bunch of your models anyway?”

He shot his sister a glare. “Ok, since you and Louis are talking again, do me a favour, and don’t mention that par to him, ok?”

Carly laughed. “Of course not.”

“It’s all in the past now, you know?” Vito shook his head. “Anyway, you ready to go?”

10

“So what are we doing, exactly?” Carly asked.

“I figured we’d walk around Newcrest for a bit,” Vito said. “You’re an outdoorsy type, so it will suit you much better in the photos. And you can start making your legacy plans at the same time…”

11

“Could have been your legacy too, you know,” Carly pointed out. “How do you feel about it now?”

“It’s not really sunk in yet, to be honest with you.” Vito shrugged. “I try not to think about it too much. But what I am thinking right now is that that lighting works great for you!”

12

“That’s probably because you can’t see my face in that picture.” Carly laughed when she looked at the photo. “Or how massive I am…”

“I’m just getting started…”

13

They arrived in the Ruby Perrin Park.

“Such a beautiful day here!” Carly beamed.

“Hold that expression! That’s exactly what I’m after!”

14

“You’re being ridiculous!” Carly laughed. “This will look awful!”

15

“It’s called candid shots,” Vito lectured her. “You take loads to capture just the right moment…”

16

“I don’t know about that,” Carly sat down on the edge of the fountain. “I thought you didn’t even do photos outside the studio.”

17

“I don’t, normally.” Vito admitted. “But that’s not life, is it? I’ve been making an effort to stop obsessing over artificial things, you know?”

“Sounds like artsy mumbo jumbo,” Carly shrugged. “Sit down with me. I’m tired.”

18

Vito joined her on the fountain.

“So how are you and Ralph?” he asked.

“That came out of nowhere!” Carly looked at him. “We’re… well there isn’t exactly a we with us, as you know.”

“Sounds familiar,” Vito smirked. “Louis told me more or less the same thing.”

19

“That’s not exactly the same though, is it?” Carly attempted to lighten the mood. “You and Louis will get back together, I know it. You’re doing all you can to show him you’ve grown. That you can be there for him… I’m rooting for you!”

Vito studied his sister’s face. “That’s interesting.”

20

“Why are you rooting for me to win Louis back over, when you’re not willing to give Ralph another chance?”

“That’s totally different,” Carly said quickly.

“You’re right,” Vito nodded. “Louis and I don’t have a kid on the way.”

Carly frowned. “Are you saying I’m wrong?”

21

“I’m just saying you shouldn’t have double standards like that,” Vito said. “Either you believe in second chances or you don’t. So if you’re rooting for me, you should root for Ralph too. And more importantly, you should root for you. You were so happy with Ralph. And now you’ll have a baby with him. Wouldn’t it make sense to give it another go?”

Carly looked away.

“Look, I know I’m no relationship expert.” Vito added. “But I do know a thing or two about how people photograph. And I’m positive it would be a lot easier to take a good picture of you if you were happy about your decision.”

22

From then on, the chances of getting a decent shot got even slimmer. Carly became rather mopey, even though she adamantly claimed it wasn’t what Vito said. She said she was just feeling a little uncomfortable.

Vito tried to get another picture or two, but the moment of her rejoicing over the promise her legacy held was gone.

23

The boy on the playground didn’t care for the petty drama of the Bloomer siblings. His ship was sinking, so he needed to abandon it, even though his pirate treasure was stored on it.

“Until another day, and another adventure!” he yelled out and jumped on the slide.

24

“Woooaaah!” He may have pounced on it just with a tad too much vigour. It was so much fun though…

25

…even though it made it practically impossible to stop the motion once he reached the end of the slide, catapulting him straight into Vito.

“Oh no, it’s a sea monster,” the boy yelled out when he saw Vito’s irritated face.

26

“Hey, watch where you’re going, kid!” Vito was annoyed.

“Oh come on Vito, it was an accident,” Carly jumped to the rescue. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to run into you like that…”

“Aslan! What are you doing!?” A woman’s voice got closer to them.

27

“We’ve talked about this Aslan, you need you need to be mindful of other people when you’re playing!” The boy’s mother scolded him.

“HE was in MY way,” the boy said defensively.

“Alyssa?” Vito wished he hadn’t been so mean to the kid seeing who his mother was. Bad conscience was already kicking in…

28

“Hi there, Vito… Carly.” Alyssa waved at them awkwardly. “Sorry about this…”

“Not at all,” Vito said quickly. “I was probably in the way…”

29

“Why are you so fat in your belly but not fat everywhere else?” The boy inquired, eyeing Carly up and down.

Alyssa growled. As if this couldn’t get any more awkward…

“Aslan! You can’t say things like that to people!”

30

“I was curious,” Aslan shrugged.

“The lady has a baby in her tummy,” she tried to explain it.

“Did she eat it?” The boy looked concerned.

“No, of course not!” Alyssa laughed nervously. “That’s just where babies come from. You were in my tummy once.”

“Cool!”

31

“Do you want to feel the baby?” Carly smiled. “It’s been a bit fidgety today, so you’ll be able to tell that it’s moving in there.”

“Super cool,” the boy exclaimed.

“So uh, good seeing you, Alyssa,” Vito muttered awkwardly. “Your kid is… inquisitive…”

“I’m sorry my child inconveniences you so much,” Alyssa’s eyes narrowed.

32

“Not at all!” Vito said quickly. “He’s great! Really great! You and the Mr have got yourself a good one!”

“His father’s not in the picture.”

Brilliant. Come on Alyssa, give me something, Vito thought.

“Well with you for his mom, he doesn’t really need one, am I right?” he laughed nervously. “He mainly takes after you anyway. I mean, he looks just like you…”

Carly’s eyes widened.

“No he doesn’t,” She blurted out. “You know who he looks like?”

33

“Like who?” Vito smiled non-committedly, ignoring Alyssa’s frantic expression.

“He looks just like you when you were his age,” Carly said quietly.

The smile slowly evaporated from Vito’s face.

34

“Wait… you can’t be saying that he… no…” He stumbled across his words. “He couldn’t… I mean, it’s been so long… Alyssa?”

“Why don’t you go get mommy a bit of that pirate treasure?” Alyssa turned to Aslan.

35

It’s been so long? Do you think woohoo cancels itself out once it’s been a certain amount of time?” Alyssa hissed once Aslan was out of earshot.

“Oh plumbob,” Carly’s expression grew worried.

“Well newsflash Vito, it doesn’t work that way – the evidence is right there!” Alyssa continued.

“How do you get to be the hurt party here?” Vito said angrily. “Don’t you think you should have mentioned this to me? What the plum, Alyssa!?”

“Um, guys?” Carly interrupted. “I think I’m in labour.”

36

“Oh plum and llama horns,” Vito froze. “Plum plum plum…”

“Mommy says you shouldn’t say plum.” Aslan, who had just returned, informed Vito.

“Aslan, language!” Alyssa scolded her son.

“Plum! I mean, oranges,” Vito corrected himself, catching a glimpse of the boys curious look. “What do you want me to do, Carly?”

37

“Pull yourself together, for starters,” Carly yelled at him. “And get Ralph!”

“Right. Ralph.” Vito nodded. “But… who’ll take you to the hospital?”

38

“I’ll do it,” Alyssa sighed. “Let’s go Aslan. We’ve got a field trip ahead, the baby is leaving the lady’s tummy.”

“Cool!” The boy beamed.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.47 The Beginning of the End

Pauline and Yenn sat in the garden, trying to not act tense.

“It’s probably not a big deal,” Pauline repeated again.

“There’s no point in speculating about it,” Yenn smiled. “But whatever it is, it’s nothing we can’t deal with.”

2

Vito finally arrived, bursting through the garden gate. He looked more tense than the two of them combined.

Yenn braced herself.

3

Pauline stood up. “Hi Vito, it’s good to see you,” she tried to put her son at ease.

“Ok ok ok,” Vito whispered to himself, placing his fingers on his temples.

Yenn and Pauline exchanged worried looks.

4

“I… I thought this would be easier,” Vito sighed.

“Whatever it is, you can tell us,” Yenn encouraged him. Vito attempted to compose himself.

“Ok… here it goes…”

5

“I’m not going to continue the legacy.” He said finally.

Yenn tried to hide her disappointment. It felt like a strange déjà vu. She wondered how Pauline was feeling.

“I do have a reason for it, though, I’m not just trying to be a plum,” he continued.

“It’s Louis, isn’t it?” Pauline asked quietly.

6

Vito nodded. “Not that he asked me to leave the legacy for him,” he added quickly. “But I can’t stay here. My heart is in Windenburg. All I care about is in Windenburg. I need to go back, once Carly’s had the baby.”

Pauline stared at him blankly.

“For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure I’d be a plummy heir,” Vito continued. “It just doesn’t come to me naturally, the whole bettering the community for others thing. I’m sorry. I know the girls will do way better than me.” He sighed.

7

Pauline looked at him sadly. “Believe it or not, I’ve been there.” She surprised him. “It doesn’t even feel like that long ago. When I first came to Newcrest from Windenburg, everything and everyone I knew and loved was back there. I was going to leave the legacy behind and go back to Windenburg as soon as I could. To get my real life. Follow my real dreams. So I do get it.”

Vito stared at his mother in shock. “So… are you now going to tell me what changed your mind, and how I’ll end up doing the same?”

She shook her head. “No. It’s your call to make. You need to make it with your own heart. I’m just saying I understand. Because I know where you’re coming from.”

Yenn’s heart was breaking watching them. She stood up.

8

“I don’t think it’s quite the same situation, mind you,” she told Vito. “Your mother grew up in Windenburg, so of course she had stronger ties to that city than to Newcrest. But then she saw all the work the generations before her had put in the town, the soul of Newcrest, and what it stands for…”

She paused. It wasn’t like her to tell people what to do. She could even understand Vito’s point. She just felt awful for Pauline. And deep down, she selfishly felt awful for herself too.

9

“I do apologise Vito,” Yenn corrected herself. “I’m not trying to blackmail you into staying, even though that sounded like it. I just want to make sure you appreciate what you’re leaving behind.”

“I know, I’m being a plumhead,” Vito looked away, feeling guilty. “All the more reason why the legacy is better off without me.”

“That’s not what I said,” Yenn said. “At the end of the day, you’re the only one that has a say in what you want to do with your life. And I do understand wanting to follow love. We all need love.”

Vito smiled gratefully. “I do really think Louis is my soulmate. You’ve had yours, so tell me, would you not do anything in your power to be with them? Sacrifice anything?”

10

Yenn didn’t respond. If she was completely honest with herself, it was probably always Ethan who’d done the majority of sacrificing in their relationship. Maybe she was the one who had it all wrong. Who knew. It was all lifetimes ago. Maybe she had been around for far too long for her life experiences to still be relatable.

Neither Pauline not Yenn spoke much more, other than muttering something about wishing Vito well. So he made his way out. He didn’t feel too great about it, but it had to be done. It was like ripping off a band aid.

Louis was worth it, he told himself, trying not to think about their sad faces too much.

Or maybe what Louis said before he’d gone back to Newcrest was true and he was just being a selfish jerk yet again, the voice at the back of his head said.

11

Pauline looked gobsmacked when he left. This was bad, Yenn thought.

“Pauline…”

12

“I’ve failed,” Pauline said. “Back then, when I was about to leave Newcrest instead of carrying on with the legacy… I might as well have. None of my heirs seem to want to keep it going. So the legacy will die with me anyway…”

“That is not true,” Yenn said. “Don’t forget about Carly and Sera…”

13

“Yes, Carly has a baby on the way, but under what circumstances? I never pictured it would be like this… and Sera? She doesn’t tell me much, but I can see she’s in pain. Poor lost soul…”

“Just because things aren’t the way we pictured them doesn’t mean they’re wrong,” Yenn pointed out.

“But they are wrong, aren’t they?” Pauline asked. “I’ve failed with the legacy. And I’ve failed with my children. I thought I did the right thing. Passing on the legacy to several heirs to make it stronger… turns out it just dilutes it, because they don’t think their decisions matter as much.”

“Pauline…”

“What’s worse, I’ve failed as a mother.” Pauline said tearfully. “I wanted to give my children the freedom I never had. Give them the world. Let them make their own choices. But they’re all lost and in pain. I’ve failed at everything I could have possibly failed at.”

14

“We’re human, we all fail,” Yenn raised her voice. “And then we picked ourselves up and rise again. We keep going. And so will you. You’ve given your children the love you never had. You’ve given Newcrest so much hope Pauline. Maybe it’s not the way you’d planned, but without you, the town would have withered away a long time ago. You’re not a failure.”

“But…”

15

“If you are a failure, then what am I?” Yenn asked quietly. “I’ve stood here and let it all happen. Watched your children in pain. Watched you suffer. And your mother before you. I’d seen the legacy stumble and almost fall, I’d seen it on hold… but I’ve also seen the good things. So I know it’s not all been for nothing. And you know what, Pauline? It’s not over. We’re still here.”

16

“You’re right.” Pauline nodded. “It’s not over. And Carly’s baby is coming any day now. I need to stop focusing on the negatives. Maybe they’re not even that bad… I mean, it’s a good thing that both Hallie and Vito are pursing happiness, isn’t it?”

“Exactly,” Yenn nodded, attempting a smile.

17

But she was far from smiling on the inside. Once Pauline was out of sight, she dragged herself into her room.

18

She had failed. She had been around for generations, and still wasn’t able to save the legacy.

She looked at the photos on her wall. Will all of them be forgotten in history? Did their lives really matter? Did her own?

19

Staring at those old pictures of a legacy that was crumbling to the ground, Yenn felt defeated for the first time in a few lifetimes.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.46 Letdown

Carly took ages climbing the stairs to the restaurant. She’d like to pretend it was her growing belly that was slowing her down, but the truth was she was trying to put off the talk with her father for as long as she could. She hated disappointing people, and she knew she’d let him down.

2

The place was closed, but she could smell the delicious scent from the kitchen as soon as she walked in. Sundays were Leo’s days for trying out new dishes and experimentingwith recipes. Carly wasn’t savvy enough in the kitchen to pinpoint all the ingredients, but whatever Leo was cooking, she’d gladly have.

“Dad?” She poked her head in the kitchen.

3

“Hi sweetie!” Leo greeted her. “What are you doing here today? No need to work on Sundays, remember?” He glanced towards her growing baby bump. “In fact, we should probably talk about how much longer you can work for before you go on maternity leave…”

Carly sighed. He was being so understanding… it wasn’t making things any easier though.

“That’s kind of why I’m here, actually.” She started slowly. “I think I can’t work in the restaurant anymore.”

“I completely understand,” Leo nodded. “You can’t be on your feet all day, in your state. Don’t worry about it honey, I’ll sort out a maternity cover for you…”

4

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Carly told him. “I mean, you’re right, my legs are really swollen and running around the restaurant is getting harder… but I kind of meant working here in general.”

“Oh.” Leo looked hurt for a split second. “Well, that’s fine, if you don’t like it here anymore…”

“I do like it,” Carly shook her head. “It’s just… I’m going to be a mom now. I think I need a job with more regular hours… something where I don’t always work evenings. Something a little less exhausting. Maybe something to do with books. Something a little more… me.”

5

Leo sighed with relief. “I completely understand that.”

“You do?”

“Of course.” He nodded. “I was just worried that something happened to you here that you changed your mind so quickly. But Carly, I never expected you to work here forever. You’ve been great help over the years, but you don’t have any more of an obligation to work here than your siblings. If anything, you’ve more than paid your dues.” Leo smiled.

6

A smile spread across Carly’s lips. “Thank you so much, dad! I mean, I’d still love to help in any way I can, you know that but…”

“But your priority is being a mom now,” Leo said. “Don’t worry about me and my little restaurant, Carly. I can always hire a new assistant manager. But I only have one grandbaby on the way. Speaking of which, can I…” he gestured towards her belly.

“Of course!”

7

Leo placed the palms of his hands on her stomach. His eyes were getting misty.

“I can’t believe I’ll be a grandpa,” he shook his head with a soft smile.

“Sorry it’s not under different circumstances.” Carly said awkwardly.

“All I care about is that both you and the baby are healthy and happy,” he shrugged. “And you making big decisions for yourself and the baby… well that seems like a good start.”

8

“It’s an opportunity to see what you can do for your part of the legacy, after all,” Leo added with a wink.

“I know,” Carly nodded. “The new generation is coming, better start thinking about those builds,” she laughed. “I was thinking a little bookstore might be a good idea. Or a collectible store…”

She stopped herself. Wasn’t that what Ralph had suggested, after things imploded? Of course, he wanted to sell furniture in the store too…

Stop thinking about Ralph, Carly scolded herself.

“I’ve got to admit, it will be hard to find somebody with your work ethic,” Leo joked.

“I’ll help you find a replacement,” Carly promised.

“You don’t need to do that, sweetie,” Leo smiled. “But if you do recommend someone, I’ll hire them straight away.”

“You shouldn’t just take my word for it!” Carly laughed.

“I’d take your word for anything.” Leo hugged his little girl.

9

***

10

Yenn sat up in her bed slowly. It was only the morning, but she already felt exhausted. Even more so when she remembered what day it was.

Vito was coming over. He’d called saying he wanted to talk to her and Pauline urgently, and that it was important.

11

Yenn didn’t like the sound of it. Especially after Hallie’s visit the day before.

12

She looked nervous when she walked in, even though she was trying to mask it with a smile.

13

Yenn and Pauline didn’t even notice her at first, who knew how long she’d been standing in the doorway for till Yenn caught a glimpse of her in the corner of her eye.

14

“Hallie! What a surprise!” Yenn greeted her.

“So you’re finally back from Windenburg! It’s about time!” Pauline enthused.

“Yeah… we got back this morning.”

“Aren’t you jetlagged? You didn’t need to rush here…” Pauline told the girl.

“I know. But I needed to see you. Both of you, really.”

15

She sat down, looking even more nervous. The older women smiled at her encouragingly.

“Well we’d love to hear all about your trip,” Yenn smiled. She studied Hallie’s face for a brief moment. “Or anything else you’d like to talk about.” She added.

Pauline took a deep breath. “Here we go,” she whispered.

16

“I don’t think I can carry on the legacy.” Hallie blurted out. “Wow. I didn’t mean to just drop the news like that. I’m so sorry…”

“I didn’t realise you felt that way, Hallie,” Pauline said carefully. “You seemed so excited when I included you as one of the heirs…”

Hallie looked down in shame. “I was. I really was. And I know I promised I wouldn’t let you down. I really didn’t want to let you down…”

Tears rushed into Hallie’s eyes.

17

“Hallie… you’re not letting anybody down.” Pauline told the girl. “You have to do what’s right for you.”

“You’re so nice… You’ve always been so nice to me… I wish I could continue the legacy, I swear,” Hallie said desperately. “I just don’t think I can ever have kids, or start a family. You know how I feel about… well… you know.”

“It’s ok Hallie,” Pauline interrupted her. “We understand. You’re not letting us down. We want you to be comfortable with the life you’re leading, not push you into something you don’t want.”

18

“So… you’re not mad?” Hallie asked.

“Of course not,” Yenn said. “The legacy was never meant to be a burden. It’s just something that’s meant to inspire you to make a difference to the world. But Hallie, you’ll make a difference to the world, heir or not. It doesn’t matter. You’re special, and whatever you choose to do next will make all of our lives richer.” She smiled.

19

“That’s right,” Pauline nodded approvingly. “And for the record, look at aunt Yenn. She was never an heir, and look what a huge difference she’s making every day.”

Yenn smiled weakly. Hallie, on the other hand lit up.

20

“Thank you so much,” she hugged Pauline. “Both of you. I couldn’t ask for a better family.”

“We just want you to be happy, that’s all!” Pauline whispered to her, holding back tears.

21

Hallie felt amazing. The huge weight that had been on her shoulders for years had been lifted. She didn’t have to get married and have kids. She didn’t have to get intimate with someone for the sake of a legacy. For the first time in ages, she could just… be. She felt light as a feather.

She didn’t stay behind much longer, and after catching up with the older women briefly, she left the house.

22

Yenn and Pauline dropped their smiles once she was out of the door.

Well, that was unexpected,” Yenn said. “Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe we’ve been blind.”

23

Pauline sighed. “I never wanted to pressure her. That wasn’t what I wanted at all. I just wanted her to feel included. I got it all wrong…”

“No you didn’t,” Yenn shook her head firmly. “You did what you thought was best. And today, you’ve done it again. Did you see that smile on her face?”

“I suppose,” Pauline sighed. “Well, there’s still three other heirs to the legacy. Although, things are less than ideal.”

“Shh,” Yenn hughed her. “They’re your children. They’re Bloomers. The legacy will be fine. Don’t worry, Pauline. Things have a way of working out in the end.”

24

Of course, Yenn wasn’t all that sure about what she’d said. But she had to put on a strong face for Pauline, the way Pauline had for Hallie.

The way she’d done for generations.

When would it end? Yenn felt so tired of holding so much on his shoulders. All these years, being the one to save the day, the one the family can count on, the one to turn to when things get really bad…

The Bloomer legacy was strong, she’d repeated to herself. But then why did it feel like so much of the family’s future was still depending on her and her guidance? Why did it feel like the beginning of the end?

They’d need to carry on without her some day.

She felt so tired.

25

But there was no time for that. Vito was coming over, and if the chat with Hallie was any indication, Pauline would need her support. So she’d be the strong aunt Yenn, the saviour, once more. For just a bit longer.

Her back ached as she walked down the hallway.

Perhaps one day she’d get some rest.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.45 The Legacy

Hallie rushed through the Windenburg ruins that afternoon. With the flight back to Newcrest leaving early on the following day, so she wanted to make a stop she would never miss when visiting.

2

She practically ran towards the end. She wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t as if they wouldn’t wait for her if she hadn’t arrived on time. But she felt the need to get there as quickly as possible, like a child running into its mother’s arms. Getting shielded away from the harsh reality of the world.

3

Of course, it wasn’t quite a mother’s embrace that was waiting for her. It never could be. For years, her older half-sister tried to take on that role for her, but it never quite transpired. So here she was again. With her real parents.

“Hi guys… long time no see.” She sat down.

4

“So… I don’t even know when to start,” Hallie told the graves. “It’s not like anything’s changed, really. I guess that’s the problem. I always thought I’d have it all figured out by now. Life. That maybe by now, I’d finally get it. That I’d be… normal. Why can’t I be normal?”

5

She grew silent. The tombstones didn’t seem to be judging her.

“It’s not that I don’t like being me,” she reassured them. “But it would be so nice to fit in for once. Not be a question mark. If I could just be like everybody else, it would be so easy… I mean, how am I supposed to be an heir to the Newcrest legacy? The building part I could do, I guess. But having kids? Starting a family? How am I ever going to do that?”

6

“I’ll let Pauline down. Let her legacy now. But I never asked for this. I’m not a Bloomer. I’m a Rocca. I didn’t want to build Newcrest. I just wanted to be a girl who lived in Windenburg with her parents. Play music with you. Dance on the beach, like we used to, when I was little. I want my family. I don’t want to start a new one. Or carry a legacy that isn’t mine…”

Tears started rolling down her cheeks.

7

“I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I don’t think I can do it,” she whispered. “But I can’t let them down. I have to do it, don’t I?”

The tombstones were silent.

***

8

Louis was waiting for Vito at the park. It could be taken as a good sign or a bad sign when Louis told him “just the park would be fine” – while it made Vito nervous that Louis didn’t want to make more involved plans, the Windenburg business district park was a pretty romantic place… wasn’t it?

Of course, it would have been better if there wasn’t a homeless person sleeping on a nearby bench but hey, Vito would work what he was given.

9

“Ok, I have a feeling this is going to be a serious chat,” Vito wasted no time. “So before you say anything, there’s a few things I need to tell you…”

He quickly filled him in about Carly, and about potentially leaving Windenburg the following day.

10

“You know, you don’t have to tell me all this,” Louis stopped him. “I do feel bad for Carly. She deserves to be happy, and I hope things turn around for her. But as for you going back to Newcrest, you don’t owe me any explanations.”

“But of course I do. I needed you to know that if I do go back, it’s not because I’ve given up on us…”

11

“There is no us, Vito,” Louis said. “I’ve thought about it. And yes, the day at the Von Haunt Estate was a really good day. And I can’t pretend I don’t feel anything for you anymore, because I do. But I really hope that one of these days, I’ll wake and I won’t. That’s why I wanted to talk to you today. To tell you that yesterday was a mistake. To tell you to stop trying.”

“I’m never gonna stop trying,” Vito shook his head.

“I don’t know Vito, would you ever have come back after me if I hadn’t gone to Newcrest for that job?”

“I think so,” Vito answered. He didn’t sound exactly certain. “I mean, yes. Of course.”

12

Louis let out a bitter laugh. “That’s such an outright lie.”

“I had missed you even before you showed up in my studio that day,” Vito told him. “It’s just… Until you did, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was missing. But when I saw you again, it all became clear. It was you all along Louis. It always has been. I should have realised sooner. I wish I had.”

13

Louis seemed lost in thought. “I don’t know, it all sounds so arbitrary. Like you decided to chase after me on a whim. Came to Windenburg on a whim.” His face turned solemn. “The same way you dropped me on a whim.”

“Louis, don’t say that. I know I’ve made mistakes. But I’m serious about this. And I’ll prove it to you. I’ll move to Windenburg. For good. No more impulse decisions. Actual commitment.”

14

“That sounds like a prime example of an impulse decision to me… Aren’t you forgetting that you’re the bigshot legacy heir?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’ll leave it behind,” Vito said adamantly. “For you. Maybe then you’ll finally start believing that I don’t do everything for selfish reasons.”

“Hm. What about your family though? Who knows how many generations of building Newcrest? Your parents? Your pregnant sister… Doesn’t sound like ditching it all is the selfless route to me,” Louis pointed out.

15

Vito sighed. “I have thought about it, of course. And I will go back there with Hallie tomorrow, for now, just until Carly has her baby. I do want to be there for her, with all the madness that’s happening with her and Ralph.”

Louis nodded. “Poor Carly.”

“Yeah.” Vito paused. “But I guess at least she’s continuing the legacy? And I mean, I get what you’re saying about leaving the legacy behind being selfish. But I’m not the only heir. That’s the whole point, right? It’s like having backup. Because let’s face it, I’m definitely not the best hope the legacy has anyway.”

“And for what it’s worth, I have completed my build,” he added. “I’ve had the photo studio made.”

16

“A photo studio is kinda pointless without a photographer.” Louis shrugged. “Look Vito, do what you think is best. If you don’t believe you have anything to contribute, then let go of the legacy life. But don’t leave it behind on the account of… this. Whatever we are now. Because I can’t make any promises.”

He stood up. It seemed he was ready to leave.

17

Vito shot right up as well, grabbing on to Louis’ hand.

“That’s totally fine,” Vito said. “I’m not doing this to make you feel guilty. No strings attached. I just want us to have the best chances we can. And that starts by me actually being where you are.”

“Right…”

18

“Listen Louis, if you don’t want to see me when I come back to Windenburg, that’s your call,” Vito said. “But I will come back, no matter what. I need to know I’ve done all I can. Because you’re way more important to me than the stupid legacy.”

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.44 Family

Hallie stared out of the window at the beautiful city of Windenburg absent-mindedly. It was time to leave. The Harbour Quarter festival had been over for a while. She didn’t mind staying behind for a bit longer to indulge Vito on his little quest – she couldn’t care less about going back to Newcrest.

But now that she’d had that call from Sera, things had changed.

2

Not that she was particularly looking forward to breaking the news to Vito.

He strolled into the room that morning, beaming from ear to ear.

“Beautiful day, Hals, isn’t it?”

“I take it things went well yesterday at the Von Haunt Estate then?” Hallie asked. Not that she really needed an answer.

“You could say that,” Vito giggled conspicuously.

3

“That’s great. Listen… we need to talk.”

“Of course!” He said happily.

“You better sit down for this…”

He took a seat beside her and looked at her, expectation palpable in his face.

“So, you know how we’ve stayed here for quite a bit longer than we planned?” Hallie started cautiously.

4

“Yes! And let me tell you Hallie, you have no idea how grateful I am!” Vito enthused. “It’s making all the difference. Things are finally on track between Louis and I… He might not be completely sold on it yet, but there is a smidgeon of hope now. I know I can get him back, with just a little bit more time. I mean, yesterday we…”

“Um, Vito? I did actually have something I needed to tell you, remember?” Hallie interrupted him gently.

“Oh. Yeah, of course! Sorry. I need to work on this. It will help my relationship too… Here I go again,” he chuckled. “Sorry. Again. You go! What’s up with you?”

5

“Well… it’s not so much me. It’s Carly.”

“You talked to her last night? How is she holding up? I’ll give her a ring later today,” Vito made a mental note.

“She needs us, Vito. We need to go home.”

“But now is the worst time for me to go,” Vito told her. “I understand that she’s going through a lot, with her relationship blowing up, but I now actually have a chance to salvage mine… I know that sounds awful, I do, but…”

“She’s pregnant. She’s gonna have a kid, Vito.”

6

“No, that’s impossible…. Our Carly would be careful. She’s the responsible one.”

“I guess that means she’ll also be a good mom,” Hallie shrugged.

“Wait, so are her and Ralph getting back together again?”

7

“I don’t know Vito, does it matter?” Hallie lost her patience. “She needs us to be there for her, ok? We have to go back to Newcrest. Or at least, I’m going. You’re free to do your thing, I guess. It’s not like your sister is in a tough situation or anything…”

“Hey, don’t be like that! You know I love Carly!”

8

“I want to be there for my sister, you know I do,” he continued. “It’s just… things have only just started to take a new turn with Louis. And now he’s going to think I’m giving up on him again.”

“I’m sure he won’t think that…”

“He’s only just opening up to the possibility of us being… something… anything… If I go now, I’ll lose him forever. I know it.” Vito struggled. “But I do want to do the right thing. Carly’s always been there for me. For all of us. She’s a saint. And she’s stuck with the crappiest brother in the world!”

9

“Oh Hallie, what am I going to do?”

Hallie almost felt sorry for him. Almost. But he needed to see the bigger picture. Put someone else’s needs first, for once.

“I’m sorry Vito. I know it blows. But I’ve booked our flights for tomorrow morning. So you better make your mind up by then.”

***

10

A wave of nausea came over Carly. Morning sickness, they called it. More like an all-day-long sickness, she thought.

She was always tired. Her legs were hurting when she was trying to make sure all the tables at the restaurant were doing ok. And she couldn’t even remember the last time she went looking for collectibles.

Not to mention the state of her bathroom. The toilet was leaking, producing a never ending stream of puddles. She should really do something about that, she sighed.

11

Just the sight of the toilet made her feel sick again. She never used to be squeamish. This pregnancy thing was plummy.

Of course, it would also be a whole lot easier if she didn’t have a giant belly in the way. She almost dropped the stupid wrench in the toilet, and the toilet situation wasn’t improving whasover.

“Son of a llama…” She never used to curse either.

Luckily, she was saved by the doorbell. The toilet would have to wait.

12

Her heart melted at the sight of him. She hadn’t seen Ralph since that impulsive night that presumably got her into this whole predicament.

13

She opened the door a bit too eagerly.

“Ralph! You look good! I mean… hi!” Stupid hormones, she grumbled inwardly.

14

“Hi Lottie,” Ralph smiled. “You look great too. Listen, I…”

He paused.

“Have you left your shower on or something? Sounds like you’ve got a fountain in your bathroom…”

Carly felt embarrassed. “Oh, it’s nothing….”

15

Ralph didn’t listen, he just barged straight into the bathroom.

“Ah, that’s the culprit. Easy enough to fix.” He crouched right down as if it was a perfectly normal thing to do when visiting your ex, and picked up the wrench. The toilet was good as new in a matter of minutes.

16

“Thanks for that, Ralph,” Carly told him when he was done. The amount of gratitude she felt seemed disproportionate to the fact it was just a silly broken toilet. It seemed that Ralph could fix everything just by being there.

Stupid hormones, she repeated to herself.

“You need to call me when stuff breaks around here.” He said. “I mean, I am a handyman after all. Or if you don’t feel comfortable calling me, I can at the very least give you a number for someone good…”

17

“No, have been meaning to call you,” Carly shook her head. “Not about the toilet, that is. About… well… I am… we are…”

“I know,” he eased her pain. “Sera told me this morning. That’s why I’m here.”

“Plummit, Sera!” Carly exclaimed. “Is there anybody she hasn’t told?”

“Oh come on, I am kind of the dad,” Ralph laughed. “Besides, it’s not like it’s easy to miss. I mean, look at you!”

18

Carly looked down at her belly and smiled. She was showing more than she’d realised.

“I was going to tell you, of course. It’s way too big a deal to keep away from you, obviously.” She felt like a hypocrite. “I just… haven’t had a chance to wrap my own head around it yet.”

“Of course,” Ralph nodded. “I brought you something, by the way.”

He placed a wooden horse toy on the counter.

19

“Technically, it’s not for you, actually,” he said. “It’s for the baby. Once he or she gets a little bigger, obviously. And, you know, doesn’t live inside you.”

The laughed briefly.

“That’s really sweet Ralph. I’m sure he or she will love it.”

“You know what it is?”

Carly shook her head. “I think it’s too early to tell. Besides, I don’t think I’d want to know anyway. It doesn’t matter.”

“I agree,” Ralph smiled.

20

“So, where does this leave us?” Ralph asked. “I mean, this changes things, doesn’t it? You can push me away from you all you want, but I do need to be in the baby’s life.”

“I know,” Carly nodded. “And I want you to be.”

He smiled with relief, moving closer to her.

21

“Wait Ralph, no,” Carly drew away. “I want you to be in the baby’s life.”

“Lottie… I miss you every day. Don’t you miss me?”

“I do. But that’s not what this is about. Nothing’s different, other than the baby. We’re still two people with two completely different mindsets. And you still lied to me about something major.”

22

“Technically, I just didn’t mention it.” Ralph pointed out calmly. “Kind of like you haven’t mentioned, I don’t know, being pregnant with my child? So no biggie or anything…”

“That’s different!” Carly defended herself. “I’ve only just found out myself! And I was going to tell you!”

“Well, maybe I was going to tell you about the undercover job…”

“Except that you weren’t. Don’t lie again.” Carly shook her head.

23

“Look Ralph, I don’t want to fight.” She said. “And I do want you to be in the baby’s life. Without a shadow of a doubt. They’ll think you’re the coolest dad ever.”

She tried to smile.

24

“I think you’re making a mistake,” Ralph shrugged. “We have a baby on the way. We love each other. You’re making it more complicated than it really is. This isn’t algebra, Lottie. It’s simple. You’re the love of my life. And without being cocky, I think I’m the love of yours. So let’s just be a family. Please.”

Carly didn’t know what to say. But before she could answer, she was interrupted.

25

“Oh wow! This never happened before… the baby is kicking!” She felt like laughing and crying at the same time. “You… want to feel it?”

“Do I want to… what sort of a question is that!?” Ralph jumped right up.

26

He gently placed the palm of his hand on her belly.

“I can’t… break it, or anything, right?” He asked nervously.

Carly laughed. “No. No you can’t.”

27

“I think the baby likes you,” Carly smiled.

“I think I like the baby too,” Ralph looked pensive for a moment. “This sounds ridiculous, but I’ve never felt more proud of anything I’ve done. How stupid is that, huh? I mean, the baby’s not even here. And you’re doing all the heavy lifting… literally.” He chuckled.

“It’s not stupid. I feel the same way.”

“You’ve got to let me help though,” Ralph scolded her. “Anything you need. Even if you’re just craving spaghetti on toast or something… ok, I don’t know that much about pregnancy. But I’m here for you, ok?”

28

Carly hugged him, melting into his strong arms. She knew everything would be just fine, as long as Ralph wasn’t too far. Even if they were no longer together, he still knew how to make everything ok.

The Bloomer Legacy: 9.43 Mad World

“Here’s the nectar, gorgeous,” he smiled as he handed her the fresh glad.

Seraphina sighed happily. This was going extremely well.

His name was Anthony. He was quite the looker, but also smart and successful, with his hot shot Corporate Raider job. And he treated her like a princess. It was hard to believe they’d only met a couple days ago, at this very venue.

Though of course, their paths had crossed before.

2

He’d first approached her at the bar when she ordered a large glass of Granite Falls Grapo Blanco.

“Good choice,” he’d said to her. “I’m more of a red nectar guy myself, but still, you don’t see people order nectar in this bar.”

She laughed. They were in what used to be predominantly a teen lounge, except that now that the teens had grown up, they’d still continue going there out of habit. Hardly a classy establishment by any stretch of imagination.

3

“Of course, it’s hardly surprising Sera Bloomer would only choose the best,” he continued.

“Have we met before?” Sera asked. She couldn’t place him anywhere.

“I went to Magnolia High, just like you,” he explained. “But we never really talked, no. I’m not surprised I wasn’t o your radar. But everyone knew you…”

Here we go again, Sera thought. Now he was going to talk about the awful person she was in high school, just like the rest of them.

4

“I mean, you were difficult to miss,” Anthony carried on. “You were the prettiest girl in the whole school.”

“Oh, you think?” She asked, almost shy. She could feel herself blushing. She wondered if this was what it felt like to be Carly.

5

They chatted for a bit, and agreed to go on a proper date soon. Seemed that Sera would actually get to go on a date that would not turn into a disaster, for once.

6

And here they were. Back at the lounge. Actually having a conversation. And actually having chemistry. This was not how Sera’s first dates usually went.

7

“Too bad I didn’t notice you back in high school, Anthony,” Sera said flirtatiously.

“Oh, I don’t blame you.” He grinned sheepishly. “You were way out of my league. Actually, you still are.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Sera giggled. Boy, the nectar was strong.

8

“Aren’t I lucky,” Anthony whispered in her ear. “The prettiest girl in school has a bit of a crush on me, it would seem.”

Sera felt giddy. Who cared if it was him or the nectar, or the combination of the too. It’s been a long time since somebody called her pretty. Since she felt pretty.

“I wonder what she’d do if I kissed her,” Anthony went on.

“I guess you’d have to try and see,” she winked.

9

So he did. And it was perfect. She forgot all about the world for a moment.

“You’re a good kisser,” he told her.

“You’re not too bad yourself,” Sera laughed. “This has been fun. I’ve had a great time, Anthony. I almost don’t want the date to end…” She blurted out.

10

“It doesn’t have to end, does it?” He pointed out. “We can go somewhere else.”

“I do live right across the street. And there’s definitely a bottle of red nectar at my place. Though I’m not sure if it would be to your liking.”

He looked directly into her eyes. “I’m sure it’s delicious.”

11

“So, this is my place,” Sera said as they walked in. “What do you think?”

“I like it,” Anthony nodded approvingly. He made himself comfortable on the chair.

12

“Should I get you that nectar?” She asked. “Or anything else?”

“I wouldn’t mind if you came a little closer, actually…”

13

14

15

***

16

Sera giggled to herself when she finally climbed from under the bed sheets.

“So, what do you want to do now?” She asked Anthony.

“Oh, I think I’m gonna dash,” he replied casually, climbing out of bed.

17

“Oh. Right.” She felt a hint of nausea. She wasn’t sure what to say. “I guess I’ll see you sometime…”

“Sure. Whatever.” He shrugged. “You seen my pants anywhere?”

18

“No I haven’t seen your pants!” She blew up. “What the plum? I bet you were dying to drop the act, huh?”

“Oh come on, they were just a few innocent lines. Not my fault you ate them up… I was kinda surprised, actually.” He chuckled.

“Oh aren’t you smooth…”

19

“Look Sera, no offense, but it was pretty obvious where this was headed.” Anthony said. “What did you expect? I hated you in high school. Everyone did. And for a reason. I only went after you because I’ve heard you were easy. Which, clearly, you are.” He let out a slight laugh.

20

“Oh, sorry I didn’t get that, I figured if you were only after one thing, at least you’d be good at it.” Sera spewed. “That was pretty mediocre woohoo, at the very best.”

“Hey! I’ve never had complaints in the past…”

“Well you know me, I’m the bitch from high school, I say it like it is!”

21

“Whatever, just let me find my clothes and I’ll be on my way,” Anthony backed off.

“Get out!” Sera yelled.

She practically chased him out of the house.

22

“If you’re gonna be a slimy creep, you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences!” She screamed.

“Oh come on, at least give me a second to find my pants, ok?” Anthony backed away from her. He looked as if he thought she was about to hit him. “You’re not seriously gonna make me walk home just in my underwear…”

23

“I don’t give a plum about your walk home,” she dismissed him. “I want you to get the plum out of here, now! Your plumming clothes aren’t my problem!”

“You’re insane!”

“One more reason for you to leave!”

24

Carly had heard the fight, so she went outside to see what was going on. She didn’t venture far from her door though. She just watched the scene play out in disbelief.

The world had gone mad, she decided. This was all a bad dream. That’s why all these things were happening over the past few days.

She’d give anything to wake up.

***

25

Just a few more punches, and it would all be better, Sera told herself. It had to be. Who the plum cared anyway?

She didn’t even notice her sister walk up to her.

26

“Hey…Sera,” Carly waved at her cautiously, scared to get too close.

“What do you want?” Sera lashed out.

“I, uh, overheard the fight,” Carly said, looking nervous.

27

“So what? You here to talk about your moral superiority?” Seraphina yelled out. “Did I make you feel uncomfortable? Well guess what, I overheard your fight the other day! And plum, that was ugly! You have no right to judge me! Your own love life is a mess!”

All the words just flew out. Sera regretted them instantly. Her rage was gone.

28

“You’re right,” Carly surprised her. “My love life is a mess. So is yours. That’s why I thought we could talk. We should be there for each other, Sera, not go against one another. Who is it going to help if we’re both hurting on our own?”

29

“I’m sorry, Carly,” Sera replied. “I’m horrible. I didn’t mean to shout at you like that. You’re the one who’s right. I’m the mess.”

Carly shook her head. “We both are. You have no idea.”

Sera looked at her sister. “You wanna come in?”

30

“So what happened, Sera?” Carly asked once they’d sat down. “Who was this guy?”

“He was just a guy. He doesn’t matter.” Sera tried to shrug it off.

“But you had woohoo with him!”

“So what? It’s not a big deal…”

31

“Except it clearly is a big deal to you, Sera!” Carly wasn’t deterred. “I’m not saying this to be judgemental. I just hate to see you like this! Do what you want, but I can see you’re hurting yourself, don’t lie! Why would you woohoo with a guy that doesn’t care about you if you’re going to fall to pieces afterwards?”

32

Sera buried her face in her hands.

“Because one day, one of them will care.” She said quietly.

“Sera…” Carly wasn’t sure what to say. “Wouldn’t it make sense to just… hold off with the woohoo, until you’re sure they care? Why are you so desperate to find love, Sera?”

33

“Why are you so desperate to push the love you have away?” Sera struck back. “You wouldn’t understand Carly, everybody’s always loved you!”

“That’s hardly true!”

34

“Yes it is,” Sera disagreed. “Maybe not romantically, but everyone you meet always adores you. Everyone I meet just sees somebody that repulses them. A bitch. A monster. A waste of space. Of course I’m desperate to find love!”

Carly’s heart was breaking for her sister. “Sera, you know that’s not true, don’t you? You’re not any of those things. You’re my sister. I love you. Don’t ever say that again!”

35

“Besides, love doesn’t make things easy. It doesn’t magically fix everything. Trust me, I know.” Carly sighed.

Sera patted her sister’s shoulder awkwardly. “I do hope you guys can work it out. But you know what? You’ll be fine, Carly. With or without Ralph. You’re much stronger than I am.”

“Sera… I’m pregnant.”

36

“You what?” Sera was floored. “But… how? You’re not reckless like that!”

Carly laughed bitterly. “Yeah. Turns out, I am.”

Sera observed Carly’s face for a moment, trying to gage her feelings. This was bizarre. Carly always knew what was right. Carly always had things under control.

“So… what are you going to do?”

37

Carly looked right back at her.

“I have absolutely no idea.”