“The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent;Alden Nowlan
the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult;
the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.”
There was a constant dull roar in the air from all the party guests – about 40 or 50 total, if not more – chatting and laughing, while spread across the sprawling park in clusters. The mood was high, as expected.
It was a casual setting, maybe too casual for some of the non-local attendees, but they tried their best to enjoy it, including Sheridan, who visibly wasn’t a fan of the fact that Windenburg in late summer was a home to a great many very enthusiastic bugs. The only outdoors she enjoyed were tropical beaches belonging to resorts with drink service. Luckily was her boyfriend Reggie Williams here to keep her mind otherwise occupied.
Blaine looked extremely content, as he stood talking and joking with his two cousins and lifelong friends Jamie and Jordan, all three of them proud grandparents of batches worth of recent college graduates. Everett Heights in Windenburg had been a key location for many generations of Camerons for many different reasons, Blaine’s father even was named after this park, so rather than try to attempt flying everyone from all over the world to his mansion in Del Sol Valley, the only ones large enough to hold everyone, save the Cameron Estate, but ferry service was limited and getting everyone over to the Isle and back would have been a logistical nightmare, so they had chosen to assemble the entire crowd here.
The U-Brite graduation class of this year had been chock-full of Cameron bloodline descendants. Nick had graduated summa cum laude in law, his parents and grandparents bursting with pride about such an amazing achievement.
His best friend Rohan Sharma could now add M.D. to his name and had already begun his medical residency at the Willow Grace Medical Center. Initially he had hated the idea of studying medicine, only did it to honor his late grandparents, who had raised him since the untimely death of his parents, and whose dream this was. After the first few classes, Rohan realized he not only had a knack for the medical field but loved the idea of helping and healing people and loved his career choice.
Nick’s girlfriend of meanwhile 6 years, Adrianna Auditore, had graduated as one of the top students of her class in business economics, making her daddy so immensely proud that he installed her as one of the top managers of his San Myshuno branch of Auditore Financials, where she could be close to Nick, while learning the ropes and then eventually move up the ranks to the top. She was therefore the very first female Auditore to ever lead any part of the family business, which under Ezio’s lead had expanded more than in any generation before him, meaning he and his only living adult son Vittorio welcomed help from inside their family, and her father was not shy to brag about his socialite gone prodigy daughter.
Ewan and Esmée were also business graduates, management and communications, and they were going to take over Cameron Enterprises, once founded by their grandfather and great-uncle right here in Windenburg.
Their sister Emmy – the third of the triplets – had chosen not to go to college, as she had just completed her training at Vatore Castle learning about the customs, history and laws in the vampire community and the strict rules for mortal vampire consorts. Emmy wasn’t too happy living at Vatore Castle permanently, so as promised had Connell since bought property near her family’s estate on the Windenburg Isle, which was currently a construction site for their future dream home. Small, but just as Emmy wanted it. While she never said it, everyone knowing her could tell that she was eager to start nesting. She would undoubtedly be the first of the five children they raised together to make Abigail and Jay grandparents within the coming years. An equally as frightening and exciting thought to the grandparents-to-potentially-be, as there was a 50:50 chance the child could be vampire, like its father. Even Jay had warmed up slightly to Connell over the 4 years since the wedding but would probably never fully embrace the differences of his son-in-law’s kind.
The Cameron twins, Sheridan and Reed had their degrees in performing arts, hopeful to advance their acting careers and put them on the fast track to world-wide fame as serious actors, not just has-been teen stars. Sheridan had never been the academic type, struggled a lot and nearly flunked out, until Reed put his animosity towards her aside and helped her through it, which repaired their very damaged relationship a great deal. They would probably never be the type of twins who were naturally born besties, but at least they were civil with each other again.
Sheridan’s boyfriend Reggie as well as Reed’s wife Cassidy were present too. Yes, Reed and Cassie’s relationship had indeed lasted and was going strong, as oddly as it may have started, it survived the long-distance and uni-stress, and they were currently planning a real wedding, proforma, as by now they had already been married for over 4 years. Still in secret, mind you, only family knew about them and aside from temporary stays together, they had yet to live together full time. That, too, was in planning.
Everyone was happy at the moment; everyone was ready to turn the page to a new chapter of their lives. Well, maybe not everyone.
While returning to where some of his family and friends had gathered, Nick’s eyes wandered over to his parents, standing towards the outer edges of Everett Heights, visibly arguing again, even though both tried to keep their voices down.
Nick let out a sigh, when he heard a voice near his ear.
“They will never change. So, no use pouting about it, Mr. Big Time College Grad.” Nick felt someone flop his bottom lip around with their index finger until he averted his head, turned around and found himself facing his little sister Aria-Grace. 16 years old now. The siblings hugged, as they had always been very close, maybe because of a rather large age gap. Nick was once intended to remain an only child until his sister’s accidental conception, she was born when he had already started Grade School. With both parents being busy professionals, Nick had assumed the role of quintessential big brother, protective and almost father-like sometimes and Aria-Grace looked up to him. Make no mistake though, occasionally, they would still bicker as siblings did.
“A.G.! You made it! Thought you ditched us for the big party!”
“Ha ha, as if. No, just some among us still have school, big bro. HUG ME ALREADY! Cos I missed your arrogant, know-it-all self soooooo much!” she demanded, already wrapping her arms around Nick’s waist and placing her face against his shoulder.
“School? How? You go to school in the Valley. Did grandpa teach you how to port? Are you a vamp now, too?” he asked into their hug, obviously joking.
“Ha ha. Nope, Zoom classes, Nick. Everything is possible when ViVa is your mother. Wow, you ARE old and senile now! I’ll keep that in mind before deciding if I even go to college.”
“If? You kidding? Have you met our parents? You SO are going to college and if both of them have to drop you off for class each day.”
“Maybe. We’ll see. Because someone has been working on a cool hush-hush collab album with some very very very famous musicians.”
“ME, you dork!”
“You? An album? WHAT? I’m confused.”
“Yes. Me. Remember, I play the piano … won awards … Del Sol Valley Times once called me the next prodigy on the ivories … ring a bell?”
“Yeah, no, I know that, but an album with classical music?”
“Not exactly, that’s why it is cool. So, in a nutshell, depending on the piece, I basically play modernized adaptations of classical pieces on the grand piano or the violin, slightly rewritten and updated by grandpa Blaine, while he accompanies me on the guitar and mom sings some brand-new lyrics of crossover pop-classic stuff. Add some of grandpa’s recording studio magic and you got crazy-rad-cool tunes, not to mention pure genius, sounds INCREDIBLE and we all agree, they will THROW accolades at me!”
“You better train how to duck, those things are heavy. But sounds cool, congrats, I’d love to hear some of it later.”
“Oh yeah, you will. You have to. I need to see your face.”
“How’s things been with them? Mom and dad, I mean.”
“Same as always, nothing has changed. They are either miserable apart, missing each other, or together and yelling at each other – or screwing. The counseling basically just installed a volume button for them, they learned how to keep it down more. Oh, I guess they make up faster. But that’s it. With you gone, we saw a lot of dad. Of course he wouldn’t admit it, but he was lonely AF. If he wasn’t coming in for ‘business’ – yah right – mom dreamt up some lame excuse for having to travel to San Myshuno on the weekends with me, staying at dad’s. Growing up, you used to call us the Cameron gypsies and it was never more true. I literally had to look at my phone in the mornings to figure out which city I woke up in.”
“Oh man. I know everyone was shielding me from the truth and honestly, I was too busy cramming than to worry about everything back home, but sounds like I missed a bunch.”
“Looks like I missed not much, I still see no ring on Addy’s finger. You guys good? Treading in place? Or are you brewing up the proposal of the ages in your brilliant genius head as we speak? I want the down and dirty before the fact, please. And thank you for not pulling a Reed. I want the whole big brother wedding experience and I want a part in it, not some Vegas drive-thru BS, please.”
“UGH, not you too, A.G.!”
“Not me too what?”
“Seriously, everyone is just circling our heads now, with a timer for us to ‘finally’ get engaged. I don’t get it! We’re barely 22 fuckin’ years old now, not close to retirement age, so what’s the fuckin’ rush?! I just want to have some rest and some time to breathe, enjoy myself and figure out my life first before everything changes again. I literally just made it through the worst finals of my life, and besides, not to point fingers here, but our parents are not exactly the best ad for wanting to get hitched ASAP. Or ever, really.”
“Wow, aren’t you a buzz kill, big bro. And here I was thinking I was going to be picking out some cool bridesmaid dress by next summer or something. OMG – speaking of, look over there!”
Nick looked in the indicated direction and saw Sheridan standing, while her boyfriend was before her on bended knee in front of the bench they had been sitting on.
“Oh, gimme a break! Way to sideline a brother! I am gonna give Reggie a piece of my mind about that shit later! Couldn’t he have picked a different time and place for that crap!? What a moron! Addy will never let me hear the end of this.” Nick vented, already looking around and seeing that Adrianna had in fact seen it too and was watching with bated breath. Crap!
“I wonder if she’ll say yes. Sheri, I mean. I am convinced this is not how she imagined the proposal either. I bet in her mind she was telling her friends about uber-romantic proposals under the Eiffel Tower or something, not Everett Heights.” Aria-Grace giggled.
“Well, then she should have dated up, not down. Reggie barely has two dimes to rub together. I remember the headlines everywhere after the first time she took him to the Starlight Accolades. ‘Princess and her Pauper’ was the mildest of it all, poor dude. He probably saved every penny the entire 4+ years Sheri was at college to buy her that damn ring. Hopefully she likes that thing.”
Both siblings laughed, first at Sheridan’s face, she quickly looked around, realized they were being watched by several people, making it impossible for her to back out, so she forced a smile and played the part of happy bride-to-be.
Nick yelped, startling Aria-Grace as well when someone pat him on the back hard. Adrianna’s father Ezio came into view.
“Quite the show there, your …. cousin, is it?”
“Yeah, our cousin. The girl, Sheridan is, I mean. Not her fiancé. Obviously. That would be weird even by Cameron standards.” Nick stuttered, making his sister try to bite back a laugh.
“Well, young Mr. Cameron, when are you going to take the next step and make an honest woman out of my daughter? Over the past – what has it been now, 6, 7 years? – I have let you two date, even stay over at each other’s homes on occasion as teens, I allowed you to live together for years on campus, which is more than I ever granted any of my children before, now that you graduated, I hope you will show your appreciation for my leniency with some serious leveling up in our not to distant future. San Myshuno is not a place for a beautiful, intelligent young woman such as Adrianna to live alone in for long.” Auditore Senior said.
“Ahem …” Nick looked at a loss for words, so Aria-Grace took over, putting on a winning smile, linking her arm into Auditore’s and started pulling him with her and away from Nick.
“Nick and I were just talking about that, Mr. Auditore. They are both going be so very busy starting their careers, it would be silly to worry about that now. Oh, have you had my grandmother Averie’s eclairs? She is a retired chef, highly decorated with tons of awards, and she used to be the head chef at the ‘Rhapsody’ restaurant here in Windenburg, you see, she also has her own line of frozen desserts in the supermarket frozen section, I am sure you heard of the brand ‘Avie’s Delectables’? Yeah, that’s grandma! You just HAVE to meet the face behind that while you taste the deliciousness she created for this party.” Aria-Grace saved Nick by drowning Ezio in words, while pulling him along with her to their grandparents.
When she looked back for a brief moment, Nick mouthed ‘THANK YOU!’ to her, she mouthed back ‘YOU OWE ME!’ making him laugh.
His laughter seized fast when a shrill shriek interrupted the casual atmosphere, halting everyone in their tracks as heads snapped toward Vivien and Liam, the latter sinking lifelessly towards the ground like a sack of rocks, Vivien trying to hold on to him, but her tiny, skinny frame could do little more than guide him down gently, Nick saw his best friend Rohan, the new doctor, running towards them while humbly yelling
“I can help, I have medical training, I got him, someone call an ambulance – fast!”
In in peripheral vision Nick saw cell phones being pulled and dialed, watched Rohan fall to his knees next to Liam and instantly start examining him, then tear his shirt open to perform CPR, while Vivien looked more frightened than Nick had ever seen her, even the time a burglar had them all at gun point or when Aria-Grace was almost abducted from school.
“DADDY!” he now heard his sister’s ear-piercing scream as she started running towards their parents.
This was when Nick unfroze and started running over to them.