Disappearance in Bloom
Still at Dora’s House. Still May 16. Los Angeles, California.
Aurora sank to the bed when Orlando left the room. Overcome with shame and sadness, Aurora didn’t even listen as Keira and Aunt Pen and Orlando yelled. She was too busy sobbing her heart out.
Blinded by sadness, Aurora picked herself up from the bed and went to the closet. She had a small duffel bag filled with clothes and a couple of granola bars she’d kept stashed in her sock drawer within half a minute. Outside in the hallway, a door slammed. She looked out through the open crack of her own door and saw no one there. The coast was clear. So she ran.
She hurried down the stairs, listening as Aunt Dora played a melody on the piano for Ariel. It was one of her mother’s songs, one Della had started before Ariel was born and never finished. Her heart constricted, her chin drooped, as she thought of her little sister. But then she fought to firm it. There was no place for her here anymore.
Knowing there was an exit though Aunt Dora’s kitchen, Aurora headed in that direction. Unfortunately, she nearly ran headlong into her twin brother.
Gus held her arm as he took one good long look at her. He took in the flushed face, the reddened eyes, and the duffel slung across her shoulder. His brown eyes went huge with comprehension.
“Aurora,” he began. “Where are you going?”
Aurora shook herself from her brother’s grasp. “Away from here. Daddy doesn’t love me anymore. I can’t stay.”
Gus attempted to grab for her again, but she was too fast. He ran after her into the kitchen as the door slammed. Gus, frozen in shock, stood there for several minutes, watching the door as if Aurora was going to re-enter. But she didn’t. In the den, the piano playing ceased.
Dora rushed into the room, her curly black hair flying out behind her. She held a sleeping Ariel in her arms. She looked around then down at Gus.
“Gus?” Dora asked. “What was that?”
At that moment, the clamor of footsteps descending the stairs met their ears. Dora turned, but Gus leaned on the doorframe and watched the door. Waiting for a miracle.
“What’s the matter?” Dora asked, taking in the three anxious faces staring at her.
“Aurora’s not in her room,” Orlando told her, brown eyes filled with worry. “Have you seen her?”
Dora shook her head. “She’s not down here…” Her voice trailed off as realization dawned. She sighed, then turned to Gus. The boy’s shoulders were trembling. She whirled him around and found that he was crying. The sight was so unexpected that she brought a hand to her own trembling mouth.
“I tried to stop her,” Gus said miserably, brown eyes swimming in tears. “She wouldn’t listen to me.” His voice broke. “She…ran away.” His breath hitched as his father kneeled to him. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get her to stay.”
Orlando took him by the shoulders and looked into those watery eyes. He could barely do it without flinching but held his eyes steadily on his son’s. He was going to make no more mistakes tonight. “August,” he said firmly, “this is not your fault, you hear me?” He thumbed a tear away as Gus nodded slowly and hugged his son tightly before rising.
“Did she say where she was going?” Keira asked.
Gus simply shook his head. Penny flipped open her cell phone and called Elizabeth back. Elizabeth promised to call the rest of the family. They would need everyone to search for Aurora.
* * *
When Rosalind Bloom entered Isadora Henderson’s lovely home, she could feel the weariness in the air. She could sense the ghosts of words blurted in anger floating amid the pall of shock, worry, and grief. All the emotions in this palpable state drained her, but she forged ahead when she spied her son sitting at the table with the take-charge Elizabeth Henderson and Keira Knightley. Some things, she mused, must simply be dealt with.
Orlando heard her footsteps and looked up. He bolted from the chair and enveloped her in a hug. She hugged him back, wanting badly to console him. She knew he wouldn’t be calm until his daughter was home.
She pulled away and looked up at him. He had a good seven inches on her. “What’s happening now?”
“Penny, Laine, and Audrey have already started looking,” Orlando informed her. “They’re out now. Elizabeth’s calling her friend at the LAPD and asking for him to keep a lookout for her. We were just about to leave.”
“Where are Gus and Ariel?”
“Dora put Ariel to bed. She…” Orlando sighed. “She’s been through a lot tonight. Gus is in the kitchen with Liz and Keira.”
Rosalind took this in as the doorbell rang again. Dora answered the door and found Johnny Depp on her doorstep.
Her eyebrows arched. “Um, hello.”
“I came to help look for Aurora,” Johnny said simply.
Dora stepped aside and let him in, saying nothing. Johnny went to Orlando. The look they shared warmed Rosalind’s heart, relieved her of some of her grief. Yes, her son had made some true friends during his life, and Johnny Depp was one of them. He was going to need that sort of support now.
Elizabeth strode into the hallway with Keira and Gus in tow. Her long auburn hair was pulled back, making her no-nonsense expression more striking.
“We’re heading out,” Elizabeth said. She looked to Johnny, didn’t even blink an eye at the fact that he’d just simply shown up. “Depp, you’re with me. Keira, you’ve got Gus. Try not to lose him.” Keira’s pithy response had Elizabeth fighting a chuckle. She schooled her face to more serious lines. “Rosalind, I suppose you’ll want to go with Orlando.” Rosalind nodded. “Everyone’s got their cells on, right?” Everyone affirmed this. “Good. Let’s go.”
Everyone broke up, leaving Dora at home just in case Aurora returned or Ariel woke up. When the door closed behind them, she sighed. And set out to clean up the mess that was inadvertently made of her home. Afterwards, she made a pot of coffee and sat, waiting on news.
* * *
Aurora wandered around for a while. She didn’t know where to go, exactly. She didn’t know this city as well as she did her home. Not to mention, she wasn’t completely up on the running-away-from-home protocol. She had never had to contemplate doing such. Not before tonight.
Tired, and wanting to sit, Aurora spotted a sturdy oak tree. She carefully climbed up the trunk until she found a branch strong enough to hold her weight. When she sat down, finally, she thought about eating one of the granola bars she had in her bag, but she was too tired and sad to worry about hunger. Miserable, she lowered her head to her hands and cried.
It took a long time to register the hand brushing her long black hair, the tears that were falling onto her head. Aurora paused a moment when she realized someone was in the tree with her, sitting on the branch beside her, attempting to console her.
She lifted her head, thinking it was her father. He had probably come back to apologize, maybe. But how had he gotten up the tree without her hearing? When she spied the person with her, she couldn’t breathe.
She had long black hair that fell to her shoulders and blue eyes that glittered with tears. She wore a filmy white dress and her wedding ring. Aurora’s eyes drifted down to that ring as they filled with more tears.
She looked into the woman’s face, eyes alive with hope. “Mummy?”
The ghost of Della Henderson smiled tearfully and thumbed away a tear that slid down Aurora’s cheek. “Yes, it’s me, sweetheart. I…” Her lips trembled. “I came down to see you.” She forced a laugh as Aurora kept on staring at her with those awed eyes. “Take a breath, sweetheart. I don’t think we’ll be able to explain it to your father if you were passed out here on the ground.”
Aurora indeed took in a breath—and leaned forward into her mother’s arms. She was astonished to find that she was solid. All the movies she had seen had portrayed ghosts as translucent, like mirages. But she was thankful. So was Della.
Della allowed herself a few moments to hold her eldest, take in her smell. She fought to steady her trembling lips and pulled away slightly so she could look into Aurora’s face. She cupped her daughter’s face in her hands, using her thumbs to rid Aurora’s cheeks of more tears.
“Listen, sweetheart,” Della began. “Your daddy didn’t mean to yell at you. He…” She sighed, thinking of the look on his face when the reporter asked him about his dead wife, who was currently trying to console their disconsolate daughter. “He was operating under a huge misconception.”
Aurora said nothing, but her eyes shifted downward.
“He loves you,” Della went on. “He loves you—and he still loves me. Sometimes that comes up and attacks him, especially when someone throws it into his face like that lady reporter did. And it hurts when it does. Hurts very much.” She chose her next words carefully. “He thought that perhaps one of you’d slipped and revealed something private.”
Aurora shook her head vigorously. “But I didn’t! Honest, Mummy, I didn’t! I just told them that you used to sing because they didn’t know. And how you let me play the drums once.”
Della nodded. “I believe you. And your father will listen to you, now. Just as,” she added with a bit of sternness in her tone, “you should listen to him.” She ruffled her daughter’s hair. “I don’t blame you for yelling at your father. Goodness knows he needs it sometimes. But don’t make a habit out of it.”
Aurora, wanting to feel the softness of her mother, agreed and hugged her. “I won’t. I promise.”
Della held her for a few minutes. And some of the ache that lingered was soothed. Knowing what needed to happen now, she pulled Aurora away gently.
“You’ve got to go home now, sweetheart,” Della told her. “You belong there, not out here.” She leaned forward and kissed her daughter on the forehead. She hoped it would bring her some peace.
Aurora nodded, because she understood now, too. Della helped her climb down from the tree. When they were standing on the grass, Aurora hugged her again.
“Goodbye, Mummy,” Aurora whispered.
Della gave her a tremulous smile. “We’ll see each other again, so it’s more like see you later.”
Aurora tilted her head up to look at her and smiled for the first time that night since her father came home. “Yeah,” she agreed. “See you later, Mum.”
“Count on it.” Della patted her shoulder and gave it an affectionate squeeze. “Tell your Daddy Della loves Johnny. He’ll understand.”
Aurora didn’t, but that was okay. She waved to her mother as she walked in the direction of Aunt Dora’s house. Della waved back, looking like an apparition out of a fairy-tale. When Aurora turned again to see if she was still there several yards later, she found that Della had disappeared. This time, she found she wasn’t sad. She would see her mother again when it was time. But now it was time for her to see her father.
* * *
As they were driving up Hollywood Boulevard thirty minutes later, the call came from Dora. Rosalind watched the relief bloom on her son’s face and knew what had happened.
Aurora had come home.
“I will,” Orlando was saying into the cell phone. “Thank you, Dora. For everything.” A moment later, he ended the call and sighed heavily with relief. Rosalind waited until he had informed Johnny and Keira of the good news before speaking.
“May I say something?” she asked in a tone that indicated that she was going to say it whether he wanted her to or not.
Orlando’s hands tensed on the steering wheel. He knew where this was going. It made him feel all of twelve years old.
“Mum—” he began futilely.
Rosalind cut him off. He’d figured that was coming. “No. You listen. The least you can do while I’m fussing at you.” Orlando clamped his mouth shut. “You have to learn how to handle your feelings where Della is concerned.” She turned to look at him. “I know how it feels to get your heart ripped out after you’ve lost your spouse. Your father left me too soon, and every day I wake up that hits me in the face. But I have never lashed out at you for it. Never. Not the way you lashed out at Aurora.”
Orlando swallowed, guilt a stone in his throat. He said nothing, so Rosalind continued.
“I know you’ve avoided talking about Della to reporters because she’s so precious to you. That’s one thing I’m grateful I didn’t have to deal with with your father’s passing. You meant well, Orlando, but I think your good intentions backfired. It’s made you paranoid. It’s made you selfish. Yes, you lost your wife three years ago, and the pain’s still fresh. I understand. But goddammit, there are three children who lost their mother. What about them?
“I suggest, as soon as possible, that you set the record straight,” Rosalind went on. Orlando started to protest but she cut him off again. “No. You’re going to do it, then put it to rest. You’re going to find a reporter with some integrity, one who won’t twist the words around, and you’re going to do it. Make sure you have the final say on how Della’s remembered instead of letting people speculate and resort to theft to get the story. It should have been done three years ago. Let’s do right by her this time.”
Rosalind fell silent, allowing for her words to sink into her son’s brain. She hadn’t meant to say half of what she’d said, but the circumstances had called for some heavy-handedness. Just as Orlando probably hadn’t thought that he should confront his children on the subject of their mother, but it had come out anyway.
It didn’t take long for them to get back to Dora’s house. When they got there, Dora, Johnny, Keira, Elizabeth, Audrey, and the Henderson twins were sitting at the table in the dining room eating cookies and sipping on various drinks. Everyone looked up when Rosalind and Orlando entered the room. Laine put a restraining hand on her twin’s shoulder. Penny glared at Laine and shook off her hand.
“Relax, Elaine,” Penny said irately. “I’m not going to chew his ass. I’ve already done that enough for one day. Not to mention I would need eight straight before I attempted that again.”
“I second that,” Keira quipped, raising a hand in testimony.
Orlando shuffled his feet and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Why were apologizes so hard to give sometimes? Well, he supposed it was because he’d been wrong this time. Majorly wrong. Elizabeth caught the gesture and smiled behind her coffee mug as she brought it to her lips.
“We forgive you, Orlando,” Dora said gently, making Penny curse.
“Dammit, Isadora,” Penny snapped. “Couldn’t you just let him squirm a little bit?”
“Penelope.” The one word from Elizabeth’s mouth was like a warning. Knowing Elizabeth wasn’t above twisting an ear—even if the ear belonged to her adult younger sister—Penny closed her mouth and pouted.
Even though it seemed like they had forgiven him for being an ass, Orlando apologized anyway to appease his guilty soul. Afterwards, the people sitting at the table in Isadora Henderson’s dining room just stared at him as if he’d just announced that he was going to the bathroom.
“Alright,” Audrey said affably. “But we’ve forgiven you already. You’re wasting your time.”
“That wasn’t a waste of time,” Orlando insisted, a bit taken aback.
“Yes, it was,” Laine argued. “We are not the ones to whom you should be apologizing. The one person that deserves your apology is upstairs in her room right now.”
As their meaning dawned on him, Orlando straightened, took his hands out of his pockets. No one said anything as Orlando silently walked out of the dining room. They waited until they heard him climb the stairs before anyone said anything.
“Do you think we were too easy on him?” Penny asked.
Audrey reached across and pinched her on the arm. Penny rubbed her arm and said nothing more.
“If I know Bloom,” Johnny began, “which I do, the bloke’s gonna be angry with himself until Aurora forgives him. And if I know Aurora, she won’t be mad at him for long.”
“Let’s hope not,” Dora said. She noticed Rosalind standing there and offered her a seat. Rosalind joined the people that her son considered family as Laine poured her a cup of coffee. Rosalind met Elaine Henderson’s eyes, saw the welcome there. This was her family, too. So she sat with her family as the plans were made for response.
* * *
Aurora was tired, but she could not sleep. She had bathed, gotten into a clean bedgown, but still could not rest her head and sleep. Since she had her mother on her mind, she put in a CD that her mother had made of her favorite songs before she died.
Aurora had a finger on the forward button on her CD player when her door opened. She whirled around, heart in her throat, then sighed when she saw her brother at her door.
Gus said nothing as he rounded her bed. He faced her, his face nearly identical to hers. The music was the only sound in the room since neither of them spoke.
We can’t play this game anymore but
Can we still be friends?
Things just can’t go on like before but
Can we still be friends?
“You shouldn’t have run away from home like that, Aurora,” Gus said quietly.
“Well, I did,” Aurora responded. “But I’m back now. I’m not leaving again.”
With that, Gus stepped forward and hugged her. Aurora was so stunned that she stood there in shock for several moments. Gus had never hugged her like that before. Eventually, she softened and hugged him back because she understood what the gesture meant.
Let’s admit we made a mistake but
Can we still be friends?
Heartbreak’s never easy to take but
Can we still be friends?
Gus stepped away first. He sort of looked like the Gus Aurora was continually exasperated with, which relaxed her. And when he punched her in the arm, she grinned—and punched him back. Yeah, same old Gus.
“You’d better not try to run away from home again. Next time I’m gonna tackle you,” Gus told her, trying his best to sound gruff and menacing.
Aurora gave an insolent snort. “That’s a bleeding lie,” she shot back. “You couldn’t hurt a cockroach if it landed on your hand.”
Orlando stood outside Aurora’s cracked-open door and smiled at the sound of his twins arguing. Things were nearly back to the place he wanted them. He knew the one thing that would bring them to normal.
Gently, he eased open Aurora’s door. Aurora and Gus looked up as he stepped into the room. He saw Aurora’s smile fade, her shoulders falter. Gus, sensing that his father was sheepish and not angry anymore, ran to him. Or ran into him, rather.
After he got his breath back, Orlando smiled down at his son. “Could I have a moment alone with your sister?” he asked.
Gus nodded vigorously. And then he leaned in and spoke in a stage whisper. “Go easy on her, Dad.”
Orlando couldn’t help but laugh and ruffle Gus’s black hair. Gus bounded from the room, closing the door behind him. In his wake, he left his twin and his father standing in silence, listening to Mandy Moore singing an old, beloved song.
We awoke from our dream
Things are not always what they seem
Memories linger on
It’s like a sweet, sad, old song
Wanting to break the silence, Orlando remarked, “That was your mother’s favorite song. She used to sing it to you to get you to sleep when you were little and had colic.”
Not knowing that, Aurora tilted her head. It was funny. She’d wanted to hear the song without knowing why. Now she thought she knew why. “Really?”
“Yeah.” Orlando strode to her bed and sat down on it. He patted the space next to him, wanting her to sit beside him. Aurora climbed up on her bed and obeyed. Looking up at him, seeing the regret in his eyes, she curled into him. He brought her close and held her there for several minutes.
“I’m sorry, love,” Orlando said softly. He sighed heavily, the words he had prepared, had practiced in his head, fleeing from memory. “I…”
“It’s okay, Daddy,” Aurora assured him, voice muffled. “Mummy told me you didn’t mean it.”
“It’s true. I didn’t—” Orlando stopped cold in the middle of his sentence, the full weight of what his daughter said to him dawning on him. “You…” Could it be true? “You talked to your mother?”
Aurora nodded, not hindered by her father’s amazement. “She came to see me while I was sitting in the tree.” Remembering their conversation, Aurora uncurled herself and lifted her head to gaze at her father’s shocked face. “She said you were operating under a huge misconception.”
Orlando chuckled, suddenly very tired. “Yeah, that’s your mum, alright.”
“She also told me to tell you, Della loves Johnny.” Aurora frowned as Orlando’s eyes widened. “What does that mean? It doesn’t mean she loves Uncle Johnny, does it?”
It meant everything, he wanted to tell her. It was further confirmation that the incident at the press conference had not been Aurora’s fault. That he had to make this up to his daughter. And he would. Or he would probably get an irate visit from the ghost of his wife.
“No, love. Your mum used to call me Johnny when were dating,” Orlando clarified. “When we used to talk on the phone, she was afraid that someone would overhear and learn that she was talking to me. So she called me Johnny because it’s a more common name than Orlando. Not to mention my middle name is Jonathan.”
“Oh. Wow. Mummy was clever, wasn’t she?”
Orlando’s lips curved and he placed a kiss on his daughter’s forehead. “It seems she still is.”
Aurora curled into him again, feeling at peace. But then something occurred to her. Something sobering.
“Daddy?” Orlando looked down at her. “I’m sorry for letting that girl into our house. This…”
Orlando rubbed her back comfortingly. “It’s not your fault she betrayed you, love. Unfortunately, there are people in the world who thrive on inflicting pain upon others.” His eyes hardened as he thought about it. He said the last part quietly, as if he were saying it to himself. “And the ones who messed with my family will pay for what they’ve done.”
In that moment, Aurora Rosalind Bloom changed. She learned that the world could be cruel, not caring who got crushed in the grind. The last, lingering magic of her life seemed to fade, leaving the harsh reality behind. In one fell swoop, she lost her innocence to the cruel whims of three of her peers. But she was not going to suffer the loss quietly.
“Can We Still Be Friends?” written by Todd Rundgren. Performed by Mandy Moore.