Mourning in Bloom
February 24. The Bloom House. Canterbury, England.
Aurora was starting to worry about her father.
It was strange, to her, the way he was acting. He probably didn’t know that she noticed anything strange at all, particularly while she was coping with the fact that her Mummy was dead. Everyone was somber and hollow-eyed, and no one laughed. No one built houses out of Legos, or watched funny movies.
Penny, Elizabeth (Della’s big sister), Audrey, Margo, and Nick remained in Canterbury after Della’s funeral, remaining to take care of the family she left behind. Rosalind had put herself personally in charge of caring for the newborn Ariel, taking a leave of absence from work. At the moment, Orlando could only take Ariel in small doses before sadness engulfed him. Aurora watched him hold her once, witnessing the utter agony he experienced looking at her baby sister. She’d overheard a conversation between Aunt Pen and Aunt Lizzie while getting a glass of water one night, and learned that it was because Ariel looked just like her mother. Aurora had yet to see the resemblance.
Audrey Natalie Larkin, with her California girl blond hair and blue-green eyes, looked like she should be grinning her ass off in a Doublemint commercial, but instead she used her appearance and her talent for charm (and scaring the shit out of people) to be a public relations guru. It was after the memorial service, and Audrey felt raw and full of nerves. Staring at her late cousin’s husband from the doorway of the den, she knew this man was going to need some help.
With a sigh, she sat down on the ottoman in front of his slumped and black-clad figure and decided that she would have to be straight with him. He would take nothing less.
She waited until his red eyes glanced up and acknowledged her presence before speaking.
“The fan response has been overwhelming,” Audrey began. “Both yours and hers. Everyone’s been calling, giving their condolences, wanting to help.” She inhaled for this next part. “But there has been some criticism in the papers over the fact that you two got married in secret and had kids.” She paused. “Not necessarily in that order. That’s most of the cause of the criticism.”
“And what would you have told us to do, Audrey?” Orlando asked suddenly. It didn’t surprise Audrey that there was an underlying defensiveness in his tone. The pain was still fresh, even for her. She didn’t tell him that it took her fifteen minutes of deep breathing before she could calm herself, rid herself of the anger reading some of the magazines brought her. That was her own business.
“I’m not quite sure,” Audrey admitted. “I mean, it was mine and Della’s idea to keep your paternity a secret in the first place, not to mention the fact that we had to talk you into it.”
“And I’ll never regret agreeing for one instant,” Orlando told her.
“I know.” Wanting to give a little comfort, Audrey reached out and squeezed his hand. His lips twitched, but a smile didn’t completely form. “And I’ve already issued a statement that you would like to be left alone and thanking everyone for their love and concern.” Orlando nodded slowly. “But eventually, they’re going to want the story. The real story. When you’re ready, we’ll tell it.”
Orlando didn’t speak. Audrey squeezed his hand again, feeling the force of his grief pushing her away. She rose to her feet and walked out slowly. Audrey was so preoccupied that she didn’t notice Aurora hovering by the door, expression solemn.
But Aurora hardly noticed her either. Her eyes were on her father.
Rosalind came down the hall at that moment with Ariel. Aurora backed out of the way and escaped Rosalind’s notice. A moment later, after the phone started ringing, Rosalind came rushing out of the room. Aurora took that as her cue to go inside.
Orlando was holding Ariel, who was sleeping. Aurora came over to the chair and rested her chin on the arm. It was so quiet that the rain’s gentle drumming from outside was the only sound in the room. Aurora liked the silence.
Just when she thought he hadn’t noticed her, Orlando turned and looked at Aurora. Wanting to be closer, Aurora came around and sat in the chair with her father. Together they stared at Ariel’s sleeping face. She glanced up at him, could see the pain in his eyes.
“My little baby girl,” Orlando murmured. He fingered Ariel’s cap of dark hair. “Your mum would be so enchanted with you.” He swallowed hard. “I just wish she were here right now to tell me what to do. I have no idea what to do with you, love.”
Because it was the only thing that felt right, Aurora covered her father’s bigger hand with her own smaller one. They locked eyes. Orlando was so floored by the simple strength in them that he was not able to speak.
“I’ll help you, Daddy,” she said simply. “I’ll help you with Ariel.”
Orlando stared at her in disbelief before he brought her to him. She could feel him take in a shuddering breath, his heart thudding against his chest.
“We’ve got a long road ahead of us,” he murmured. “It’s not going to be easy dealing with your dear old dad.” He said the last part as if he were saying it to himself. “But I don’t know what I would do without you.”
It was a sobering moment for Aurora. Because at that moment, she realized that her father, capable of the impossible, was not superhuman. She didn’t preen, didn’t feel pride or triumph because she now felt important. Suddenly jealousy didn’t matter. She had a job to do now, and she was going to do her best at it.
* * *
So they adjusted. Orlando had a little bit of time before his next project, so he spent time at home. He witnessed as his eldest daughter cared for her baby sister as if she were her own. Most of the time, Rosalind was there to oversee Aurora’s care of Ariel, but it was remarkable to see the almost five-year-old feed her sister whenever Rosalind allowed.
Penny, who was also taking a break, visited the Bloom family. She wanted to check up on her nieces and nephew—and their father most of all.
While Rosalind, the twins and Ariel watched The Fellowship of the Ring one afternoon (it suddenly became Aurora’s favorite movie), Orlando and Penny stood outside the door, far enough away to be considered having a private conversation but close enough to have a good view of the children and their grandmother.
“So how are you holding up?” Penny asked in a soft voice.
“As well as can be expected,” Orlando admitted. He glanced at the children, who were still riveted by the film. “It’s still…difficult at times to look at her and see Della’s eyes staring back at me, but it’s getting better.”
Penny, who also shared her little sister’s eyes, squeezed his shoulder. She understood that by her he meant Ariel. “It’s probably going to haunt her, too, when she grows up.” She sighed. “This is not going to be easy for anybody. But if I know anyone that can handle it, it’s you, Bloom.” When he opened his mouth to speak, she added, “And don’t even think about giving up acting. It’s what you love, and it’s going to get you through this.”
“I need to devote some time to my family,” Orlando insisted.
“And you will,” Penny promised. “There are many actors who juggle family life with their careers.”
“Most of them have partners.”
Penny gave him one of her patented grins, but it still lacked some spunk. “And you’re lucky, aren’t you, Bloom? You have several.” As Orlando’s eyebrow arched, she ticked them off on her fingers. “Let’s see, you have me, you have Margo, Aud, Liz, Laine, Dora—whenever she gets off tour, Monique, Ita, and your wonderful mother.”
Orlando merely blinked. “You expect me to pawn my children off to someone while I go make films?”
Because she was only mildly irritated, she punched him in the shoulder instead of kicking him where she thought he deserved it at the moment.
“Ouch!” Orlando hissed, grabbing his throbbing shoulder.
“What was dumbass you are. Do you actually think we would let you do this by yourself? Della was our sister, our friend. And her children are a part of our family.” She softened a bit. “So are you. We Hendersons help out our family. We know you like what you do and would drop it in an instant for them.” She waited until his eyes met hers. “You’re a good father, Orlando. Your kids adore you.”
Battling with the decision, Orlando said nothing. Meanwhile, in the living room, Aurora let out an excited gasp. Penny and Orlando both turned to the living room as Aurora addressed her baby sister.
“Look, Ariel!” Aurora exclaimed excitedly, pointing. “Look, sissy! It’s Daddy! Look, Daddy’s on the telly!”
As Gus and Aurora cheered their daddy on—as Legolas, of course—for near-month-old Ariel’s benefit, a glimmer of something like optimism broke through him. When he brought his eyes up to Penny’s, he could see it mirrored there.
“You know what? I suppose you’ve got a point there, Pen,” Orlando contended.
Penny mustered up a grin, and had a lot more spunk this time. “Well, hell, Bloom. I’ve always got a point. It’s just you’ve gotta unclog your ears to hear it.”