“Hello?” Stefan looked up at the sound of the opening front door. Who could that be? He wondered. Whoever it was, it sounded as though they were fumbling and struggling a great deal.
As he rose to his feet, Stefan tried his best to narrow down the options. Tobi and Colette were away with the kids, visiting Amelie in Champs Les Sims for a few days; Jonas had left with Clara to go to the park less than half an hour ago; Jade was out back in the pool; and Mari was with a piano student in the music room…
That only leaves… “Grandpa?”
“Yup…” Alex’s voice called from the entry hall. He sounded almost out of breath as he spoke.. “It’s me.”
“Dad, what are you doing?” Mari appeared in the hallway at the same time as her son, looking curiously as her father struggled with a large cardboard box. “Let me get that for you.”
The music in the other room suddenly stopped and Florian appeared beside his teacher, distracted by all the commotion. “Do you need help, Mr. Rosebrook?” The young boy asked kindly.
“I’ve got it, thanks.” Alex waved a hand dismissively at Mari and the young boy. “Just need a second to catch my breath.”
Stefan locked eyes with his mother for a moment, shrugging uncertainly.
“Help him. Please?” Mari mouthed to her son before whisking Florian back to the piano.
Stefan smiled kindly as he drew closer to his grandfather. He had been right in the middle of filling out another string of job applications when Alex had arrived home. And though the interruption was a bit irritating, part of him almost welcomed it. I could use a break. He thought.
“Seriously, grandpa.” Stefan laughed as he bent down, lifting the box carefully from the floor. “Let me help.”
It was not quite as heavy as he’d been expecting, given his grandfather’s difficulties. But it was clearly full of some sort of large, heavy objects that rattled around a bit as he shifted the box in his arms.
“Be careful. It’s fragile.” Alex warned him.
“Do you want this out back?” Stefan moved his head, gesturing over his shoulder in the direction of the small cabin his grandparents now shared.
Alex shook his head. “Let’s take them upstairs.” He replied. “There’s more room up there.”
“Old pictures?” Stefan raised an eyebrow as he watched his grandfather dig eagerly through the box. He was not quite sure what he’d been expecting, but it was certainly not a pile of dusty old picture frames. “Where did these come from, grandpa?”
“My sister,” Alex explained, “Danica. When she passed away a few years ago, I got a few of these old family photos in the mail. I’d been keeping them in storage, until now.” He lifted the smallest of the picture frames from the box. “Now just seemed like a good time to dig them out again.”
Stefan couldn’t help but smile. He knew exactly why his grandfather was doing this — Alex had been hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia, it seemed, ever since his grandchildren had returned from their trip abroad.
He watched in amusement as his grandfather hung each picture on the wall one by one, sharing old stories and anecdotes along the way.
Alex told him about his great-grandparents, Damien and Becca. They’d both died before he was born, but it seemed to Stefan that they still had a big impact on his grandfather’s life. “Every time I write,” Alex explained, “I feel like I’m making Becca proud, somehow. Or I hope I am, I guess.” The old man laughed.
Stefan smiled. “I’m sure you are, grandpa.” He assured him.
“Who’s that little girl?” Stefan asked as his grandfather stepped back to admire the next photo.
“My mother. Krystina. One of the most amazing artists Newcrest ever saw. And one of the biggest hearts, too.” Alex smiled wistfully beside his grandson. “Almost every photo I had of her and my father was lost in that fire, years ago… It was a nice surprise to find this one. I even have one of her old paintings out in the car. We can find a spot for that too.” His smile widened.
As they pulled the final pictures from the box, Stefan recognized the smiling couple instantly, even without having ever seen them before. “Your grandparents.” He said.
Alex nodded as he hung the trio of photos on the bare wall. “Two of the most amazing people I ever met.” He said sincerely. “They were… Well, you know.” A small chuckle escaped his lips. “Not like you haven’t heard the stories a thousand times. They both died when I was so young. I just wish I’d had more time with them.” His lips curled into a smile as his gaze shifted toward Stefan. “Not everyone’s lucky enough to have their grandparents sticking around for so long, y’know.”
Stefan rolled his eyes as he leaned forward, examining the photographs more closely. She’s beautiful. He thought, staring at the face of his great-great-grandmother. Must be where Mama gets it from…
“Thanks for showing me these.” He said sincerely, heading toward the small loveseat on the upper landing. “I love hearing more about your family…” Stefan paused for a moment. “They were all so interesting. And successful… They kinda left you some big shoes to fill, huh?” He asked with a laugh.
Alex nodded as he took a seat beside his grandson. “Exactly. And, y’know, that’s a big reason why I left Newcrest in the first place, actually.” He confessed.
“It is?” Stefan could not hide the surprise on his face. His grandfather had told him and Tobi so many stories over the years. But he was fairly certain he’d never heard this one before.
“Yeah… It just…” He paused, as though struggling to find the right words. “It all felt like so much to live up to. I kept comparing myself to them. Worrying I’d never be as good as they were.” The old man shook his head. “Pretty silly, huh?”
Stefan said nothing.
“I felt so stuck back home.” Alex continued. “I never really found ‘my way’, if you know what I mean. And my Auntie Ev – well, she wasn’t really my aunt…” He paused, shaking his head for a moment. “But anyway, Ev could tell how unhappy I was. And she told me I needed to fix it. So I did.”
Stefan eyed his grandfather curiously for a few moments as he took in what he had told him. “But… I don’t get it.” He said at last. “You left your home behind, all because you felt too much pressure to be famous?” The young man let out a soft chuckle. “Grandpa, you were the head of one of the biggest newspapers in Europe. You wrote a bestselling novel!”
The old man nodded. “I did.” He agreed. “And do you think I could have done any of that if I’d stayed back in Newcrest? Coming to Windenburg was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The best decision of my entire life… Aside from marrying your grandmother, of course.” He added with a wink.
Stefan said nothing for a long time. A peculiar sensation had begun to wash over him – one he’d never quite experienced before. His heart was racing with excitement, while his stomach twisted and turned in unpleasant knots. Was it a good feeling? A bad one? No matter how many seconds ticked by, Stefan still wasn’t sure.
At last, he found his voice. “That’s really great, grandpa.” He bit his lip nervously as he spoke. “But… what about your family? I mean, your parents… Your sister… Evelyn… Didn’t you miss them?”
“And after you left… I mean, I know you still talked to them and stuff, but… Wasn’t it different? I mean, you weren’t close anymore, were you? Not like you used to be.”
Alex let out a soft sigh. “That’s true.” He admitted, his voice quiet. “No matter how many letters we wrote or phone calls we made, it was never the same after I left. We all knew it wouldn’t be. But they just wanted me to be happy. They knew it was right, even if it hurt.” He paused for a moment, shrugging his shoulders slightly.
“My parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents… They’d left behind this huge legacy back home. One I didn’t feel like I was a part of. Or worthy of, I guess. So I thought that by coming here, maybe I could make my own.”
“And you did.” Stefan said quietly. “You got what you wanted.”
A small smile came to Alex’s lips at his grandson’s words. “You’re right. I did get what I wanted… But when I got older, I started to see that I was wrong. It turns out I wasn’t starting my own legacy after all… I was continuing theirs.” He nodded his head toward some of the old photographs on the wall. “I know they’d be proud if they could see our family now.” Alex continued confidently. “None of it was easy. But when I look at your mother and your aunts, your brother, the kids, you… Well, then I know that it was all worth it.”
Stefan stared down at the floor as his grandfather’s words washed over him. That peculiar feeling still had not fled – in fact, it had only gotten worse. There was a strange itch now – a sting, almost – in the corner of his eyes. He did his best to blink it away.
“Stefan… is everything okay?” His grandfather asked gently, reaching a hand for his shoulder. Stefan glanced sideways at him. There was a strange, almost knowing look on the old man’s face. “You know, if you ever wanna talk about – ”
“I’m fine.” Stefan rose to his feet. “Thanks, grandpa. It was great checking out those pictures with you… But I should really get back to work. Those applications won’t fill out themselves.”
He forced a smile and turned away before his grandfather could reply.
“Hey Josh… Yeah. Good, good. Thanks. Look, I’m sorry to bug you like this, but…”
“Would you mind giving me your cousin Luc’s number? There’s something I wanna ask him about…”