“Hi mom, dad! Welcome to the This is our Newcrest exhibition,” Vito greeted Pauline and Leo in an oddly formal manner.
Pauline smiled. She could tell her son was nervous. “I love what you’ve done with the art gallery! Looks fantastic!”
“We can’t wait to see all the photos.” Leo nodded encouragingly.
“Go have a look around,” Vito said. “Tell me what you think. I hope you enjoy!”
Vito’s eyes followed his parents. He looked around anxiously. The place was starting to fill up.
“So you’re up for it?” Larobb asked Hallie, looking almost equally as nervous as Vito.
“Of course I am!” Hallie beamed. “You’re my best friend! I’d be offended if you didn’t ask me!”
“Good.” Larobb grinned.
“When are you doing it?”
“Tonight,” he breathed out, looking a little tense again.
“Don’t worry. “Hallie patted her friend on the shoulder gently.
“Aah. This is so great!” She said giddily. “I’m so excited for you!”
“Thanks Hals. Glad you’ll be a part of it!”
“Is this another one of your weird bro things I’m not getting?” Alyssa sat down beside them.
“Oh yeah, you know, some things need to stay between bros.” Larobb turned to his girlfriend.
“I’m sure.” Alyssa shook her head with a smile. “I guess I’ll leave you to it then…” She stood up, turning her attention to one of the photos.
“Actually, we’re just about done with the bro-ing, aren’t we?” Hallie pinched Larobb gently.
“Right!” He jumped up, joining Alyssa.
“Shall we have a look at the pictures then?” Alyssa asked. “Bro-style?”
“Definitely. Look at all the lighting in this one, it’s so… um… bright.”
“Nailed it!” Alyssa giggled. “Are you alright, Larobb? You’re acting funny tonight?”
“That’s just because you aren’t used to seeing the art connoisseur side of me…” He joked.
Ralph and Carly were admiring the art not too far away from them.
“I’ve got to say it’s kinda nice to see it all in one place.” Ralph noted. “The shop, the park where we got married, the path where Hope took her first steps…”
“Too bad the place where we got engaged and where we had our first kiss isn’t in Newcrest.” Carly smiled softly. “I need to ask Vito to take a photo of that place too.”
“I guess he managed to cover some of our other firsts, though,” Ralph said sheepishly, nodding to the picture of the Garden of Eden Gym and Spa. “If you look closely, you can see the hot tub where we…”
“Shh!” Carly hissed. “We don’t need my brother overhearing that!”
“And here I thought you got pregnant by magic,” Vito came over with a laugh. Carly blushed. “You’re huge, sis!” He changed the subject. “When are they due?”
“Any day now.” Carly relaxed a little. “Hopefully not today.” She let out a small laugh.
“It’s not your style to steal away the spotlight.” Vito replied gleefully. “Though the twins might have a different opinion, of course.”
“Speaking of spotlight, how does it feel to be the man of the hour again?” Carly asked.
“Ah, well, I don’t know… I just hope people like the photos.” Vito shrugged.
A wave of warmth overcame Carly. Her brother had changed so much it seemed hard to believe that boastful boy he once used to be and the man in front of her were the same person. She wrapped her arms around him.
“I’m so proud of you, Vito!” She told him. “Congratulations! It’s a wonderful exhibit.”
“Thanks Cary.” Vito replied, letting go of the hug. “I think I saw Sera around the corner, I’m gonna go say hi to her too.”
“You go ahead.” Carly smiled.
“Your brother is very good. Thanks for bringing me along, Sera,” Lorcan said. He would have loved to be able to tell her how beautiful she looked tonight too, but he knew that would just ruin things.
“I’m glad things are… normal between us again.” He said instead.
“Me too,” Sera replied with genuine relief. “I missed you… at the retreat, I mean.”
“I missed you too.” Lorcan agreed, pulling her into a hug. Sera melted in his arms.
“Well if it isn’t the lovebirds!” Vito grinned. “Glad you could make it, Sera. And that you’re finally introducing us to your man.” He winked.
Sera and Lorcan jumped away from each other instantly.
“What? No, don’t be ridiculous Vito,” Sera laughed awkwardly. “Lorcan and I are just friends.”
“Exactly,” Lorcan nodded.
Vito raised his eyebrows. “My mistake.” He said with a hint of a smirk.
“It’s a fantastic exhibition.” Lorcan told Vito. “You’re very gifted.”
“Thanks,” Vito replied. “So are you, from what I’ve told. I’ve heard good things about you.”
“Likewise.” Lorcan smiled.
“About me? From Sera? I doubt it!” Vito let out a laugh.
“Hey, I can be nice when I try!” Sera told her brother with a giggle.
“Sure, sure.” Vito turned his attention to Lorcan again. “You do know I’m kidding, right? She’s alright, my sister.”
“I do know.” Lorcan agreed. He seemed lost in his thoughts.
Just friends my plum, Vito thought. All he needed to see was the way these two looked at each other.
He knew that look. He couldn’t help but be feel a twinge of jealousy, though he was happy for Sera too. It had been a long time since he shared that look with someone. But it wasn’t like he could forget it.
These two may have managed to fool themselves, but there was no way they were fooling Vito.
“I just love this!” Yenn was almost dancing around the room, in spite of her age. Pauline couldn’t remember ever seeing her this energised.
“Vito really made all these buildings come back to life!” Yenn continued giddily. “Ah, this brings back so many memories…” She stopped herself abruptly. “Are you ok, Pauline? I know you don’t like coming here to the art gallery.”
“I couldn’t be better,” Pauline assured her aunt. “The place has an entirely different feel to it with Vito’s photos. Maybe we should make the exhibition permanent.”
Yenn studied Pauline’s expression for a moment, but she didn’t say anything.
“We could always move her paintings downstairs or something.” Pauline added stiffly.
“That sounds like a good idea.” Yenn nodded.
“Do you like it mom?” Vito asked eagerly. He felt like a little kid showing off a drawing to his parents, but he couldn’t help himself.
“I love it.” Pauline said warmly. “Well done, honey.”
“Thanks mom. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it.”
“The name’s great too,” Pauline looked at Yenn. “This is our Newcrest.”
“Yeah.” A smile spread across Vito’s face. “I wanted to… you know that time when I told you two I would leave the legacy behind?” He said uncomfortably. “I… I was stupid. It’s something huge this family has done. I wanted to find a way to honour it all.”
“And you have.” Pauline told him. “I’ve never been more proud of you.”
Vito’s eyes grew misty.
And then he spotted him. Maybe he really couldn’t see anymore.
He got on his feet as if in a dream, barely feeling his legs. He wasn’t moving deliberately. He was floating towards him.
“Hi Louis! So great to see you again!” Carly greeted the blonde man. “I didn’t know you were in Newcrest!”
“I’m just visiting. I didn’t know you had another one on the way, congratulations!” Louis said politely.
“Thank you! Actually, I-“ Carly noticed her brother approaching. “I’ve got to go find my husband.” She tweaked the end of what she was going to say. “It was nice talking to you again!”
“Louis.” Vito said simply. There were a million things he wanted to say, but none of them were coming out.
“These are beautiful,” Louis gestured towards the pictures. “Whoever took them must be a pretty decent photographer.” He smiled. “Hi Vito.”
“What are you doing here?” Vito managed. “I thought you live in Windenburg now…”
“I do,” Louis confirmed. “I’m staying over in Willow Creek, for business. I saw this article online, saying that Newcrest’s very own heir was holding an exhibition to celebrate the town’s legacy and I figured it wasn’t too long of a drive…”
“It’s good to see you, Louis.”
Vito suggested they sit down, mainly since his head was spinning. He felt drunk. He hadn’t had that much juice, did he? He was too busy making the rounds. Was it just his presence that made him so lightheaded?
Just… try to act normal, sheesh, he scolded himself.
“So, you said you’re in the country on business, what is it that you do these days?” He asked as casually as he could. “Did you get lured back into the modelling world when you moved back?”
“I did, I guess,” Louis shrugged.
“Oh really?” Vito was surprised. “I thought you hated the way things were done at that agency!”
“I did,” Louis nodded with a subtle smile. “That’s why I started my own.”
“Oh. That’s fantastic!” Vito exclaimed. “I’m impressed.”
“I’m doing alright,” Louis said modestly. “But look at you!”
“This is wonderful, Vito.” Louis gestured around them. “You’re really talented, Vito. I always knew that. I always hoped you would do something meaningful. I guess I’m trying to say… that I always thought you were capable of great things. And to see you do them now, be that person… well, I’m proud of you. I hope that’s not too presumptuous of me to say.”
“Of course not,” Vito said quickly. “I’m so glad you came here. Thank you.”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
Vito was all too well aware of his heart beating. Were his palms starting to sweat? But he had to ask.
“Louis… are you seeing anyone?”
He knew immediately that it was a mistake.
“Um… yes. I am actually.” Louis shifted in his seat.
“Oh. Of course.” Vito tried to recover. It was hardly a surprise a man like Louis wouldn’t stay single for too long. “How did you two meet? Is it… serious?”
Vito knew he sounded desperate, but he couldn’t stop himself.
“He’s one of the models for my agency.” Louis looked uncomfortable. “And it is kind of serious. We… we live together.”
The words pierced through Vito’s chest. “Right.”
“I’m sorry Vito. I gave you the wrong impression. Again.” Louis sighed. “I guess I shouldn’t have come here. I thought… I thought it had been long enough. That you wouldn’t think…”
“Don’t apologise. I’m glad you came.” Vito mustered up his strength. “And sorry for prying. Your private life is your private life. Look who’s being presumptuous now, huh?” He forced a laugh.
“I didn’t come to rub my new boyfriend in your face, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Louis said. “I came because I care about you, Vito. I always will. Maybe not in the way you want me to, but… I’d really like it if we weren’t strangers. Remember that thing you once told me, in the Bluffs? You said your life is better when I’m in it…”
Vito’s throat felt dry. “Of course I remember. I said that I don’t care if we’re just friends or enemies, as long as you’re in my life.”
“Well, I’d like you to be in my life. Hopefully not as an enemy,” Louis added with a quick grin. “I just… I don’t want us to be strangers, Vito. It doesn’t feel right.”
“I still love you, Louis.”
“I know.” Louis said quietly.
“I’d like us to be friends too, though.” Vito carried on. “And I’m not sure if I’m ready for that, but… I hope we can be, some day.”
Vito gave the empty room one last glance and nodded to himself approvingly. He did it. The exhibition was a success. It had been an emotional evening, but in a good way. He let out a content sigh.
A woman’s laugh echoed through the room. Vito looked up. He thought everybody had gone.
He found Alyssa and Larobb at the opposite side of the room, sharing some sort of a private joke. He felt that familiar jealous twinge.
“Uh, guys, I think you’re the last ones here… It’s not that I’m kicking you out, but…”
“You’re kicking us out.” Alyssa finished his sentence with a giggle.
“We’ll get going,” Larobb grinned apologetically.
“Sorry, it’s been a long day. Thanks for coming, though.” Vito told them. “I mean it.”
“It’s ok, we’re not offended.” Alyssa purred. “I know you can’t stay away from me for too long.”
Vito shook his head as he watched them make their way out of the building.
The moonlight greeted them outside. “Beautiful evening, isn’t it?” Larobb said to the woman.
“It sure was.” Alyssa agreed. “You made me feel like a lady. Almost.” She smirked.
“Was?” Larobb turned around. “See, I was thinking the night’s not over yet.”
“Actually, I was thinking the best part of the night is only about to come.”
Alyssa looked at him curiously. He seemed so serious all of the sudden.
“What’s going on?”
She watched him kneel in front of her. So that’s why he’d been acting strangely, she realised.
“You know, you should have worn darker pants for this.” She told him. “The grass is going to leave stains on these…”
Larobb just laughed.
“Alyssa Leoni, you’re one of a kind. I’ve never met anyone like you, and I don’t ever want to. Your humour, your wisdom, your honesty… I consider myself a lucky guy to be able to be with you. But I’d be even luckier if we made it official. Will you marry me?”
“Get up and kiss me already!”
“That was a yes,” Alyssa whispered. And for once, she didn’t add a snarky remark and just stared in his eyes for a moment.
Larobb picked her up, gently swaying her from side to side.
“I hear this is what people do when they get engaged.” He explained.
“Oh really?” Alyssa seemed intrigued. “Now you have to carry me all the way home!”
“Hey, I didn’t agree to that!” Larobb protested.
“Darling, you poor fool!” Alyssa exclaimed. “You’re marrying me. You’ve agreed to everything!”