Hope checked her phone. It was almost eight. She looked around briefly. Nobody seemed to be paying attention to her. Time to make a smooth exit, she thought.
She headed towards the corner of the building quietly…
“Hope!” A voice called out to her. Busted by no other than the woman of the hour…
“Aunt Sera!” Hope smiled at the sight of the bride. Hopefully she could make this quick.
“I hope you’re not too bored.” Sera smiled sincerely. “I know long drawn-out family affairs aren’t the most fun for people your age…”
She was glad the relative darkness concealed her blushing. “Not at all! It’s been a great day, aunt Sera! Congratulations, again!”
Sera wrapped her into a warm hug. “That’s my girl. So polite!” She laughed. “But hey, you’ve got all day to do something fun tomorrow… Maybe you could stop by the restaurant where you guys had lunch yesterday. I heard it through the grapevine that the dishwasher there was kinda cute.” She winked.
Who told her? Hope was taken aback. “Oh, was he? I didn’t notice.” She lied. Did she sound convincing?
“You’re right. Boys are overrated. Sorry Lorcan!” Sera let out a giggle. Lorcan just shook his head with a laugh.
Hope looked at her aunt. She looked radiant.
“Hey, I don’t think we’ve got a photo of the two of us from today yet!” It occurred to her.
“That’s true!” Sera nodded. “Your uncle has been slacking off on photographer duty!”
“This must be rectified!” Hope beamed, pulling out her phone. Five past eight, the screen flashed. So Zayne would wait a little, she figured.
“You know, I could take that photo for you,” Lorcan offered.
“It’s alright,” Sera shook her head. “It’s an aunt-niece thing…”
“Look at us, all glamorous.” Sera grinned, zooming into the picture.
“I know right?” Hope felt a twinge of guilt. Her aunt wouldn’t care she was about to disappear, would she? She probably wouldn’t even notice, Hope tried to convince herself.
“Anyway, I’ve kept you long enough.” Sera told her, as if she’d read her mind. “I hope you enjoy the rest of your night!”
She waltzed off before Hope could reply.
Her aunt’s words rung over and over in Hope’s head as she snuck away. Did her aunt know what she was up to? But she had no way of knowing… And if she did, why didn’t she try to stop her? Was she giving her a blessing?
Hope shook her head. No time to think about that. A quick glance at the watch told her it was already ten past eight.
She crept along the estate towards the front entrance.
Nobody. The whole area looked completely deserted. She looked around a little. Zayne must have been running late.
“Hopey?” A high pitched voice behind her almost made her jump.
The twins’ angelic faces were looking up to her.
“Where did you guys sneak up from?” Hope asked anxiously.
“We wanted to go to the maze.” Graham informed her.
“Again?” Hope looked behind her shoulder. What was taking him so long? “But we’ve already walked through earlier…”
“But it looks totally different at night-time!” Graham exclaimed, his face filled with anticipation.
“And we can’t go in on our own because of the monsters…” Sadie explained hopefully.
Hope couldn’t help but smile. “So you wanted me to come with, huh?” The two of them nodded eagerly.
Quarter past eight, and no sign of Zayne. If he was this late, he could wait a bit longer, she decided.
“Ok, but we’ll only peak in for five minutes, ok?” She told them. “We wouldn’t want to tempt the monsters to eat you…”
Sera and Lorcan bode their goodbyes to the guests. With all of their past travels and having the wedding away from home, they didn’t have a full honeymoon planned, so they needed to make the most of the night… Not that they had far to go.
“You didn’t really need to carry me all the way to the room.” Sera said happily.
“Of course I did.” Lorcan smiled. “Has today been your dream wedding, then?”
“Obviously. I married you!” Sera beamed. Her eyes rested on the thousands of white rose petals scattered around the bed.
“Lorcan! Did you do this?”
“It reminded me of the romance festival.” He nodded. “The hotel staff didn’t have pink, but I figured white would do…”
“That it would do!? This is beautiful!” Sera insisted. “Lorcan… today’s been perfect.”
“Well… today’s not over yet.” Lorcan grinned at her.
Hope couldn’t believe it. She got stood up. All the flirting yesterday, all the anticipation today… and it meant nothing in the end. How could she have been so stupid?
That’s what she got for wanting to bail on her family, a little voice inside her head said. For liking a stupid boy. Didn’t she say she’d never be like Aslan? She didn’t even know that Zayne guy anyway… so why was she so upset?
She saw her mother coming up to her. Look upbeat, she told herself. Her face didn’t listen.
“Hey hon,” Carly quickly noticed something was wrong. “What’s up?”
“Nothing!” Hope replied a bit too quickly. “I’m just… tired. That’s all.”
Carly gave her a quizzical look, but then, to her surprise, she smiled.
“I know what this is about.” She told her daughter.
“You do?” Surprise spread across Hope’s face. Was it her mom that told aunt Sera about the boy?
“You were acting strange all day, and I totally get why.” Carly nodded. “You think I still treat you like a little girl. And maybe I do.”
So she didn’t know. Hope wasn’t sure if that made her more relieved or upset.
“In any case, I spoke to your dad, and you’re right.” Carly continued enthusiastically. “I need to accept that you’re not my baby anymore. Give you a bit more freedom.”
Oh no, Hope thought. She felt guiltier by the minute. “That’s alright, mom…”
“Nothing too drastic.” Carly said quickly. “I didn’t get a personality replacement or anything.” She let out a little laugh. “But I was thinking, maybe you and Aslan could do your own thing tomorrow? Continue your exploration, without your lame parents and siblings slowing you down? Of course, you’d have to be back by a curfew…”
Hope felt her chin trembling. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry… You’re not a wuss.
“Mom? Actually…” She cleared her throat. “What I’d really like would be to see Windenburg your way. Will you take me to the main town square? With dad too, and Sadie and Graham…”
Her mother’s expression grew shocked, then concerned.
“Sure, but… what’s going on sweetie?”
Hope buried her face in her mother’s arms. “Oh mommy…”
“Shh, it’s ok.” Carly wrapped her arms around her little girl. “There’s a really good ice-cream stand on the main square, if that’s still there…”
“We should see.” Hope said in between the sobs.
“Yes. We’ll go have a look.” Carly kissed her daughter’s forehead.
Vito had warned her that raising a teenager was a turbulent ride, but she’d thought she lucked out with Hope. Clearly, she was wrong… She wasn’t sure if she was ready for this.