Friendship in Bloom
Nearing the middle of May, the next year. London.
Aurora’s main problem with most girls her own age was that they always seemed to be more interested in who her father was than in her herself.
It was widely known that she and Gus and Ariel were Orlando Bloom’s kids. It was a stigma that followed the trio, coloring first impressions and expectations even before they could open their mouths. It didn’t trouble Gus overmuch, and Ariel’s pre-schooler friends probably didn’t know how to spell anything but their own names and a smattering of three-letter words. For Aurora, however, being Orlando Bloom’s daughter—his Roaring Bloom—was turning out to be a curse.
The curse was merciful enough to allow for Aurora to find two true friends in Bridget Moorland and Flana (or Lana, as Aurora and Bridget called her) Callum. While they were understandably awed that their best friend was related to Orlando Bloom at first, the novelty soon wore off. Much to Aurora’s relief. By now, seeing Orlando Bloom walk around barefoot was as commonplace as a rainy day in London.
Unfortunately, some were not as accommodating as Bridget and Lana, or, quite frankly, as mature—at least as much as eight-year-old girls could be.
The three notable little girls were considered the most popular of her age-group. Genifer (who insisted haughtily to be called Gennie) and her two best friends Jordana and Kylie (no doubt named after pop singer Kylie Minogue) were, at the moment, the bane of Aurora’s existence and had been since they had transferred in toward the end of the last school year. When Aurora had the misfortune of spilling grape juice on herself at lunch one day, Gennie and Co. called her a klutz, causing others look at her with varying degrees of disgust and sympathy. Ever since, Aurora kept a wide berth from Gennie. She didn’t want to get in trouble for sending her fist into that sycophant’s simpering little face.
One day, however, in the middle of the third term of the school year, something shifted. Suddenly, Gennie, Jordana, and Kylie gave Aurora more measuring looks than they did ones of repugnance.
This made Aurora immediately suspicious.
Her friends shared the sentiment. Well, at least Lana did. “I don’t think girls like that ever change,” remarked Lana in a matter-of-fact tone. She flicked a glance across the yard at their adversaries. “Especially Genifer Doogan.”
“Well maybe she changed her mind,” Bridget said in her piping voice while she hitched up her eye glasses on her straight little nose. Bridget was the smart one, the voice of reason, temperance and calm. She had to be, with two hotheads like Aurora and Lana, a redhead and a Roaring Bloom, as her friends.
“She would never change her mind,” Aurora said. “She doesn’t like me, and nothing will change it. Not even if my dad told her to like me.”
“But you wouldn’t want that, right Aurora?” Lana asked.
Aurora gave a decisive nod. “Right. I don’t need anymore to make people be my friends.”
At that moment, a loud shout came from the cluster of Gennie and Co. Aurora, Lana, and Bridget watched as Gennie said something hurriedly and angrily to Kylie, then stalked off with her chin in the air. Jordana followed, giving her abandoned comrade a look of snooty dismissal.
“It looks like they’ve cast Kylie out of the group,” Bridget observed, eyebrows furrowed thoughtfully. “I wonder why.”
Aurora shrugged. “Who cares? She’s probably better off anyway.” She listened as the big school clock chimed. “We’d better get to class. We don’t want to be late.”
They chattered about lighter things, funnier things, as they journeyed off to class, not knowing of the plots against them.
* * *
At lunch, the trio ate lunch and talked about their plans for that weekend. During the week-long break, Aurora, Ariel, and Gus were going to accompany their father to the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End premiere at Disneyland and spend a week with their aunt Dora in Los Angeles. Before that, Aurora was going to host a slumber party for her, Bridget, and Lana before they all ventured off into their vacation plans.
“Will Gus be there?” Lana asked as she tore her sandwich in half.
“Probably,” Aurora replied. “He’d been talking about staying over with one of his mates Friday night, but I don’t know if he’s going now.”
Bridget blushed, cheeks pinkening prettily below her glasses. “I hope he’s there. I like Gus.”
Aurora rolled her eyes. “Oh great. How is it that one of my best mates has a crush on my disgusting and foul twin brother?”
Lana nudged Bridget, a mischievous grin on her face. “She doesn’t like him, Aurora. She loves him.”
Bridget’s dainty pink transformed into a four-alarm red. “I do not!” she insisted hastily. “I just like him. We can’t talk about love. We’re only eight years old!”
“Speak for yourself,” Aurora said, since she had just turned nine the previous month. “Besides, he’s in love with an older woman.”
Bridget’s lips came a hair away from falling into a pout. “Well, that’s no fair. I can’t compete with an older woman at my age.”
Aurora couldn’t fight the sigh that came from her lungs. She still couldn’t understand the dynamics of male/female interaction, and she hadn’t had a crush on anyone in her life—with the exception of Johnny Depp. But he was practically part of the family. Did that really count?
Aurora’s eyebrows furrowed. No, wait. That actually made it worse. She almost sighed again when a shadow fell upon the empty space of table next to her.
She shifted and found Kylie Hudson staring down at her, gray eyes filled with humility and hope. Bridget turned back to her normal color and Lana looked at the small girl with contempt.
“And just what do you want?” Lana demanded, the Irish coming out in her tone.
Kylie’s big, innocent eyes drifted from Lana to Aurora. “Do you mind if I sit here? I have nowhere to sit, and—”
Lana opened her mouth to speak, but Bridget beat her to it. “Of course you can sit here!”
Lana expressed her disapproval in a stage whisper. “Bridget! You idiot!” she hissed.
Bridget ignored her and started chatting with Kylie as Lana passed Aurora an irritated look that summed up her sentiment on the situation, which Aurora returned. How could Bridget betray them so?
Suddenly, all thoughts stopped cold. Her vision tunneled. Everything slowed, hushed. Her eyes went blank with shock, face slack with it. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing before her.
The woman, the mysterious woman she had met the day Ariel was born, was walking toward her table.
She looked as polished as she did when Aurora first saw her. Her lavender suit was complemented with a pair of pearl and amethyst earrings and a string of pearls around her lithe neck. Her long blond hair was pulled away from her face and falling down her shoulders. When her deep blue eyes met with Aurora’s brown ones, the smile drifted from her eyes first, to her mouth last.
She paused at the table between Bridget and Lana. Seeing the strange look in Aurora’s eyes, they both looked at her, then turned. Kylie’s mouth fell open, then shut.
“Hello, ladies,” the woman said in her rich voice. “Enjoying lunch?”
Kylie nodded vigorously, resembling, for a moment, a bobble-head toy. “Yes, Ms. Gannon. Lunch is just wonderful!”
Ms. Gannon laughed gently. “You don’t have to lie, Kylie. I know how dreadful school lunch is, and that is one thing that will never change.” She shifted softer eyes upon Aurora. “How are you?” When Aurora remained silent, she added, “Aurora?”
Aurora swallowed the shock at the sound of her own name coming out of Ms. Gannon’s mouth and spoke. How does…? Then it came to her. Stupid, she berated herself silently. I’m Orlando Bloom’s daughter. Everyone knows my name. “I’m doing well.” Looking down at her half-eaten meal, she added, “Thank you.”
Ms. Gannon could see the hurt hovering in Aurora’s eyes. The other girls fidgeted nervously with their lunches, the sudden solemnity ruining their girlish buoyancy. Everyone knew of the circumstances of Della Henderson’s passing, no matter how much her husband tried to block the media from knowing. Because of it, because she understood, Jacqueline Gannon decided it was time to withdraw.
“I will leave you fine ladies to your lunches,” Jacqueline said. “I have reports to finish grading. Enjoy.”
“Bye Ms. Gannon!” Kylie waved goodbye to her, prompting Lana to roll her eyes. Turning to Bridget, since she was her only ally, she remarked, “You know, I heard that Ms. Gannon was going to get married but she didn’t.”
This even piqued Lana’s interest. “And why was that?”
Kylie’s gray eyes were bright with the thrill of sharing gossip as she spoke. “Her mum didn’t like her boyfriend, so she sent him away.”
Expecting something better, like a car chase ending in a fiery three-vehicle pile-up, Lana focused on her sandwich. She was not a girl with a romantic soul. But Bridget lapped up the story Kylie dribbled out. Aurora tuned them out and finished her lunch.
Two big events in one day, Aurora thought as Bridget and Kylie chatted, Lana finished her sandwich, and Jacqueline Gannon walked away. Something is about to happen…
* * *
Because he wanted to indulge himself in the rather mundane act, Orlando elected to pick his twin son and daughter up from school instead of allowing his mother to complete the task.
It took him a minute to get used to the slow-moving traffic and the pedestrians on foot. He decided to park and find his twins rather than sit in the car and wait for them. It had been a while since he had set foot on the school’s property since Aurora and Gus had begun their enrollment. But Rosalind and Penny had assured him that the school was great, and he greatly valued and trusted their opinions.
He wandered around a bit, feeling normal. Yes, that was why he was doing this. He wanted to feel normal especially since the premiere of the third Pirates movie was coming up. He didn’t feel terrified that one of the screaming, running, jumping, sticky little things called children would attach itself to his leg. No. Of course not. It would never happen. And besides, children were great. Wonderful creatures.
At that moment, a blur came up and rammed into him, holding on to his left leg. He almost yelped but caught himself. He looked down and saw his son grinning up at him. Oh good. One half of the job was done.
“Hi there, mate,” Orlando greeted his son.
“Hi Dad!” Gus greeted him back.
“Where’s your sister?”
“I think I saw her talking to some new teacher.” Gus scanned the yard for a second, then pointed. “I think I see her over there.”
Orlando followed the direction of his son’s finger. Meanwhile, Gus, who was practically vibrating with anticipation, barreled on as Orlando searched for Aurora. “So Dad. Something really good happened today.”
Distractedly, Orlando sidestepped a mother with her child, and Gus followed. “Oh? Like what?”
“We’re doing Hamlet at school,” Gus told him excitedly. “And I get to play Hamlet.”
Orlando spied Aurora’s dark mane, but her back was to them. His eyes traveled upward above Aurora’s head, and his system got a shock.
He remembered her face. He didn’t forget faces easily. He saw those blue eyes filled with compassion as she spoke to his daughter, none of the avaricious glee that most adults had in their eyes whenever they spoke to his children. Most adults, with the exception of their teachers, friends, and family, saw Aurora and Gus as a bridge to cross over to get to him. Wondering if she was just a good actress, Orlando strode up to them with Gus chattering beside him.
Orlando stopped behind his daughter and had the pleasure of seeing the woman’s eyes widen. A moment later, Aurora turned around and looked up at him. She smiled, greeted and hugged him, but there still a bit of a shadow in her eyes. Anger rose before he could stop it.
The woman noticed it before Orlando could speak and fought to smooth ruffled feathers. “I’m sorry, Mr. Bloom. I was just talking with Aurora for a moment.”
Seeing the anger alive in her father’s eyes, and understanding it, Aurora tugged on her father’s sleeve. He looked down at her. Her eyes were still shadowed and filled with worry.
“It’s okay, Daddy,” Aurora assured him. “Really it is.”
Orlando considered his daughter’s words a moment, holding her gaze. When his eyes shifted back up to the woman’s, they were a little contrite.
“I’m sorry,” Orlando apologized.
The woman shook her head. “Don’t be sorry. I understand your protectiveness. And I admire it.” She shifted, moving closer. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.” She held out a hand. “Jacqueline Gannon. I teach English lit to the fourth year students.”
Orlando shook her hand. “Orlando Bloom. But I’m sure you already knew that.”
Jacqueline laughed. “How could anyone not know who you are? You’re Orlando Bloom. Even here, right now, you’ve got everyone’s attention.”
Orlando glanced around. Mothers were looking at him with considering looks, confirming Jacqueline’s comment.
“It’s hardly warranted,” Orlando said.
The left side of Jacqueline’s mouth came up in something that suspiciously resembled a smirk. “Oh, I don’t know about that…”
Orlando opened his mouth to answer, but a petite woman with dark hair and eyes came up to them, those dark eyes twinkling with merriment and interest.
“Uh huh. So what’s this?” the petite woman asked, sliding her eyes speculatively toward Jacqueline. There was the faint stamp of the American South in her voice.
“Just talking to a parent, Nia,” Jacqueline answered with a stiff smile. She turned to the Blooms. “This is Nia. She’s from Tennessee. She’s shadowing me until she gets the hang of things.”
“And watching you trying not to drool,” Nia remarked out of the side of her mouth. While Jacqueline tried her best not to sputter, Nia turned to Orlando and said, “I don’t know why she hasn’t asked you out yet. I can tell she’s been standing here thinking about it. She’s got that look in her eye that she gets when she likes a guy.” Jacqueline pursed her lips together and tried to look away as Nia pointed. “See—oh wait—there it is.” She turned to Orlando again. “Alright. Let’s make this simple. You wanna go out with Jacqueline or what?”
For reasons that he couldn’t understand, Orlando looked down at Aurora, who just blinked serenely at him as if she had been teleported to Kansas, then to Gus, who nodded excitedly.
“Well, I…” Orlando started.
Nia walked all over him. “Good.” Enjoying this, Nia turned to Jacqueline. “Jackie? How ‘bout you?”
Jacqueline forced a smile, but it came out as a grimace. “Jacqueline,” she corrected tersely.
Nia chuckled. “Oh yeah. Sorry about that, Jacqueline Not Jackie.” She turned to the Blooms again. “She hates being called Jackie. It’s diminutive, she says.”
Orlando raised an eyebrow, feeling flummoxed. “Right. But—”
Before Orlando could finish, Nia went on. “So you two are going out to dinner tomorrow night. I figure things are about to get muy loco with Pirates coming out and everything.” She patted Orlando on the back. “Oh yeah. By the way, I loved Elizabethtown.” She waved goodbye at Aurora and Gus. “See you two around!”
Nia led the flabbergasted Jacqueline away, leaving the Bloom family standing there feeling like they had just been dropped down in a foreign scene. Something had happened, but it felt like they missed it since it all happened so fast.
Aurora frowned, then looked up at her father. “Daddy, what just happened?”
“I have no bloody idea,” Orlando replied honestly, letting out a breath with his head still spinning. He ushered them along. “Perhaps by the time we get home, I’ll’ve figured it out.”
* * *
As the Bloom family ventured home, Jacqueline gave Nia an evil look as they walked that would have killed her dead if looks could do such. Nia just batted her eyelashes innocently and had Jacqueline glowering.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Jacqueline said tersely.
“Yeah,” Nia disagreed, nodding. “I did.” She paused, taking in Jacqueline’s flushed expression and darkened blue eyes, and decided to be a little softer. “You don’t think I didn’t notice how you’ve been piling on work? How you’ve been filling every minute with something because you don’t want to think about Ian?”
Jacqueline stopped walking and spoke to Nia’s back. The mere mention of Ian had her heart twisting. She didn’t like the feeling. “This has nothing to do—”
“Well, shit,” Nia snapped, whirling around. Luckily, there were no little ears around. “Now you’re lying to me.” The shorter woman closed the distance in two strides. “I thought we were friends at least. Or something. How could you stand there and lie to me? To yourself?” Seeing the hurt in Jacqueline’s eyes, Nia placed a hand on her shoulder. “Just go out with the guy. It won’t hurt. And it’ll probably get your mind off things.”
Jacqueline sighed wearily. Nia was right, but she wasn’t ready to let go of her stance yet. “I don’t know the bloke.”
“So? Get to know him.”
“What if I don’t like him?”
“Well, then,” Nia began in a smart tone, “if that particular anomaly occurs, slide him my way. I will have plenty of uses for him.”
“I’m sure you will,” Jacqueline muttered. Louder, she added, “Oh alright. But I’ll have to change the date. I would rather go out another night.” Her eyebrows furrowed. “I don’t even have his phone number…”
Nia smirked. “I’m pretty sure we can find it somewhere.”
“You’re trying to get me arrested, aren’t you?”
“Arrested, no,” Nia corrected. “Laid, perhaps.”
Jacqueline was mortified at the thought of a relationship based on physical pleasure. “I don’t date for sex. I date because I like the company of man every now and then.”
Nia patted Jacqueline on the shoulder. “In the immortal words of the wise Sheryl Crow, a change would do you good.”