It was lucky 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?”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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…
Perhaps she could finally do something worthwhile with her life.
In any case, she felt excited about the future. That was a first.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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?
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”