Vivian entered the room, one look at their son, then at Vitto, who sheepishly smiled at her.
“Vitto, we have been over this. He belongs into a high chair to eat.”
“He said he wanted to eat like a big boy. And he is such a big boy already” Vitto explained, his eyes glazing over when looking at his son, his pride and joy.
Vivian rolled her eyes.
Such a pushover.
“Look, I know you are still over the moon about having a son, but there need to be boundaries or we will end up with a wealthy, spoiled brat. And I am not putting my signature on that.” she tried again.
“He would not be spoiled just because of eating on a chair for once…”
“Once?!” Vivian echoed.
The next day Vivian came into the room and had a strong sense of deja vu as she sat down to eat.
“Vittorio Auditore! Have we not just been over this? Enzo belongs into his high chair. Look at the mess he made already …” Vivian shook her head while pointing.
With an apologetic smile Vitto told her he would clean it up.
“You really want a brat on your hands, don’t you?”
“Thought I already had one … ” he smiled at Vivian, who narrowed her eyes at him, but played along.
Then that evening Vivian blew a gasket when she found their son eating on the couch, while his daddy was eating at the table.
“OK, that’s it now. No more eating anywhere but in a highchair! Did I make myself clear?! That kid is stubborn enough already, no need to add oil to the fire.”
“Yes, dear.” Vitto agreed. He looked up at Vivian, who had already moved on and was making coffee now. It made him smile. She still had some of her usual temper, but after speaking her mind, it usually just dissipated. He loved that woman. His wife. He looked at his son. All his life he had always thought he would want a stable full of kids, like his father had, but now that Vincenzo was here, he seemed enough. On the contrary, Vitto felt like he could not focus enough if they had another kid.
Whenever Vitto’s busy work schedule would allow, they would go and do things as a family. They would visit the parks, go for walks, watch their son play in the sand, while the parents held hands and stole kisses. He enjoyed all that more than he could express. Especially since they were no longer vampires. The sun he had always had to fear, was now what he loved. He often stood there, eyes closed feeling the sun warm on his skin. Luckily his son would never know otherwise. And food. Gawd, Vitto loved good food. Luckily he and Vivian made time for frequent date nights. Good food, great company, romance – and more.
They would often visit their families.
Liam and Leonie and their brood, which gave Enzo a good outlet for his energy with the other kids around and it was not unusual to find even more kids there as all four of them often had friends over.
They would go see both sets of grandparents. Usually separately, since Vitto’s father had a way of hogging Vincenzo.
Vitto’s step-mom Melissa was able to pry the kid away, but Ezio got very protective when Blaine was involved.
All of Vitto’s half-sibling had moved out now, living their own lives, except of course the youngest of his half-siblings, Elias, who was still in training in Del Sol Valley. So the Sunday family dinners now were more infrequent. Vivian was not too crazy about them, but played along.
Then there was THE dinner.
Ezio, in his usual theatrical way, rose up once everybody was finished with dessert, clinked his spoon against the glass and cleared his throat.
“I have an announcement tonight.
A rather important one, something I have been thinking about for many years now.
I feel the time is finally right for this. I would like to announce – before I make this a public announcement at the company during the next Town Hall Meeting there – that I will be retiring by end of year this year and that Vittorio will take over in my stead.
This will give my wonderful, lovely wife and me enough time to travel, while I can rest assured to know the business in good hands.
Congratulations, son. You will soon be the owner of Auditore Financials.”
Everyone applauded, congratulated Vitto, whose first thought was what an honor this was, but could not help wondering how much this would affect his treasured family time.
It was not truly as much of a surprise.
He had known for a long time that this day would come, since none of his other siblings had any interest in joining the business at all.
Just the timing wasn’t what Vitto had hoped for.
His secret hope had been that Enzo would have been in school by the time Ezio would even consider this.
It was clear that Ezio would remain involved, likely as an independent consultant or to handle overflow or assist with complex cases.
At some point Vitto took Vivian to the raised deck to discuss the new development in private. Ezio and Melissa were distracted by Vincenzo anyway and Vitto’s siblings were catching up.
“What do you think about this, my love?” he asked carefully.
“Truthfully, no surprise. I am proud of you, you deserve this. And I will support you 100%. Just please do not become a workaholic like your father or I swear I will come to your work and drag your butt home. And I mean it literally, I’d drag you behind the car on your bare butt!” Vivian grinned at him.
“You are so beautiful when you threaten me with brute force, darling.” he smiled, before they kissed.
He inhaled deeply.
He felt on top of the world.
Everything in his life had taken a turn for the better, and for once, all his dreams were fulfilled. He was married and madly in love with the girl he loved since he knew what love was, they had a child together, which they both doted on, he was the heir to his father’s dream, Auditore Financials. All the heartbreak from his youth, inflicted by an inept, cold mother and a similarly cold first stepmother, followed by a parade of gold-digging women in this life, all of which scarred him so, seemed to just vanish. He no longer blushed every time a female would address him, meaning he even had an assistant now. Vitto had become self-confident, as the President & CEO of a large financial institution should be, knowing Vivian would have his back through hell and high water and that he never would be lonely again.
At a similar time Liam wasn’t in such an elated mood. Quite the contrary.
About to enter a hospital, for the dozenth time of late, though today finally with a good outlook.
After weeks of being in a coma, Corbin finally had awoken.
Ever since Liam had found him, he had been by to see him daily, sometimes twice a day, talking to him, fluffing up the pillow, holding on to hope for Corbin.
Lacking any other adult relatives, Liam had been entered as his emergency contact after Emily, Corbin’s ex-wife declined. Jonah, at 17 the oldest of Corbin’s three kids was still too young to be an emergency contact. So the responsibility fell on Liam, which was fine as they had been more like brothers than friends all their lives.
Today he had to wait for a moment, while the doctor was still in with Corbin for some last minute checks.
When the doctor left and Liam finally was allowed in the room, he looked at a still pale face, covered in scars.
Most of them would be permanent.
It did not take much guessing on what probably had happened, even though the police was tight-lipped about progress.
“Jeeze man, you really gave me a scare from hell” Liam told Corbin quietly.
His eyes fluttered open. Liam smiled. A good sign.
“Hey bud! Welcome back! How you feeling?” Liam asked gently. It was so hard on him seeing his friend, usually so full of spunk, laying here, his eyes kept closing and he kept dozing off again and again for moments at a time.
Corbin said nothing, just when he finally mustered to keep his eyes open, looked at Liam, with a strange look in his eyes, while Liam kept talking to him, trying to make light of it all, telling him funny stories.
The doctor returned, followed by the nurse, Corbin looked up at Liam, then asked something that made Liam’s blood run cold.
“I am sorry, do I know you?”
At first Liam hoped for laughter, following his joke, but Corbin just kept looking at him almost fearful, which had the same effect as daggers to Liam’s heart.
His best friend, for several decades, did not recognize him.
The doctor now touched Liam’s shoulder and told him that temporary amnesia was quite common in patients with severe head trauma, and no cause for worry, unless the temporary part turned into a permanent one. Then he proceeded to fondle around on Corbin’s legs before turning to Liam again, asking about their relationship.
Liam told him the truth, but pointed out the fact that there was nobody else.
This is where the next shock came.
“Well, I am afraid I have some bad news. Along with having obviously been badly beaten, Mr. Bjergsen here was also stabbed in the back multiple times, luckily missing vital organs and arteries. But two of the stabs did hit and sever the spinal cord, which sadly is irreversible. This means complete loss of all feeling below his waist, making walking and certain adult activities utterly impossible and also that he will need a live in nurse. I have told Mr. Bjergsen this already, but had the feeling that he was not fully capable of comprehending and processing the news just yet. Maybe it would be best if you could carefully try to explain it to him again. Better coming from a good friend, than a stranger like me.” The doctor spoke some more, but Liam could no longer hear it as anything than some faint background noise.
How was he supposed to tell his best friend, who did not even know him from Adam at the moment, that he would never walk again? That for the rest of his life he would need around the clock care. That he would never make love to a woman again.
Liam grabbed a chair and sat, looking at Corbin who had already drifted off to sleep again, until he couldn’t stand it anymore and left.
The next day Liam decided to go to Corbin’s place. When he entered, stale air and stench of rotten food welcomed him, so he decided to clean up.
Over the next weeks Liam went to Corbin’s home frequently to make sure the mailbox did not overflow and everything else was okay, when he started getting curious.
It was not normally his style to snoop around friends’ homes, but this was different. The police was dragging their feet on finding who did this, as it seemed. But Liam wanted to know. Who could have done this to him? Police right away had ruled out a burglary. Given, Corbin wasn’t everybody’s taste, sometimes a bit crude and his recent womanizing wasn’t exactly something to sling-shoot him into sainthood, but all things considered, no reason to hurt him so. Due to the brutality of the injuries, Liam initially had considered Silas, but found out that Zoey had already moved on and was dating someone else now with prospects of weddings bells on the horizon. No reason for Silas to do this and according to Vivian, he had no clue. But who?
In a drawer in Corbin’s bedroom he found one of those puzzle boxes, which were impossible to open unless you knew the trick.
Liam had to smile, when he remembered it. They had bought this one together on a class trip when they were 12 or 13.
He opened it and found a little black address book. In it, several dozens of names of females, with notes next to it, about all of their individual preferences, from food to in the bedroom, along with favorite colors, birthdays.
Liam wanted to put it away, when he realized this could be helpful. Everybody assumed Corbin’s injuries had been the deed of one of his lovers significant other’s as a revenge.
He began to leaf through the small book reading mostly unfamiliar names.
Until he got to one that curdled his blood …