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Sera held the infant close to her chest, smelling the baby scent. Everything about Silas was so precious. She kissed his head softly. He’d been home for a few days, but she couldn’t get enough of him. And in that moment, it was as if it was only her and him in the room. In the world. She smiled. Her perfect little boy.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth – the nursery was actually filled with family who’d come to meet the little one for the first time. Wide grins were spread across the elder’s faces; even though Sera was lost in a world of her own, all they needed to see was the little family and their happiness. Couldn’t get much better than that.
“Well, I suppose we’ll leave you three, you seem to have everything under control.” Yenn told Lorcan – she’d given up on trying to get much of a reaction from the enthralled Sera.
Pauline and Leo exchanged a nod. “It was wonderful to meet our latest grandchild. Expect us to be back soon.” Leo chuckled.
“Oh yes, of course, you’re all always welcome.” Lorcan managed to say. “Thanks for coming by.”
“Good to see you, as always.” Yenn gave him a brief hug. She turned to Sera. “Bye sweetie. You’re doing great with the little one.”
“Later, guys!” Sera glanced their way, clearly distracted. The older trio just laughed, headed for the door.
Pauline could barely contain her giddiness. “You’d think I’d be used to being a grandma now, but it never gets old.” She said contently. “Things get better and better with every grandbaby.”
“Here’s to many more!” Yenn agreed.
They all made their way downstairs, slowly strolling back home.
“They do make a cute little family, don’t they?” Leo commented. “All of our children are so grown up…”
“I know, I still remember when Sera was that small.” Pauline sighed. “And now she has a family of her own… It’s odd, isn’t it? When she was born, I already started thinking heirs and responsibilities and wondering if she’d carry on the legacy… I suppose there isn’t much of that obligation left now, is there?”
“No, thanks to you they each carry a piece.” Yenn agreed with a smile. “You’ve worked out a great way to take the pressure off while making sure Newcrest can be the strongest. And with their children and grandchildren, it will only grow better and better.”
“You really think so?” Pauline asked her aunt. “I know how much the Bloomer legacy has meant to you…”
Yenn gave her a knowing smile. “I’ve dedicated my lives to this legacy. But just because it’s no longer a legacy in the traditional sense doesn’t mean there’s less to it. There’s more, really. Our family has built a foundation so strong that it’s not only about us anymore. Newcrest… it’s so alive, don’t you think?”
Pauline’s face lit up. “I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad you think I made the right choice.”
“I know you did.” Yenn confirmed.
She meant it. And how poignant they were having this conversation right by the park where it all started… Yenn could almost sense the founder’s presence. She felt a strange… calling? Pauline and Leo almost seemed to be in another world for a brief moment. She looked towards the park.
“Why don’t you two go ahead?” She told the couple. “I think I might stop by the park on my way. I haven’t even seen the new wishing well yet.”
“Ah, you do know the wishing well is mainly symbolic?” Pauline reminded her with a small shrug.
“Have you met me?” Yenn laughed. “I’m all about the symbolic!”
The two women hugged.
“I’ll see you later, aunt Yenn.” Pauline smiled at the older woman.
“I’m sure you will, honey.” Yenn said wistfully.
She walked towards the wishing well, though she was almost not aware of making a conscious movement. It was as if she was floating towards it. With each step, she could feel her ancestors closer and closer.
She took in the beauty of the flowers surrounding her, the solid feel of the buildings in the distance. How would her predecessors have felt about this version of Newcrest, built after generations and generations of the family’s effort?
She felt a bizarre urge to go back in time to the fresh-faced Kirk digging in the soil next to his tent and show him all of this. It would have been right about here, where the well was, wouldn’t it?
But Yenn knew there was no such thing as going back in time. Newcrest only got to where it was because the family always looked ahead. Kirk included. He must have been the most clairvoyant of them all…
Yenn leaned over the edge of the well. She was getting distracted. She wasn’t here to ponder about the legacy’s founder. She was here to make a wish. Her eyes followed the penny as it left her hand and fell into the well.
The well’s response was a bright light. It came above the surface, briefly surrounding her and gently hugging her for a while before disappearing.
Yenn had never felt so light. She knew her wish had come true.
Turning to the stone face above the well, she waved at it in gratitude. She could have sworn the face was smiling.
“Thank you.” She whispered. Her arm slowly moved back down. It was an odd sensation; while her body seemed heavier and heavier, her spirit was lighter and lighter by the minute.
She came down on the ground, placing her hands against it. The plants growing, the insects buzzing about, she could feel it all. But was she still even there? Resting her head against the soft grass, she was ready to be at one with the soil beneath her.
And then she finally went to sleep.
Yenn had never seen Newcrest like this before. Perhaps most of her senses were gone, and her body was still down there, in the park, but her spirit was flying high in the sky. Was she getting further and further the higher and higher she rose? Or was she more at one with it all? She couldn’t decide.
As she few by Hallie’s orphanage, she realised none of the children were the ones that used to live there when the place first opened. Yenn wasn’t sure if she’d seen all of them before. Or if they’d already arrived. Now that she was gone, time seemed like a strange concept…
It was hard to determine if things had already happened, or would happen one day. But they felt certain. As did Hallie’s look of satisfaction when Yenn passed by. Hallie had found her purpose, Yenn was sure of it. She was sure of many things now….
She knew that some of the Newcrest heirs would stay in Newcrest forever, grounded in their roots, and making sure the city goes on.
And that some would conquer the world…
But moving on wasn’t a bad thing, as long as they’d remember where they came from. After all, Yenn was finally moving on herself, wasn’t she?
She hadn’t anticipated leaving the world behind would make everything so crystal clear. It was almost as if she could taste the future…
The woman in front of her was stunning. Yenn struggled to place her face at first. Or perhaps she didn’t want to. But as her features grew more and more solid, it was impossible to pretend she didn’t know who it was.
“You.” Yenn found it hard to convey her shock. “Why you?”
“Don’t worry, you’re not in hell.” Cassiel smirked. “The subconscious is a strange thing… Apparently you wanted to see me first. I was surprised too. Does this mean you’ve forgiven me? Your father has…”
A man appeared on Cassiel’s side. Or perhaps he’d been there all along? It was hard to say.
The memory of visiting him in that strange world came back to Yenn immediately. But then, was that world truly all that strange? Not much more so than what she was experiencing now…
“It’s good to see you again, Yennefer.” The man looked across to her. “What a sight. You’ve lead your tribe well.”
“So where were we on the original subject? Have you forgiven me then, sweet Yennefer?” Cassiel interrupted, almost mockingly. “I suppose I don’t really need an immediate answer though. After all, time is something we both have an abundance of, don’t we?” She cackled uncontrollably.
Before Yenn could decide what to make of it all, their faces faded away and were replaced by another.
Astrid. With the widest smile Yenn had ever seen on her face. She never looked so happy in her own time, Yenn thought sadly.
“But there’s no reason to be unhappy now.” Astrid told her. “It’s all gone. And I’m complete. If I’d listened to you more, I could have had a different life… but that’s ok. I’m happy now.”
Yenn didn’t have a lot of time to ponder over the bittersweetness of the encounter. Astrid disappeared too…
“Aunt Yenn!” The jolly looking man exclaimed. Though of course, in Yenn’s eyes, Monty would always be a boy. The adorable, good-natured boy with dimples in his cheeks. “It’s good to see you again…”
“Monty!” Yenn reached out for him, but he was gone already.
The pink-haired girl in his place seemed equally as happy to see her though.
Yenn was overcome with emotion. Her Liv. The closest thing to a daughter she’d ever had.
“What a ride, right?” Liv grinned. “You have to tell me all about it…”
She wanted to, but even Liv evaporated from sight, and was replaced by not one, but two people instead.
“Yenn! Finally, dude!” Booker scolded her jokingly. “We’ve been keeping your seat warm for far too long. You took your sweet time joining us…”
“Booker!” The woman on his side gave him a disapproving glare. She turned to Yenn. “Don’t mind him… I missed, sis!”
Yenn was overcome with emotion. “I missed you both too… so much!” She managed to utter. But they were both gone already.
“We’re so proud of you, sweetie.” The blonde woman in front of her told her.
“Of course, we always knew you could do great things.” The man added.
Yenn felt like a little girl. She hadn’t left the old sage woman behind, but in that very moment, she was so close to the little girl in her mother’s warm embrace…. Now that she’d passed away, could she pick which one she would be? Perhaps she was both.
“Hey, I never said our Yenn wouldn’t achieve great things!” Lilah said to her husband. “You’re the one that constantly worried about her!”
“I never worried!” Peter objected, tickling her briefly. “Not while you were with me…”
“Sentimental sap!” Lilah laughed.
Yenn felt a warmth rushing through her. If she still had a body, she would have cried. Her parents, just like she remembered them….
But she could already feel them slipping away too.
“No!” She yelled out. “Mom! Dad! Wait!”
It was no use. They were gone. She was now facing a couple she’d never seen before. Not in person, at least. She had of course come across their faces in pictures.
“So you’re Yennefer.” Isaac said to her. “I wasn’t sure what to expect…”
“You’re the one who believes in love beyond death.” The woman on Isaac’s side added in a matter-of-fact fashion. “So did we.”
Oh no. Yenn didn’t think it was possible to feel embarrassed after one’s death. “I’m SO sorry I wore your wedding dress when…”
“It’s more than ok.” Ruby shook her head. “It’s not like I was using it… You wore it well.”
She smiled as they both disappeared like the others.
And then there he was. Kirk.
“Yennefer. Good to finally meet you.” He told her. “I guess I owe you a big thank you. Not sure where my legacy would have gone without you…”
“No need to thank me at all.” Yenn replied. “You’ve set it all on a strong foundation. It was your vision. We all just followed. Newcrest… it’s yours.”
“Not more than yours.” Kirk shrugged. “I’m just a guy with a tent.”
“So… I guess it all ends where it began?” Yenn remarked. “With you. It’s fitting, isn’t it?”
“You’re a smart woman.” Kirk said. “But you’re not quite right about this one. You see, there is one more person left for you to see…”
Ruby’s voice echoed from somewhere that sounded muffled, but she could still make out the words.
“You’re the one who believes in love beyond death.”
It was him. After all these years. Yenn didn’t know what to feel anymore. All she knew was that she’d waited for too long to see him again.
“Welcome home, Yenny.” Ethan said to her, his voice filled with warmth.
His hand was reaching towards her, all she needed to do was grab it.
It seemed that he was already fading away too, much like the others.
“No!” Yenn yelled. “I’m not letting you disappear!”
His arm was reaching closer. She willed herself closer towards him. Body or no body, dead or alive, she didn’t care.
Everything turned into bright light.
Author’s note: If you’re still reading now, you’re wonderful! Thank you for joining me along on this journey that took me well over a year and a half! Every one of you is amazing.
I’m doing a bit of an FAQ in the honour of finishing the legacy, so ask me anything. If there’s ever been anything you’ve been wondering about the legacy, now is the time to dig deep! I would love to hear your thoughts and will do my best to answer your questions – if I get enough I will make a whole separate Q&A post. Whether you’re an old reader or a new reader, or never commented on the story before? I would love to hear from you. Just make a comment below or on my thread on the forums. Regardless of whether you do leave a comment or not, thank you for sticking around and taking time to read the story. We wouldn’t have gotten here without you!
Sera attempted to stretch her achy back, but to no avail. She couldn’t help but smile though. Her back wouldn’t hurt for much longer, she thought. The baby would be here any day now.
Everything was ready. They’d added a second floor to the meditation retreat, creating a small apartment for their new family. She and Lorcan figured it would make sense for them to simply move there since they were spending the majority of their time at the retreat anyway. They hoped the new living arrangement would make things as smooth as possible when the little one arrived.
“I thought you’d left already,” Sera’s husband emerged from the house.
“I meant to,” she laughed. “But I’m slower and slower every day.”
“You mean more and more beautiful every day.” Lorcan corrected her smoothly, placing his hand on her baby bump. “I love to see how our little boy’s growing.”
“You’re too good to me. If it wasn’t for you, I would have gone insane by now.” She gave him a grateful smile. “I do really have to go now.”
“Don’t keep your siblings waiting on my account.” Lorcan replied. “I need to get ready for the next yoga class anyway.”
“Don’t let Destiny gawk at you too much.” Sera giggled. “I’ll see you later!”
Lorcan chuckled softly. He glanced over his shoulder briefly before returning back into the house. The sight of his heavily pregnant wife headed for the park filled him with warmth.
He barely ever woke up angry these days, but on the off days he did, all he had to do was remind himself of the charmed life he’d been given.
Sera spotted the new wishing well immediately. The others were already there.
“Hi guys!” She waved at them from the distance. “Sorry I’m late! I’m sure I’ll be more mobile once I’m not basically a giant walking balloon…”
“Don’t worry, I’ve been there,” Carly laughed. “And you haven’t missed much.”
“Look at you!” Hallie exclaimed. “When was it that you were due again?”
“I’d say any minute.” Vito said with a laugh, giving Sera a quick nod.
“I’m sure I can spare a few minutes,” Sera smirked. She turned her attention to the newest addition to the park.
“So, this is it, huh?” Sera looked the well up and down. “Pretty grand, I’ve got to say.”
“It’s definitely not subtle.” Carly agreed. “I still can’t believe we were able to get one of these for our little time. I wasn’t even entirely sure they really existed…”
“Even though it was your husband that got the thing sorted?” Hallie was amused.
“If something can be found, Ralph will find it, you’ve got to give him that.” Carly shook her head. “In totally legitimate ways, he assures me.”
“I’m sure it’s fine.” Vito told her firmly. “So anyway, who should do the honours and make the first wish?” He swiftly changed the subject.
“Do you guys think it actually works?” Hallie asked. “I figured it was mainly symbolic…”
Sera glanced at the stone face above the well with a thoughtful smile. “Of course it’s symbolic… but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.”
“Are you gonna give it a go?” Vito asked her.
Sera’s hand instinctively gravitated to her belly. She gave it a gentle stroke. “Hmm, I don’t know… I can’t think of anything to wish for. I already have everything I could ask for. Well, I will do, once little Silas is born.” She smiled.
“Silas McCoy.” Hallie said, seemingly lost in thought. She paused briefly before continuing. “I’ve been thinking lately… this well, it’s our last contribution to the legacy, isn’t it?”
Carly nodded. “Time to let the offspring take over, isn’t it? And of course, the children from your orphanage.”
Hallie looked at them uncertainly. “Yes, but… it’s different now, isn’t it? I mean, remember when Pauline sat us down to have the heir talk, back when we were teenagers?”
“I try not to,” Sera laughed awkwardly. “Wasn’t one of my best moments…”
“You weren’t as graceful as you are now then, no.” Hallie let out a soft laugh. “But you weren’t wrong when you questioned it. I was never a Bloomer. It came to my mind so many times over the years, before I figured out how to contribute to the legacy in my own way.”
“Hallie… This is ancient history!” Sera objected. “Please tell me you don’t believe I still think like that! I’m not even a Bloomer myself anymore!”
“That’s exactly my point.” Hallie looked around. “Your son will have Lorcan’s last name. Aslan never took Vito’s. And all of Carly’s kids are called after Ralph. So when you’re talking about the new generation taking over… Haven’t you guys ever thought about it?”
Vito’s face grew serious. He sighed. “I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve just… never said it out loud. Because it would make it sound like we failed. But you’re right, Hallie. The three of us here are the last three Bloomers Newcrest will know. After all these generations.”
They stood in silence for a moment.
Carly was the first one to speak up.
“Well I for one don’t think we’ve failed.” She shrugged. “If anything, we’ve followed through with everything mom taught us that day when we had the talk. Each of us have helped make the town better, each of us have carried the legacy, regardless of what we’re called. Remember that exhibition Vito had a few years back, to honour the legacy?”
“This is our Newcrest.” Vito thought back on the exhibition’s name.
“Exactly.” Carly nodded eagerly. “As long as there are people who want to keep making the town better, nothing is lost. Bloomer is just a name. It doesn’t make a difference. McCoy, Leoni, Forrester… It’s all the same. This is our Newcrest.” She smiled broadly.
“You’re right,” Sera nodded. “The names don’t matter. Besides, Vito could always have another kid. Weren’t you voted Newcrest’s most eligible bachelor the other day?” She nudged her brother playfully.
“Very funny,” Vito shook his head with a laugh. “I don’t think I could handle another Aslan. You’ll see for yourself soon enough, Sera. Kids are a handful… I don’t know how Hallie copes with looking after seven of them at a time.”
“Sometimes I don’t know myself.” Hallie grinned. “But seriously though… I’m glad you guys feel that way. About the Bloomer thing.”
“You’ve never been less of an heir than we are.” Carly told her. “And what you’ve done for Newcrest was the best build of all.”
“I’d like to think that Newcrest will give the orphans a future, and they’ll then give a future to Newcrest.” Hallie smiled softly. She shook her head. “But enough of being cheesy. We’re talking like we’re ancient… So what about that wishing well?”
“Now that I think about it, I’m with Sera on this one.” Vito said. “I don’t really need to wish for anything. I’ve got an amazing son, a thriving photo studio, awesome sisters… plus, I also happen to be Newcrest’s most eligible bachelor.” He winked.
They all laughed.
“I feel the same,” Carly nodded. “Well, aside from the bachelor thing.” She giggled. “Our little family has been doing so great, and the store’s never been better either.”
“So you’ve made peace with Hope’s modelling plans?” Vito asked.
“Hope is not a force that can be stopped.” Carly said proudly. “She’s too much like her father. If travelling’s what she really wants… well, let’s hope Sadie and Graham will stay in Newcrest.” She smiled. “As long as Hope doesn’t forget where she came from, she’ll be fine.”
“I guess that leaves you Hals.” Vito looked at Hallie. “Are you gonna make a wish?”
“And break the little circle we have going? I don’t think so.” Hallie shook her head. “I guess we’re all boring, can’t think of a single good wish.”
“Hey, I think I’ve got one,” Sera raised her hand. Everyone’s heads turned towards her. “I’d like for this to become a regular occasion. Why don’t we make this an annual thing? Meet here by the wishing well every year and evaluate how things are? As heirs. As siblings. As friends.”
“I like that.” Hallie agreed.
“So do I.” Carly joined in.
“Me too.” Vito nodded. “But surely we don’t need to make a wish for that to happen. Let’s just all agree to do this every year.”
Vito gave the three women a warm smile. “I guess the four of us haven’t done all that poorly after all, huh?”
Sera slowly made her way up the stairs. “I’m home!” She called out.
“Did you have a good time with the others?” Lorcan greeted her.
“I did, yes!” She exclaimed. “It was one of those rare moments. Synchronicity.”
“Oh really?” Lorcan was intrigued. “I guess that’s why you’re glowing even more than usual these days.”
“You think? I feel particularly disgusting at the moment.” Sera laughed. “And Silas won’t stop moving…”
“Let me have a feel.” Lorcan felt the baby fidgeting. “He does seem rather excited in there.”
“Aagh!” A sharp cry escaped Sera’s lips. “Actually, I think he seems more excited to get out of there…”
“Oh! Wow… let me grab our things…”
Sera had often wondered if Lorcan would keep his cool when it came to this moment. She always joked he was sure to lose it. Now that it got to it, he seemed excited but calm. Damn his perfect ways, she thought. Did he not feel the panic that was flooding over her?
“Lorcan, wait!” She almost yelled. “What if… what if I’m a terrible mother? What if I say something awful to him? What if he grows to hate me…”
“Shhh.” Lorcan stopped in his tracks, wrapping Sera’s hand in his.
“He’ll love you, how could he not?” He looked into her eyes. “And I know you will be an amazing mother. Because you’re an amazing person. Don’t forget that.” He kissed her forehead. “Now, let’s not keep him waiting.”
Hope poured the seeds down the bird feeder carefully. The fresh evening breeze was a welcome change from the heat of the day, but didn’t exactly help with topping up the bird food. Still, it was nice. A rare moment of serenity.
The first bird didn’t take long to appear. The girl looked up, a smile flashing across her face. She watched the colourful bird quickly stuff its little beak. It was adorable. Hope had no clue what kind of bird it was – her mom would probably know, though. She considered calling her over, but before she even opened her mouth, the bird spread its wings and flew away.
Hope’s smile faded. She knew she was being ridiculous. Was she jealous of a bird now? But she couldn’t help it. Ever since she got a taste of Windenburg, Newcrest felt like a cage to her. And Windenburg was only one place. There had to be so many other interesting cities to explore…
But that wasn’t how things were done in her family. The Newcrest heirs stayed in their hometown and continued to improve it, wasn’t that the spiel she’d been hearing her whole life? Of course, her aunt Sera had travelled. And aunt Yenn told her that the generation 7 heiress spent several years away from Newcrest… but they both came back, didn’t they? Out of this strange obligation. The Bloomers build Newcrest. Well, she wasn’t even a Bloomer! So why did it feel like her destiny was already written?
With a deep sigh, she turned around, about to head back into the house. She almost jumped at the sight of her cousin. She immediately felt guilty for how she treated him in the morning at her grandparents’ house.
“Since when are you the crazy bird lady?” Aslan laughed, glancing towards the bird feeder.
“Runs in the family.” Hope forced a small laugh. “I didn’t know you were staying at your dad’s tonight.”
“I’m not.” Aslan confirmed. “I came to see you.”
Hope examined his face. He didn’t look mad, but still…
“Listen, Aslan, I’m really sorry about earlier.” She blurted out. “I was trying to help, but the way I went around it was terrible. Besides, it’s not like what goes on between you and Alexus is any of my business…”
Aslan shook his head. “No, you were right. And your kick in the plum totally helped.”
Hope’s face lit up. “It did?”
“Yeah.” Aslan smiled sheepishly. “I told Alexus I liked her, we kissed, and now she’s my girlfriend.”
“Woah, back up! Forget what I said about it not being any of my business. I need to know EVERYTHING!” She dragged her cousin to the table so that they could talk properly.
“Soo, how did it all happen?” She squealed as soon as they sat down.
“Um, pretty normally, I guess.” Aslan shrugged.
Hope rolled her eyes, laughing. “You’re such a guy, Aslan! What did you say, what did she say, and how was the kiss?” She bounced from one question to another.
“The kiss was pretty good,” Aslan admitted. “I mean, I’ve never kissed anyone before… but I plan to do a whole lot more of that with her.”
They both laughed.
“Have you ever kissed anyone, Hope? I mean, now that I’m a pro at relationships, it would only be fair for me to return the favour and give you advice on your love life.” Aslan turned his attention to his cousin. The girl shook her head. “Ever met anyone you wanted to kiss?”
Hope paused for a moment. “Yeah… one guy. But it doesn’t really matter anymore.”
Aslan studied her expression. He had an idea or two about who that mystery guy may have been. “So… do you wanna go back to Windenburg?” He asked non-committedly.
She looked up in surprise. “Windenburg? Not really. I just want to get out of here. The same old every day. We’ve already seen some of Windenburg. I’d like to move somewhere totally new. Like… I dunno, San Myshuno! All the festivals are meant to be amazing, and there’s always something going on! So many people that live there… all these things I could do…”
She sighed, trailing off. Aslan looked at her thoughtfully. He was confused. “But… the guy you liked is in Windenburg. Right?”
“Forget the guy, Aslan!” Hope interrupted. “The guy stood me up. We don’t like him. He doesn’t matter. He made Windenburg the last place I’d want to live!”
What did she just say? Aslan was about to open his mouth, but his cousin wasn’t finished.
“This is so much bigger than the guy!” She explained. “There’s a whole world, right outside of Newcrest! So much to see and do. And we choose to ignore it, and live our lives out here in Newcrest because that’s what we’ve always done.”
“Well, yeah.” Aslan shrugged. “Because our family built Newcrest from scratch. It’s our town. I’ve got everything I need here, really, and more. But even if you think there’s something missing, you can always just build it! Don’t you think that’s cool?”
“It probably is. It’s just… not for me. Not when I know there’s so much waiting out there. I get that our family built the place. But I want to build my own life.” She said, almost apologetic.
Aslan did his best to understand. “In San Myshuno?”
“Yeah. Maybe. Somewhere where I’ve never been. San Myshuno. Or Shang Simla. Or both!” She laughed. “The point is I don’t want to have to decide on a place. Have to live there forever. I want the big unknown!”
“That sounds terrifying,” Aslan attempted a joke. “I mean, we have it really good. Why change it?” He paused for a while, thinking. “Besides, there’s no way your mom will agree to this!”
“Well, it’s not like I can move to San Myshuno now.” Hope said thoughtfully. “We’re still kids. But in a couple of years, I can do what I want. In theory.”
Aslan smirked. “In theory.” His voice echoed.
“A couple of years is all I need to work on mom,” Hope shrugged it off. “You know she’ll eventually fold. She always does.”
“I guess.” Aslan sighed. “I hope it works out for you. I just… don’t really get it.”
The cousins stood up, lost in thought. They were both painfully aware they were headed in two directions that couldn’t be more different. They tried to be happy for each other, even though each thought their way was the obvious better choice.
But at the end of the day, they were still family.
“Hey Hope,” Aslan looked at her uncertainly. “If you do move to San Myshuno… I’m gonna miss you, cuz.”
Hope’s eyes turned misty. “Yeah… same.”
“Just look at you, Alexus!” Pauline smiled at the girl next to her affectionately. “You look fantastic! How are you feeling?”
“Definitely not used to the whole no disguise thing yet,” Alexus laughed. “But everybody’s been so great about it so far… Couldn’t have done this without you, though.”
The journey towards leaving her disguise behind had been a slow one for Alexus; even after revealing her true identity, she would only be comfortable in her true form around Aslan at first. Over the years, she gradually stopped wearing her disguise at home and around other friends, until she finally abandoned it altogether. Pauline had been somewhat of a mentor to the girl throughout the transition, supporting her every step of the way.
“Well you’ve got nothing to hide,” Pauline nodded with an approving grin.
“I know. It’s just hard to remember sometimes, when you were told you have to hide who you are so many times growing up… though of course, you know all about that.” Alexus stopped herself.
Pauline smiled softly. “Like I said, never let the past dictate your future. Aliens will always be welcome in Newcrest, even when I’m not around one day.”
“Hey, don’t talk like that!” The girl interrupted her.
“I can’t be here forever,” Pauline shrugged. “But I do have a few years in me yet! And when the new generation takes over… well, I’m quite sure Aslan shares my views on aliens, especially some of them.” She added with a wink.
Alexus giggled. “Can’t say I foresee Aslan banishing me from Newcrest any time soon.”
“That boy…” Pauline joined in on the laughter. “He is a good one, deep down. I hope you know that.” She grew more serious.
The girl’s cheeks flushed briefly. “I do…” Her gaze turned to the ground. “Aslan is my best friend, after all.”
Aslan perked up at the sound of his name. He couldn’t quite make out what the two of them were talking about, but they were smiling, so hopefully it was a good thing…
He stared at Alexus longingly. She did have the most gorgeous smile. Well, her smile, and everything else. A deep sigh escaped his lips.
“Oh come on, will you grow a pair already?” His cousin’s irritated voice tore Aslan out of his dream world.
“Huh?” Involuntarily, he turned his head away from Alexus. His reaction seemed to have only increased Hope’s frustration, though.
“Quit giving me that look like you don’t know what I’m talking about!” She gave him a cross glare. “I’m so fed up with that puppy dog stare you do whenever Alexus is around!”
“Hey, I’ve told you a million times, she’s not-“
“She’s not my girlfriend, she’s not my girlfriend…” Hope mimicked his voice in a high pitched tone. “Well if she’s really not, it’s about plumming time you ask her!”
“It’s totally not like that!” Aslan protested weakly.
Hope let out an uncoherent grunt, kicking into the water below them. “Ugh! Why do I waste my time on you!?”
She dove into the pool with a huge splash, swimming away without giving her cousin another look.
“…the plum!? What is with you… Hope?”
The girl continued to ignore him. Aslan shook his head. Ever since aunt Sera’s wedding, Hope seemed a lot easier to set off than usual.
Aslan watched his cousin disappear under the water surface. He shrugged. Something was obviously bugging her, but he suspected it had little to do with him.
Then again, maybe she did have a point. But Alexus… Aslan’s eyes shot straight back the blue-skinned girl, as if by reflex. He jumped up quickly, realising she was already standing.
“Thanks again, Pauline!” Alexus gave the old woman another smile. “For everything…”
“No need to thank me.” Pauline assured her. “And don’t forget you’re always welcome here.”
“I won’t, believe me!” The girl laughed. “I’ll see you soon!”
She gave her a small wave and headed for the garden gate.
Aslan raised straight after her, before she even made her way out of the garden.
“Lexi, wait!” He called out, dashing towards the gate.
Alexus let out a small chuckle, stopping in her tracks. “What’s up?”
“You leaving already?” Aslan cursed himself. His voice sounded way more eager than he anticipated.
“Yeah, I’ve got a ton of homework… seemed like a good idea to leave it all till Sunday afternoon.” She smirked.
“But you haven’t even said goodbye!” The boy exclaimed. He’d given up on trying to keep his cool altogether.
“Well, you and Hope seemed to be in the middle of, um, something…” She gave him an awkward smile. “I didn’t want to intrude.”
“Forget Hope!” Aslan said quickly. “I’ll walk you home, at least!”
Alexus looked him up and down. “In your swimming trunks?”
“I’ll grab my clothes real quick!” he shouted over his shoulder, already running towards the front door.
“Aslan! You don’t have to rush so much! I’m not in that big of a hurry!” She called out after him.
In vain. He disappeared behind the corner already. Alexus laughed to herself, shaking her head. Aslan could be such a goof sometimes…
Aslan could feel the back of his top getting damp. He probably should have dried himself after swimming before throwing his clothes on, but he didn’t want to keep Alexus waiting.
He could barely take his eyes off the girl beside him. There had always been something about Alexus, even way back, before he knew her secret… And now everybody knew, but it only made her more attractive.
Begrudgingly, Aslan had to admit that Hope may have been right… to a degree, at least. He looked around uncertainly. Now was as good a time as any.
“You stopped. Is something wrong?” Alexus looked at him quizzically.
“No, not at all!” He said abruptly. “I just wanted to… can I talk to you for a sec, Lexi?”
She tilted her head to the side, looking partially amused, partially worried. “We were talking the whole way, Aslan.”
“Yeah. Cause we get on so well… we always have…”
“Riiight?”Alexus definitely looked like she found the situation entertaining now.
“So… I really like you as a friend.” Aslan continued in his not-so-graceful effort. “I mean, you’re my best friend, duh. But I also kind of… like you in a whole other way too. A lot.” He spewed the words out.
Alexus took a little moment before she replied. “I know.” She told him finally. “I’ve known for a while.”
“What?” Aslan was taken aback. “You do? But how… Wait! Did you use your powers? Read my mind or something?”
“No!” She hissed, immediately annoyed. “How can you even say that? I’m not rude, I don’t just break into people’s heads! The thing is, it doesn’t exactly take any special powers to read you…”
“Sorry. I’m being stupid. I guess you do know me better than anyone, powers or not.” Aslan offered her an olive branch. “So… how did you figure it out?”
The girl’s laugh echoed around. “Well, remember when your mom got married, and started thinking about maybe having more kids?”
“Oh…” A faint memory started to creep its way into Aslan’s head. “She was gonna adopt you…”
Alexus nodded. “Yeah. I can still see it so clearly in my head… when she sat us both down, and said she thinks it would make sense, because we’re such good friends and spend all the time together anyway… And then you begged her not to do it.”
“Yeah.” Aslan felt embarrassed. “I thought you would be really mad at me. But you weren’t.”
“I wasn’t.” Alexus confirmed. “Cause I realised why you did it.”
It was Aslan’s turn to grow a little irritated. “Wait… so you’ve known all this time, and you haven’t said anything? It’s been years!”
“Well, you didn’t say anything either!” Alexus pointed out.
“Because I didn’t know you felt!” Aslan protested in return. “But you knew!”
Alexus frowned. “So now it’s my fault that you didn’t say something sooner!?” She raised her voice. “I wanted you to say it! I didn’t think it would take you years to stop being a chicken, of course.”
A wave of anger washed over Aslan. He’d show her…
He pulled her in, pressing his lips onto hers. And she kissed him back. Ok, this was great, Aslan relaxed a little. She was kissing him! He was growing more and more confident by the minute, his hand sliding lower and lower…
And then she pushed him away. What was going on now? Girls made no sense, he decided.
“What?” To his surprise, his voice croaked. He cleared his throat. “What now? Do I kiss like a chicken too?”
Alexus chuckled. “No… not at all.” She seemed flustered. “But Aslan… just because it took you years to finally admit you like me, it doesn’t mean we need to catch up on everything right now.”
“Right… sorry… again. Plum, I’m such a tool.” Aslan laughed uncomfortably.
“You’re not as bad as you think.” She gave him an encouraging smile. “I like you, at least.”
Aslan’s heart skipped a beat. “So… do you wanna… be my girlfriend or something?”
She nodded. A soft pink glow surrounded her.
“Hey! You’re doing that thing again.” Aslan pointed out. “When you glow all weird.”
“Yeah…” She didn’t elaborate.
“You never did tell me what the pink means.” The boy continued. “I know that when you’re really happy, it’s green, and blue when you’re sad, and when you think something’s interesting it’s like this turquoise-y colour… I never figured out pink.”
Alexus looked right into his eyes. “What do you think it means?”
A grin spread across Aslan’s face.
“I think it means I can kiss you again.”
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.
Hope passed by the tables with all of her relatives chit-chatting without sitting down. The mystery of her uncle’s unusual awkwardness still hadn’t been solved and she was starting to run short on time. It was time to go to the source. She joined the blonde man sitting by the window.
“Hi there,” she greeted him casually. “You having a good time? I’m Hope, by the way.”
The man looked up, surprised. “Well you’ve definitely grown up! We’ve met once, you know. Though you were probably too little to remember. I’m Louis. And yes, the wedding is lovely.” He added politely.
Louis. Hope definitely heard that name before. And apparently she’d met him before too. She scoured her memory, but all that kept coming to her mind was Aslan saying something rude to his dad… which happened a lot when they were little.
“So, how do you know me and my family anyway?” She asked when she realised she wasn’t getting anywhere.
“I uh-“ Louis was interrupted by the sound of his phone beeping. Hope could have sworn he almost looked relieved before turning his attention to his screen.
“Afraid you lost him there for a good while, Hope.” The dark-haired man that came with Louis stood up from the couch with a smirk. “He’s gonna be thinking about work all night now.”
“Work? But it’s the weekend! And my aunt’s wedding.” Hope objected.
“The world of modeling never sleeps.” The man shrugged as he sat down beside them. “I know first-hand.”
“Oh-kay then…” Hope wasn’t impressed. Maybe the whole mystery was just that these two were full of themselves and her uncle knew it, she thought.
“Johny here is exaggerating,” Louis put away his phone, giving Hope an apologetic look. “Sorry Hope. You’re absolutely right. This isn’t time for work.”
“I don’t know,” Johny interrupted, studying Hope’s face. “Maybe it is time for work. You’ve got a really unusual look. You could make it pretty big in the industry.”
“Yeah, I don’t know about that.” Hope shrugged. There was no appeal to what he said whatsoever. She was regretting the decision to sit at this table already. And she hadn’t even found out anything to solve the puzzle…
“Again, not really the time, Johny. Besides, I don’t think Hope’s mom would be too fond of that idea.” Louis turned to Hope. “Anyway, it’s your aunt’s big day today. She does look amazing, doesn’t she?”
Hope almost felt bad for him. Maybe it was just his boyfriend that was self-absorbed after all. She was getting side-tracked.
“You seem to know my family an awful lot.” She gave her investigation another shot. “How come? You’re from Windenburg, aren’t you?”
“Um… we met when your family was visiting here.” He looked rather uncomfortable, shooting his boyfriend a pleading look. If he was trying to get him to subtly change the topic, Johny sure didn’t seem to catch on. Hope sat back in her seat, waiting to hear what else he was going to say.
Luckily for Louis, he didn’t have to finish his explanation, as her uncle seemed to have overheard them.
“Louis is a long-term family friend, Hopey.” Vito turned to his niece, joining them.
Nice and vague, Hope thought. “What’s that supposed to mean?” She asked directly.
“I think your grandma met Louis’ parents when she was about your age.” Vito replied with ease. “So the families go way back. When Louis wanted to see a bit more of the world as a teenager, aunt Peyton offered to host him as an exchange student for a year.”
“Oh neat!” Hope perked up. “I would love to live abroad. Too bad you didn’t end up living somewhere more interesting than Newcrest!” She said to Louis.
“Not at all,” Louis smiled. “I had the time of my life when I lived in Newcrest.”
“Bottom line, we all got a chance to know each other pretty well while Louis was staying with aunt Peyton.” Vito concluded. He paused for a moment. “I don’t think I’m missing anything important.”
Louis gave her uncle an odd look. “Maybe a thing or two. How are you, Vito?” His expression softened.
Duh. They used to be an item, Hope realised. Now that she saw them interact, it was written all over their faces. She wondered what Johny made of that. Though looking at him, it didn’t seem like he even noticed.
She was a little disappointed there wasn’t more to the mystery than this. Did everything have to boil down to dating?
“Not bad at all. What about you?” Vito gave Louis a quick nod. He looked at his partner. “And you must be…”
“Johny.” The dark-haired man smiled at him. Clearly he was unaware of any history between her uncle and his boyfriend, Hope decided. “We were just telling Hope here that she has lots of potential as a model.”
Great. This again. The girl barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
Louis picked up on her irritation. “Well, you were telling her that, Johny.” He laughed. “Anyway…”
“Huh, I’ve never thought of that.” Vito turned to Hope. “Well, if that’s something you’d like to get involved in Hope, I’m sure I could help. I don’t really do fashion photography anymore, but I’ve still got plenty of contacts in the industry. And with Louis running a modelling management agency, I think you’d be all set!”
“Um, thanks, I guess.” Hope said quietly. “I don’t really think it would be my thing though.” Cause I’m not a bimbo and even this conversation is making me bored, she added in her head.
“Too bad,” Johny shrugged. “Guess the lifestyle isn’t for everybody. Working crazy hours, doing something different every day, all the travel…”
Hope’s eyes widened. That wasn’t really something she’d considered. “On second thought, maybe it does sound kind of interesting.”
Vito chuckled softly. “Well, I guess I’ll leave you guys to it.”
He stood up, pushing his chair back. He could feel Louis’ gaze on him. And he felt… nothing. He almost burst out laughing. He’d spent all day agonising how to best avoid Louis and his partner. And now that he’d actually spoken to them and saw them together, he was surprisingly unaffected by it all. He could finally leave the past where it belonged; in the past.
Since the future was far more important.
His son. Just looking at him, Vito’s chest was exploding with pride. Aslan looked like a man today. Maybe a tall, and lanky one, but a man. And he was the one who brought him to the world. Though Alyssa would probably claim his involvement was minor, he smirked.
He tried to find an excuse to approach him without sounding too sentimental when he caught his eye.
“Hey dad,” Aslan half-waved at him. He looked unusually serious, Vito realised.
“You alright, kiddo?” He asked.
“You know you don’t need him, right?” Aslan glanced towards the table Hope was sitting at.
Vito was touched. “Absolutely.” He nodded. “I was just being polite, saying hi and all.”
“Pfft, what a waste.” The boy insisted. “And that guy he’s with seems like a total douche.”
The corners of Vito’s cheeks twitched upwards. “A little bit.” He admitted. “Apparently he’s going to turn your cousin into a model…”
Aslan relaxed a little. “What? Hope? No way!” He laughed. “Remember the time when she spent a week insisting on only wearing her dad’s old T-shirt?”
“That’s what I call fashion-forward!” Vito joined in. “But hey, whatever Hope wants.”
“Not like Hope’s mom would ever let her do that.” Aslan chuckled.
Vito pictured his sister’s reaction to the suggestion. His son was probably right, he smirked.
“Hey dad… I’m glad you’re alright.” Aslan said awkwardly.
Vito hugged him before the boy could protest. “I am. Thanks for looking out for me.”
“Uh, no problem.” Aslan patted his father’s back stiffly.
“Love you, son.” Vito beamed.
“Ugh, dad, don’t ruin it!” Aslan cringed, drawing back.
“Note to self, be cooler.” Vito laughed.
Aslan rolled his eyes. “Smooth going, dad…”
“What would you suggest then? Or am I a lost cause?” Vito smiled. He felt light. His worries were gone. Now that he was finally able to focus on the present, the night got a million times better.
After all, he had the best plus one of them all.
Sera overlooked the gorgeous estate gardens, as if in a dream. This was happening. It was actually happening.
She could still remember her first visit to the Von Haunt estate, remember how adamant she was on getting married here one day herself. The memory still felt so sharp, but everything had changed since then.
Back then, she was so set on being a princess of this palace. She didn’t even care who the prince would be, as long as the whole day would revolve around her.
None of that mattered now. Lorcan had insisted on giving Sera her dream wedding, but she would have married him anywhere.
She was still finding it hard to process. In a few short moments, she would become Mrs Seraphina McCoy. The first Bloomer heir to take their spouse’s last name. Carly may have given her kids Ralph’s last name, but she still retained her own.
Not Sera, though. Being a Bloomer meant a lot. But Mrs McCoy… She couldn’t think of a single word she’d rather be called.
“You ready, darling?” Her father emerged from within the manor, bringing her back to the present. She turned around, her skirt twirling as she spun. “You look exquisite!”
He looked so emotional. Probably never thought he’d see this day come, Sera laughed to herself.
“Thanks dad.” She said softly.
Leo stalled for a moment. He’d thought giving one daughter away would make it easier the second time around, but it wasn’t. A part of his firstborn Seraphina as a baby in her basinet. But much like Carly on her day, Sera looked so happy and radiant. And much like Carly, she was marrying the man that was exactly right for her.
“You nervous?” He asked with a smile.
Sera beamed back at him. “Not even a little bit.”
Leo hugged his daughter tightly. “Good. I wasn’t either, when I was marrying your mom. When it’s right, you know. It fits.”
Sera’s heart filled with warmth. The love her parents always shared, the love she always wanted and admired… she had it too now.
“Now then,” Leo managed to compose himself. “Let’s show them how it’s done!”
Sera laughed happily, clinging on to her father’s arm as they headed for the door.
Hope dashed through the gardens, feeling giddy. She’d just witnessed the wedding ceremony, and while she wasn’t particularly romantic in nature, she couldn’t help but feel ecstatic for her aunt. And today promised so much more… The old mansion was beautiful and it seemed to have many hidden secrets she could find to keep herself busy.
And then of course, there was the evening escape with the cocky but charming boy from the restaurant, and getting to see Windenburg through the eyes of its native. A cute native… Hope’s stomach filled with butterflies.
“Azz!” She spotted her cousin and ran towards him.
“Hey Hope.” He nodded towards her. “That ceremony was a snoozefest, huh?”
“It was amazing!” Hope squealed, barely paying attention. “Today is amazing!”
Aslan looked her up and down. “You’re being weird.”
“What? No… I’m just happy. For aunt Sera.” She added quickly.
The boy’s eyes narrowed. “You’re being weird.” He let out a sigh. “Why is everybody so weird today? First dad, now you…”
He was on to her. Hope evaluated her options. Directing his attention the other way seemed like the best course of action.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said with an exaggerated shrug. “How’s your dad being weird?”
“I dunno, exactly.” Aslan frowned. “He’s just… off. I can’t figure out why…”
The distraction worked, Hope beamed. “Why don’t we keep an eye on him? Pass by discreetly, see what we can find out…”
Vito was trying to figure out how to handle the situation the best. He was such an idiot. Why did he agree when Sera asked him if she should invite Louis to the wedding?
Of course you should, he could still hear himself, would be strange not to! It would be different if you were having it here in Newcrest, but he lives in Windenburg. Besides, wouldn’t it be kinda nice for him to come to a wedding at the Von Haunt Estate, since that’s how we first met him in the first place?
Kinda nice my plum, Vito scolded his past self. Now he had to deal with Louis and his plus one. The closest thing Vito had to a plus one at the wedding was Aslan.
So far, the day had gone ok. He caught a glimpse of Louis and his model boyfriend when they first arrived and were just saying hi to Lorcan and aunt Yenn. The ceremony happened shortly after, so it wasn’t exactly difficult to focus on other things…
But now he had to endure the rest of the afternoon and the evening seeing them together. Not that they were all touchy feely, thankfully, but after a few drinks, who knew?
Vito decided avoiding even looking at them would be the best way to go. That, and getting himself a drink too.
Hope was still observing her uncle. She may have initially expressed interest in his odd behaviour to distract her cousin, but her innate curiosity didn’t let her drop it now. He definitely seemed out of sorts, and it had something to do with those two guys.
She vaguely recalled seeing the blonde one when she was really little, but she couldn’t quite place him. Aslan hadn’t been particularly helpful either. He said he knew the man, but didn’t elaborate. And Hope didn’t see her cousin as much as say hi to him.
There was definitely a past to be uncovered here. And Hope had thought the biggest mystery would be something to do with the mansion! Well, not that it was that gripping of a mystery. Anything to distract her from her grandparents being extra-affectionate to each other though, she shuddered.
The doors leading into the reception area opened, revealing the blushing bride. “The feast is ready to go, guys,” Sera told her guests with a smile.
She didn’t linger though and passed straight through the bar. Where was Lorcan? He seemed to have disappeared a good while ago. She walked into the gardens to investigate. Her family would have to wait a little bit.
Not that they seemed to mind.
“Finally, we can get to the good part,” Ralph grinned.
“I thought you said the open bar was the good part.” Carly teased her husband.
“That and the food… I guess it’s a toss-up.” Ralph shrugged with a smirk.
“Oh please, you’re a mushy romantic softie at heart!” Hallie jumped in, laughing. “No point hiding it, we’ve all been to your wedding.”
“Plummit. And here I go thinking I could keep up the act.” Ralph smiled softly. “We’re getting old, huh?”
“A little,” Carly smiled. “Have you seen our older daughter today? She looks so grown up in that dress.” She sighed.
“Speaking of Hope, is it just me or has she been acting funny today?” Ralph asked.
Carly nodded. “She’s been a little off since yesterday. It’s probably my fault. She’s probably still mad I didn’t want to let her and Aslan go out on their own at first.” She sighed.
“But you did let her, in the end. Such a cool, down-to-earth mom, you.” Ralph said affectionately.
Carly chuckled. “She only knows she has her schmoozer of a dad to thank that for.”
“She has it pretty good,” Ralph grinned. “But maybe you could cut her some slack, Lottie. It’s not like she’s blowing up her school or anything…”
“You mean, like you did when you were here age?” Carly asked jokingly. “Oh no, wait, that was flooding.”
“She takes after you in all the things that matter, I suppose.” Ralph smiled.
Carly’s expression softened. “You brilliant man.” She kissed her husband on the cheek. “You always know just what to say.”
“Clearly, I sweet-talked you all the way into marrying me, didn’t I?” Ralph said with a laugh.
“I’ll speak to Hope.” Carly told him. “Let her be a little more grown-up. But not too much…”
“Did you see the maze?” Sadie asked her brother as they stuffed themselves.
“The one we passed after aunt Sera and uncle Lorcan said a bunch of stuff to each other in the garden?” Graham replied. “Yeah! Looked cool, didn’t it?”
“Do you think it’s safe to explore?” The little girl pondered.
“Well, everybody knows the maze is filled with monsters.” Hope told the twins from her table, causing them to jump up. They both hurried to sit beside her.
“Really?” Graham looked more intrigued than worried. “So… should we go in or not?”
“Were you not listening?” Sadie scolded him. “There’s monsters! Of course we shouldn’t go in.”
“How about I take you guys around the maze.” Hope offered. “Don’t think the monsters will show up with me around.”
“Or if they do, you’ll protect us!” Graham enthused.
“Of course I will.” Hope smiled.
The twins leapt up, hugging spontaneously to celebrate. Hope couldn’t help but smile at their excitement.
“What are you waiting for guys?” She told them before she’d get too sappy. “Let’s go check it out!”
The three siblings headed out into the garden. Though they weren’t the only ones there…
“Here you are!” Sera called out to Lorcan. He seemed to be watching the flowers floating in the pond.
“Hi.” He smiled softly, tilting his head towards her.
“You’re not… pulling the runaway groom on me, right?” Sera half-joked. There was a hint of worry in her voice.
“If I was, I really messed up.” He laughed. “I’m fairly sure that kind of thing needs to be done before the ceremony, not after.”
Sera giggled with relief. “Well, you’ve always gone about things in an unconventional way.” She told him.
“Not so much today.” He replied. “Couldn’t think of a more traditional wedding than this. At least from what I hear. Can’t say I’ve been to many weddings.”
“Hey, I said we could do something more low key!” Sera exclaimed.
“I didn’t say I didn’t like it.” Lorcan smiled. “I’m just not used to being around so many people at once, that’s all. So I figured I’d hide away for a little bit.”
Sera pulled him into a kiss. His arms wrapped around her instantly.
“Why don’t we hide away together for a while, then?” She whispered in his ear.
Lorcan didn’t need any words to reply.
The little girl twirled the brush across her cheek, applying just a little more blush. Like the grown-ups do. She examined her face in the mirror with apparent pride. She looked perfect.
“Sadie?” A voice called out her name. “Are you snooping in aunt Sera’s room again? You know, if mom catches you… What the-“ Hope stopped herself, trying hard not to laugh. “What’s up with your face?”
“Hooope!” Sadie’s face lit up at the sight of her sister. “I saw aunt Sera trying out her makeup for tomorrow. She said it’s important that she looks pretty. So I’m doing the same. Do you like it?”
The corners of Hope’s mouth twitched upwards for a split second. “You look great, sis. But you know, the reason aunt Sera needs to look extra special tomorrow is because she’s the bride. It’s her wedding, her special day…”
The little girl nodded eagerly. Hope could tell she was still oblivious.
“So if you make yourself look this pretty, it might distract people from aunt Sera. And that would make her sad. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
Sadie’s face fell. “I guess not.” She pouted. “Will you help me wash it off, Hope?”
“Sure.” Hope smiled, relieved.
Before they could move, their little brother ran into the room, followed by Aslan.
“Woah, why are you wearing war-paint Sadie? Can I get some too?” Graham looked up to Hope.
The girl sighed, shaking her head. “Why don’t you guys go find mom?” She told the twins.
Hope and Aslan exchanged amused looks when the kids ran into the hallway.
Aslan laughed, sitting down next to his cousin. “We SO need to get rid of the family unit this afternoon.”
“I know, right?” Hope nodded. “I was thinking the two of us should explore Windenburg a little this afternoon. We’re only here for a few days, and one of them is wasted on the wedding already…”
Aslan looked shifty all of the sudden. “Yeah, I don’t know… I was thinking we could just chill here today…”
“Aslan!” Hope’s eyes narrowed.
“It’s just… Alexus said she’d call… and she still hasn’t.”
Hope supressed the urge to roll her eyes. “Oh come on, where is your sense of adventure!? First time we get out of Newcrest, and you want to sit in the hotel, waiting for your girlfriend to ring?”
“Whatever,” Hope interrupted him. “The point is our aunt is getting married here, and she’s seen the world! So many exotic countries! And look at us, lame small town kids who’ve only just left home for the first time… now is our chance to live a little, like her.”
Aslan smirked. “When I grow up, I want to be just like aunt Sera.” He said in a high-pitched voice.
“Very funny,” Hope frowned. “I would love to do what she did, as a matter of fact. Travel to all these places without a care in the world and really absorb it all. I wouldn’t mind living like aunt Sera at all. Minus the guy, duh.”
“No fairy tale Windenburg wedding for you?” Aslan teased.
“Pfft.” Hope cringed. “Anyway, I’m sure Alexus will call pretty early, with the time difference and all. So we should have the whole afternoon.”
“Good point.” Aslan agreed. “It’s not like I’m that bothered anyway…”
Hope raised her eyebrows, but decided to play along – it was hard enough to convince Aslan to join her in the first place. “Sure.”
“Can we go play with aunt Sera after lunch?” Sadie asked her parents while she worked through her butternut gnocchi.
“Aunt Sera’s busy with last minute wedding preparations, remember?” Carly reminded her daughter patiently. “You’ll get to see her in the evening sweetie.”
The disappointment in Sadie’s face was evident, but she didn’t argue.
“Remember when we came here for aunt Peyton’s wedding when we were about Graham and Sadie’s age, and Sera proclaimed she’d get married here in Windenburg?” Vito reminisced.
“Of course,” Carly nodded with a smile. “Who would have thought she’d get her way?”
“Well, it is Sera…”
Hope evaluated the situation. Everybody was finishing up their meals, and all the adults looked content. This was about as good as the timing was going to get.
“So, Aslan and I were hoping to explore the city a bit in the afternoon,” she started casually. “Since we’ve never been here, and you guys have always said such good things about Windenburg…”
“Good idea,” Carly nodded enthusiastically. “It’s been ages since I’ve done proper sightseeing in Windenburg. Why don’t we go for a walk around the old town when we’re done here?”
Hope shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “Um…”
Ralph’s eyes twinkled. “I don’t think that’s what she meant, Lottie.” He told his wife gently.
“Aslan and I were kind of hoping…” Hope shot a glance towards her cousin, hoping he would help her out a little, but he was silent. “We kind of wanted to explore on our own.”
“Just the two of you?” Carly gave her daughter a concerned look. “Hope, we’re not in Newcrest… Windenburg is so much bigger than our town! You’ve said it yourself, you’ve never been here, you don’t know the city…”
“That’s exactly the point!” Hope objected. “You and dad always say I should be curious! Learn as much as I can. Broaden my horizons…”
“Well, yes,” Carly cursed herself silently. She needed to shred carefully. “You should definitely learn and explore, but… We’ve been to Windenburg before and know some great places around here. We can show them all to you! Why do you think you’ll learn more about the city if it’s just the two of you than if we all go together?”
“Because we’re old and boring, obviously.” Ralph seemed amused by the conversation. “It’s hardly exploration if you’re simply following mom and dad.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” Vito jumped in in with a gleeful grin.
“You do?” Aslan finally joined the discussion. “So I can go?”
“Sure you can,” Vito confirmed, not paying attention to Carly’s glares. “Oh, you should go to the Bluffs! We had such a good time there when we were your age.”
Hope perked up at her uncle’s words. “Oh really? When you were our age?” On their own, of course, Hope thought. Plumming hypocrites.
“Yes, we did,” Vito said. He turned his attention to his sister. “You need to lighten up, Carly. Don’t you remember when we first visited Windenburg? Mom and dad let us do our own thing the whole time, we barely saw them. Don’t you remember?”
Carly gritted her teeth. Of course she remembered. But while her brother’s memories were clouded by first love nostalgia, all she could think of was that jerk that talked Sera into woohooing in a bush. Naturally she couldn’t bring that up, a day before her sister’s wedding, but just the thought of her precious little girl in a similar scenario made Carly sick.
“Well, you have a say about your son Vito, but you can’t decide if Hope’s allowed.” She said firmly.
Hope couldn’t believe it. This had to be a bad joke. “Mom! That’s totally unfair! How is Aslan allowed to go and I’m not!”
“Aslan is a little older,” Carly wasn’t swayed.
“But a lot dumber,” Hope muttered under her breath.
“Hey!” Aslan jumped up. “What did I do to you?”
Hope could have sworn the boy who was collecting their plates laughed a little under his breath. Great. Even the dishwasher was laughing at her.
“Ok, why don’t we all take a step back,” Ralph’s husky voice made everybody stop in their tracks. “Hope, if you’re trying to get away with something, insulting your partners in crime is not the way to go about it.”
Aslan sneered at Hope victoriously. She’d deal with him later, Hope decided.
“Lottie, Hope isn’t a little girl anymore, as much as we’d like her to be. A few hours of sightseeing with her cousin are completely reasonable.” Ralph winked at his daughter. “But you two better be back for dinner Hope, or your mother will eat me alive.”
Hope melted into her chair with relief. “Thanks dad! You’re the best!”
“Eeep, freedom!” Hope squealed when they walked out of the restaurant. She beamed at her cousin. “So, we’ve got four hours, what should we check out first?”
“I still haven’t decided if you’re off the hook for calling me dumb,” Aslan complained jokingly.
Hope hung her head down. “Sorry about that… I was peeved off you weren’t helping me fight our ground!”
“I didn’t need to,” Aslan shrugged with a smirk. “My dad’s chill.”
“Thankfully, so is mine,” Hope laughed. “So anyway…”
They were interrupted by Aslan’s phone vibrating.
“Hang on a sec,” Aslan looked at the screen. Judging by his excitement when he saw the caller ID, it was bad news, Hope realised immediately.
“It’s Alexus!” He confirmed the obvious. “Ok, I’ve got to take this!”
“Now?” Hope couldn’t believe her luck. “You seriously can’t go without your girlfriend for a couple days!?”
“She’s not my girlfriend!” Aslan hissed in her direction before answering the call. “Hi, Lexi… I’ve missed you too!”
“Yeah, right…” Hope sighed as she watched her cousin disappear around the corner with the phone glued to his ear.
Brilliant, Hope thought. Aslan was probably lost to the world for the next half hour at the very least. So much for making the most of the time they had here. Stupid teenage boys and their hormones.
“Hey.” Hope’s thoughts were interrupted by a deep voice calling out from over her shoulder. She turned around. Speaking of teenage boys… wasn’t that the boy who’d cleared their table just a few minutes before? “Finally managed to escape, huh?”
So he did overhear them talking inside, Hope thought, mortified. “Joys of family trips.” She attempted to laugh it off. He had to think she was never allowed to do anything. “They’re not always this overprotective…”
The boy laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ve been there… Trust me.” He shook his head. “My aunt used to be like that all the time. But I don’t live with her anymore, so I haven’t had to deal with it for a while.”
“Oh really?” Hope was relieved. He was probably just being polite, but she’d take it. His living situation made her curious, but she didn’t want to pry. “You live around here?” She asked instead.
He nodded and gestured somewhat vaguely to his left. “I’ve got an apartment just around the corner.”
“You mean, your own apartment?” Hope struggled to hide her surprise. “I thought you were my age.”
His eyes looked her up and down for a few moments before he replied. “Depends on how old you are… I might be.” He said at last with a smile that was almost teasing. “I guess I kinda moved out earlier than most people do. It’s pretty cool.”
Hope felt her cheeks burning. What was wrong with her? Normally, she’d get annoyed if somebody eyed her up that way. This guy, though… She stopped herself. There was no way she would become like Aslan.
“Aren’t you worldly…” she said sarcastically, hoping she sounded underwhelmed. The truth was it did sound pretty cool. With half of Newcrest being related to her in some way, Hope couldn’t dream of having such independence.
He nodded, giving her a small wink. “Yup, that’s me. Mr. Worldly.” He teased. “Oh, and speaking of worldly… if you’re really looking for a chance to explore a little, just keep in mind that all the best places in Windenburg aren’t anything you’ll find on a map.” His lips curled into a smirk. “I mean, all those tourist traps are nice enough, I guess… If you aren’t up for a little adventure.”
This boring family trip sure took a turn, Hope thought. Maybe Aslan’s clinginess was actually going to be useful. “If I wanted to see the old town square, I would have stuck with the parental tour.” She let out a small laugh.
“Ah, the town square. Thrilling.” He joined in her laughter. “And what was next on the agenda? The Bluffs? The Ruins? The Von Haunt Estate?”
“Got a whole day of family fun at the Von Haunt Estate tomorrow.” Hope rolled her eyes. She did actually find the old manor really intriguing; there was nothing quite like it back at home. But she didn’t want to seem like a stupid tourist to him. “That’s the whole reason we’re here, you see. My aunt’s getting married there.”
“Cool… Congratulations, I guess.” He replied. “Unless the guy’s a total jerk or something. In that case, my condolences.” He chuckled softly as he spoke. “Listen, I’ve gotta run pretty soon… But if you get sick of hanging out with your family tomorrow… Well, I can think of a few places around the city you might wanna see. If you’re up for it?” He offered.
The offer was more tempting than Hope would like to admit. Would she be able to disappear during the reception? Surely everyone’s attention would be on her aunt. Perhaps after everyone’s had a few drinks… Was she seriously considering this? Maybe she was more like her cousin than she’d thought.
Then again, sneaking out with a cute local couldn’t be more different from calling someone from home at the first available opportunity. It was too good of a chance to pass, Hope decided.
“I suppose it’s the only way I can find out if you’re all talk, Mr. Worldly.” She grinned at the boy. She paused for a moment, thinking. “Though I don’t even know your name… Running off with a stranger, my mom would have a heart attack.”
“Ha! Well we can’t have that, can we?” His smile widened. “I guess you can call me Zayne… Though I’m kind of digging ‘Mr. Worldly’ right now.” Zayne laughed. “And you are…?”
“Hope.” She replied, her expression softening briefly. “Obviously I have to work on an equally sweet nickname for myself.”
“I’m sure I can think of one or two.” He assured her with a wink. “So, Hope… What time should I swoop in and rescue you tomorrow?” Zayne asked. “Obviously you’ve gotta be there for the ceremony, but…?”
Hope did her best to try to ignore the fluttery feeling rushing over her. “Let’s make it 8. I’m sure everyone will be distracted enough by the festivities at that point.” She prayed that would be the case, at least.
Zayne smiled. “Perfect. See you at 8 then.”
“See you tomorrow.” She gave him a half wave, beaming.
He gave her a small nod and one last smile, then turned and headed off down the street. Her eyes followed him until he disappeared around the corner.
“Ok, I’m back!” Aslan brought Hope back to reality. “I’ve cut the call short. Happy?”
“Oh… thanks.” She looked at her cousin distractedly. All she could think about was tomorrow.
Aslan immediately noticed something was off. “Hey… who was that guy?”
“I dunno, just… some guy.” Hope shrugged in what she hoped was a casual manner.
Aslan gave her an odd look, tilting his head a little. “Yeah, right.”
Author’s note: This chapter was co-written with the extremely talented CitizenErased14, who wrote all of Zayne’s lines and actions. Zayne is of course from her amazing story Ashes to Ashes.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Ashes to Ashes is a dramatic non-Pinstar legacy story that will take you on a whirlwind ride full of emotions you didn’t know you were capable of. It is also the sequel of Dust to Dust, a drama about friendship, afterlife and moving on.
Dust to Dust happens to be my favourite simlit story of all time, so if this story has avoided you for some bizarre reason (a glitch in the Matrix?), I would highly recommend that you start reading it immediately. (And then read Ashes to Ashes. And eventually meet Zayne. And get to see his take on this encounter, in a few weeks’ time. 🙂 )
Now that Lorcan and Sera’s travels through Asia have come to a close, it’s time to share the amazing gallery lots I’ve used throughout the chapters. I figured it would do these gorgeous builds and their talented creators more justice to do a separate post rather than listing these at the end of each chapter. The amount of talent among builders out there still astonishes me, I don’t know how people come up with these things!
I’ve used the two lots above to give the Spice Market a slightly more Indian flavour, and while they were mainly in the background in the story, they’re definitely worth checking out in their own right – especially if your sims are foodies, since they’re both restaurants!
I’ve never been to India myself, but I love the colours of these builds and they made San Myshuno feel even more exotic!
The gallery is filled with Taj Mahal-esque builds, and I tried out heeps of them before settling on one, and I can honestly say this one was the most gorgeous. (Plus it fit on the 64 by 64 lot on the island in Windenburg perfectly, and it looks to die for in that lighting!)
Both of the background builds in this chapter were built by Harichansarubou, and boy, do you need to check out this person’s gallery profile! They have a bunch of Japanese-style homes which I didn’t quite get a chance to utilise in the story, but I can tell you first hand that they are the real deal – I was lucky enough to visit Japan two years ago and the residential areas look exactly like this simmer’s builds. If you want to build yourself a perfect mini-Japan in The Sims, this is the place to be.
Left: Japanese Wedding Shrine (Download)
Right: Sushi Kappo Oyashiro (Download)
Now here is where we get to the builds that got more heavily featured in the story. Firstly, there’s the stunning Asian Mountain by Auvbri (Download). I desperately wanted a remote-looking mountain build with an Asian feel for chapter 9.79, and this one delivered on all fronts. I couldn’t believe my luck that someone made exactly what I was looking for!
Next up is a Dojo and Spa that was co-created by two of my favourite builders, Fry of Simproved and Zoe of The Great Simphony. I mean… just look at this thing, do I even need to say more? Well, I will… Both of these ladies make extremely creative and unique builds; some of you may remember that I used heaps of Simproved’ builds for my fairytale chapter back in generation 8.
The Great Simphony is the queen of China-inspired builds, and there’s a good reason why I saved her for last; not only were both of the builds in chapter 9.80 made by her, but her builds are also the reason why this whole travel arc exists. I’ve been dying to utilise some of her Asian builds for a long time, and a journey of self-discovery seemed like a perfect path for Sera and Lorcan; win-win situation!
Fun fact: Zoe’s creepy barn build and archeologic dig site also significantly inspired Ralph and Carly’s YA storyline earlier in the generation. Basically, if you’ve enjoyed this generation, you should thank her for creating builds that practically make stories write themselves…
Left: Temple and Market (Download)
Right: Chinese Water Garden (Download)
Hope you enjoyed this little detour from the story and that some of these builds inspire something great in your game too!