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.”