Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Nineteen
Healing in Bloom

Four weeks later. The Bloom House. London.

Aurora cherished the quiet right before everyone woke up for the day. There was something soothing about the cadences of the birds singing that calmed her more than a lulling lullaby right before bed.

She sat with her father now, as her grandmother and siblings lay in their beds sleeping, wondering why she had clamored through so much of her life. She had yelled, bit, kicked, screamed. She had fought, argued bitterly. Glancing sidelong at her father’s profile, she felt like she had been doing too much of the inessential.

Aurora had been filling her days with taking care of her father. She helped Rosalind because she didn’t want Gus or Ariel to worry about it. While Gus guiltily attended rehearsals for the final play of the year, Aurora coaxed her father to walk normally again. While Ariel practiced the piano anxiously, Aurora fielded calls from people who wanted their own piece of the Orlando Bloom tragedy. That was what it was called: a tragedy. Aurora personally thought of the whole ordeal as a triumph. It would have been a tragedy, in her opinion, if Orlando Bloom’s life had been lost.

Orlando had asked Aurora to sit outside with him that morning, and Aurora had agreed. It shocked her when he started talking to her about her mother.

“Your mother wasn’t much older than you were when she found out she was pregnant with you and Gus,” Orlando suddenly admitted, making Aurora’s eyebrows come together.

“She wasn’t?” Aurora considered this a minute, then spoke. “Did she go completely bonkers and faint or something?”

Orlando chuckled, staring straight ahead at a memory that only he could see. “No, love, she didn’t. It was as if she knew in her heart it was all going to be okay.” He sighed then, that familiar remorse in his brown eyes. “And even though she’s not here right now, things didn’t turn out too badly, now did they?”

Pursing her lips together, Aurora reached across and grabbed her father’s hand. The eyes that she’d inherited from him gazed at him until he had no other choice but to fidget underneath its power. They were searching for a crack, an imperfection in him. Bloody hell. Yes, she’s turning more and more into her mother every day.

“You still think about Jacqueline, don’t you?” Aurora demanded, in a voice that left no room for sympathy.

Orlando exhaled. “Aurora Rosalind…”

“Don’t you dare tell me it is none of my business. Because it is. That bleeding woman raked you over the coals and broke you in two. And you don’t need it…”

Aurora trailed off as her father looked at her serenely. Realizing that she was going back to her clamorous ways, she decided to leave her sentence unfinished. She wanted to leave it in the air to fade and disappear. It, now, was inessential. Jacqueline was gone, so it really didn’t matter.

“Jacqueline was a part of my life for a while, love, and I did have feelings for her. Yes, I think of her sometimes. But darling, you can be assured that I…” Orlando exhaled, looking straight ahead. “I do not have feelings for her anymore.” The statement hung in the air for a moment, then he turned to her with a grin and said, “I’ve the loves of my life already.”

Aurora rolled her eyes, but she was also smiling when she did it. “Dad, why do you feel the need to be so sappy?”

Orlando peered at her sidelong. “Love, when you’ve been to Heaven and Hell and back, you are entitled to be as sappy as you want.”

“I suppose…”

At that moment, Orlando and Aurora felt a presence at their backs and turned around. Rosalind, with her silvering auburn hair pulled back from her face, slowly emerged into the light from the darkened room. She appeared a little more rested than usual, which relieved Orlando and Aurora both.

“Hi Nana,” Aurora greeted her.

“Hello Aurora,” Rosalind greeted her back. She looked to her son. “And hello, Orlando. How are you feeling this morning?”

“Absolutely wonderful, Mum,” Orlando replied, shifting a bit so he didn’t feel so stiff. He and Aurora had been sitting there together a long time without moving.

“Good.” Rosalind clasped her hands behind her back, making Aurora frown. “Because Aurora is needed somewhere else at the moment.”

There was a long silence. Then, from them both: “What?”

“Aurora has a visitor,” Rosalind explained patiently. “Someone who has been waiting to see her…” Rosalind dropped the rest of her sentence as Aurora stood, face red with anger. “Aurora, what’s the matter?”

Aurora shook her head vigorously, knowing whom Rosalind was talking about. “I don’t want to see that prick.”

“Too late, Princess. The prick is already here.”

At the sound of that familiar voice, Aurora froze and whirled around to find a half-smirking Rory St. James standing beside her grandmother. Her face went through the stages of disbelief, confusion, and anger all at once. When she settled upon anger again, her brown eyes became narrow slits.

“Oh, so you finally decided to show your face again,” Aurora snapped. “And before you start with that useless bullshit—”

“Aurora Rosalind, watch your mouth,” Orlando warned, deciding it was a good moment to be stern. It was ineffective as Aurora barraged on with the rest of her sentence.

“—That Jamie and I are having some torrid affair behind your back, let me remind you that there is nothing going on between you and me, and furthermore, even if we were an item—and let me assure you once again, we are not—it would be none of your goddamn business!”

“Aurora!” Orlando cried. “For the love, darling. Calm down before you have a heart attack.” Seeing the stricken look in Rory’s eyes, and having a bit of understanding for the young man (of course he did, he knew how it felt to be run over by a willful woman and her mouth), he added, “Perhaps you and Roland need to take care of this in private.”

Aurora drew up, forgetting her earlier vow to herself. “I will not—”

“You will,” Orlando said firmly. He looked to Rory. “Bring her back in one piece, eh mate? And make sure the local law enforcement doesn’t have to escort her home in handcuffs.” Orlando then gestured Aurora away, which made her angrier. “Run along, love. Be home for dinner and don’t take any Monopoly money.”

Rory turned and walked away and Aurora, muttering what she thought of the whole arrangement under her breath, stomped after him.

“No muttering, Aurora Rosalind,” Orlando called to her retreating back. “And whatever you are thinking right now, don’t. Because I’ve done it and I know exactly how it goes.”

Eyes narrowed, Aurora whirled around and retorted, “Then you know how much of a wanker I think you are right now.”

“Love you, too, darling,” Orlando shot back easily with a straight face. Aurora narrowed her eyes even further at him before she disappeared.

The door slammed quite hard and Orlando couldn’t help but chuckle to himself as the whole house shook. That’s my girl, he mused, settling upon pride as the emotion of the moment.

Meanwhile, Rosalind stepped out onto the patio, arms crossed over her chest. One down, she thought to herself. With her mission clearly in mind she stopped over her son and waited a moment as the gravity of her presence dawned upon him.

“She’s going to give him so much hell…” And yes—there it was! It dawned on him then that his mother might have wanted to do something with him, too… “Mum…? What’s the matter?”

“Oh you know what’s the matter.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I see where Aurora gets it from. Playing stupid.”

Orlando’s eyebrows came together. “Aurora obviously had an issue with that young bloke. They needed some time to reconnect with one another and straighten things out.”

“And you, young man,” Rosalind said sternly, staring down at her son, “have some reconnecting to do yourself. I believe that a young woman who is currently carrying your child is due to receive a phone call from you.” Rosalind raised an eyebrow when her only child stared up at her sheepishly. “You haven’t called her. I can tell.”

“Mum…” Orlando began futilely.

“You may still have difficulty walking, but your fingers are in perfect working condition. Now get up and call her. Right now.”

Feeling like he, with three children, two of which were almost grown, and one on the way, was all of eight years old, Orlando allowed his mother to help him to his feet. He strode slowly into the house, his gait still a bit stiff.

“I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” Orlando muttered.

“No muttering under your breath, Orlando Jonathan Blanchard,” Rosalind boomed. “March.”

As Orlando walked into the house, he dared not mutter under his breath. But that didn’t stop him from thinking it in his head.

“And don’t you think anything horrible about me in your head either!”

Orlando winced. Damn. Never mind.

* * *

Aurora managed to keep the lid on her anger until they were a good distance away from her house. When she suddenly whirled on him a couple of blocks later, brown eyes flashing with fury, he took two steps back in his own defense.

“You arrogant wanker!” she burst out. “How dare you operate under the misconception that the world revolves around you?”

“If you would just shut up for one moment, Princess,” Rory began.

“And stop calling me Princess!” Aurora boomed. “It’s bleeding annoying and it doesn’t describe me at all.”

Rory was tired of being patient with her and found himself retorting, “It’s not my fault your parents named you all after freaking Disney characters. What, did your dad sign a covert endorsement deal or something? Maybe your new brother or sister will be named Tinkerbell and finish the set.”

Because she could not properly suppress her anger any longer, and the Disney comment seemed as unwarranted as it was out of nowhere, Aurora reared back and punched Rory in the stomach.

He doubled over in pain, blue-green eyes vivid with it. “God-dammit, Aurora!” Rory wheezed, hands on his knees. “You punch like a fucking man.”

“Not a bloody Princess, huh? That ought to teach you.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Jumping to conclusions like you did. Jamie and I are just friends.”

Rory inhaled and found that it was still a bit uncomfortable so he stayed where he was for a few more moments. “It didn’t seem that way to me, Aurora. After all, you were nicer to him than you were to me.”

Aurora snorted. “And that meant something to you? Why?”

Feeling marginally better, Rory straightened and came closer to her. “This is why.” And without any further word, he kissed her.

Aurora was so shellshocked by the move that her reaction was severely delayed for many seconds. She had only been kissed twice. Once by a really cute guy at football camp she’d had a crush on for forever. It was something she looked back upon with tenderness. The first kiss she ever had, though, went down in history as the worst kiss that ever was. It made her not want to kiss anyone ever again.

This time, though, it was just the opposite. Rory had plenty of finesse, but he was also tender where others had been rough—or just plain bumbling. Aurora felt a strange feeling that she had never felt before. It was so foreign that it had her very concerned about her health. What was this heart-pounding, head-spinning, stomach-fluttering feeling called?

Aha, my dear, she heard her mother’s voice say in her head. This is romance. This is what makes poets scribble all through the night, and makes artists paint all the livelong day. This is love.

With that thought, Aurora stepped back, eyes wide with shock. Was she…?

No, she mused in horror. It can’t be…

“Rory—why the hell did you do that?” Aurora demanded with a little less heat than she wanted. But then she recovered and found some of her footing before it could register in Rory’s brain. “You just did that to shut me up, didn’t you?” She mustered up an insolent smirk. “Clever of you, mate. Very clever. But it’s not going to work.”

Something changed in the air then. Once where it had crackled with heat and fury it now was thick with cold, detached anger. “What did you say?” Rory said in a low tone that had a shiver of something going down her spine.

On the outside, she appeared to be her same old insolent self. She wore it like armor against this situation that she felt she was losing control over. “You heard what I said. You obviously need to add cleaning your ears to your to-do list.”

Rory gave her a fulminating look before turning violently away and heaving a lone glass bottle against the wall. When it shattered, Aurora barely resisted jumping out of her skin. Aurora had seen Rory angry before, but she had never seen him so upset that he was throwing things. The wildness in his eyes had her stepping back, wondering what he would do next. If he would hurt her. But then she lifted her chin again. No. No one would put their hands on Aurora Rosalind Bloom and walk away straight.

“You are so clueless!” Rory yelled. “I need to clean out my ears? Really, Princess? Is that was you think?” Furiously, he took her up by the arms and she emitted a startled squeak. “Well let me fucking tell you something. Maybe I need to clean out my ears, but you’re the one who needs to open her eyes.” Rory paused then and looked down at her staring back at him with her chest heaving with anger. Something must have revealed itself in those brown depths, because the fury flowed out of him slowly and a smirk overtook his once livid features. “You little poser. I knew it.”

“Knew what, you wanker?” Aurora wiggled in his grasp unsuccessfully, becoming more flustered, much to her dismay, by each passing second. “Let me go before I lay you out flat!”

Rory shook his head. “No. I am not letting you go until you say it.”

“Say what?”

His eyes narrowed a touch, zooming in on her eyes. “That you didn’t feel anything when I kissed you.”

Aurora’s nostrils flared. “And what would that prove to you? I don’t see what would be hard about telling the honest truth.”

“So then tell it.” Aurora’s lips thinned as she pressed them together. “Go ahead and say it. Go ahead and tell me that when I kissed you, you felt absolutely, positively nothing—”

“I didn’t,” Aurora snapped back, probably a little too quickly. “I felt nothing when you kissed me. So let me go.”

“You’re a fucking liar, Princess. You can deny, deny, deny all you want but the simple fact is, your eyes never lie.” Because he still had her in his grip, he brought her closer to him until their lips were centimeters apart. Something in her eyes flickered then, making his smirk deepen. But then, something occurred to him that made his smirk drop away.

She was afraid. Princess Aurora, the Roaring Bloom, was afraid.

For a moment, he saw it from her vantage point. He saw a young woman having been faced with the mortality of one of the only men she had ever loved her entire life in the wake of her beloved mother’s death several years previous. He saw a young woman trying to hold up a wall from the outside of the world erected for her own safety and emotional well-being. And this—whatever it was between them—was threatening to come through the wall, and she was going to be damned if she cared about another guy only to have him taken away mercilessly.

It was safe. It was reassuring. But it was also stupid, in Rory’s opinion.

So then he pulled back and appeased his heart instead of his mind by hugging her. He could have kissed her, made her come to terms with her feelings that way. But somehow the simple embrace felt more right. It was disarming in its own quiet way.

“Back down, Aurora,” Rory said softly. “Back down and let me in.”

Aurora searched his calm eyes frantically, feeling that alarming loss of control. It was like suddenly becoming the Glass Woman. He could see through her. “What the hell are you talking about? Why are you talking that way?”

“Because you’re too damn stubborn to see it for yourself. You feel as much for me as I do for you. But for some reason, you’re too frightened to admit it.”

“I am not scared of you,” Aurora argued firmly. She seemed to be getting her footing back. “Nor am I scared of my feelings for you because there aren’t any.”

“Fine then,” Rory countered. “If you are so sure of your feelings—”

“Which I am,” Aurora broke in.

“—Then you won’t mind kissing me one good time.” When Aurora began to protest, Rory added, “If you aren’t scared of whatever is inside of you it won’t be a big deal, right?” He paused for effect, letting it all sink in. “Unless you’re…chicken…”

Aurora growled and pushed him away roughly. If there was one thing she hated, it was being called a chicken. That was an insult in any country. “I am not chicken! I’ve done enough stuff during the past several months to show that, mate.”

“Yeah, but putting a laxative in the footballers’ water bottles hardly counts in this case. It takes real guts—bigger guts—in my opinion to do this.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “You don’t have the cojones, Princess. Just admit it.”

“I do, and damned if they’re not bigger than yours.”

“Then prove it.” Rory stepped back to her. “Give it your best shot.”

With another growl, Aurora grabbed Rory by his shirtfront and pulled him to her. Their lips were suddenly crushed together in a heated kiss that would have melted a block of steel. The head-spinning, stomach-fluttering, heart-pounding feeling was back. Aurora found that she could not deny the feeling being this close to Roland St. James gave her, but she was dimly disconcerted that he knew her well enough to know how to push her buttons in his own favor. But as the kiss deepened and softened, she realized that, well, this wasn’t so bad was it?

Aurora pulled away first and looked at her hands clutching Rory’s shirt. She forced herself to look at his face, to look into his eyes. They were a vivid blue now, and filled with emotion. Aurora didn’t know what it meant for sure, but she had a feeling she knew what that foreign emotion was.

Just because you’re too thickheaded to see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And it is. You just wait until it happens to you.

Aurora sighed, remembering her twin’s words. And it had happened. No going back now.

Rory suddenly pulled back from the clinch and grinned, those same eyes twinkling. “Gotcha, Princess.”

At this point, since it was only proper, she balled up a fist and hit him on the shoulder. When he gaped at her while holding his throbbing shoulder, she just grinned back at him.

Needless to say, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

* * *

Meanwhile, Orlando stood in his study and stared at the phone.

His recovery had been filled with hope, his progress fueled by the dedication of his family, particularly Aurora. He understood how much she had sacrificed for him in order to ensure his recovery. She took on a role that she shouldn’t have had to for years to come, but she never once showed resentment. As he looked at her picture on his desk, he hoped that she would come to her senses and open her mind to the feelings she could have been denying about Roland St. James. He was tired of seeing his eldest daughter taking up his example in all the wrong ways.

And even with that sentiment, he could not pick up the phone and call Penny.

It was a sense of procrastination that led to this moment, really. It wasn’t that Orlando didn’t want to talk to Penny, it was just that he couldn’t bring himself to. Laine had prescribed rest for her twin sister after the accident, and seeing the father of her child in a wheelchair was hardly calming for the soon-to-be mother. Sighing with his forehead on his forearm, he remembered that day in the hospital when she had visited him.

FLASHBACK.

Seeing the starkness and sterility of his hospital room gave Orlando a slight start. He dimly recalled a long, dreamless rest and a visit to Heaven to visit with his dead wife. Snatches of shouting and clamor also came to his memory, but everything still seemed a bit fuzzy. As his mind slowly came awake, he remembered what had happened and why he was there. He also remembered what Della had revealed to him, and that didn’t diminish the ache that was starting to spread in his body.

With a bit of heartache, he scanned the room, finding the signs of his family’s concern and love but none of them present with him. He hoped they were somewhere getting the rest they probably needed. He smiled faintly at get-well cards and balloons, appreciating the color and buoyancy they gave the sterile room. But then he spied a bouquet of pink flowers in the corner of the room and his eyes stopped on them. The sight of them filled him with nostalgia; he had given Della pink flowers when she had given birth to Aurora and August eighteen years ago. In any other circumstance, he would have lingered over them for an instant more then moved on. But the card placed carefully among the blushing blooms blaring ‘Congratulations!’ colorfully caught his eye.

“She didn’t,” Orlando found himself uttering in disbelief. He shook his head with a bit of amusement as some of the pain ebbed away. “Oh Adelaide…”

A knock came on the door before it creaked open, interrupting his thoughts of Della. A nurse padded through, pushing a raven-haired woman in a wheelchair. Even in the chair, the woman sat with poise and beauty. Her hair was pulled back from her face, and she looked slightly pale. But the sight of her filled Orlando with a measure of relief. Hopefully…

“How are we this morning, Mr. Bloom?” the nurse asked brightly as she checked him over, leaving the woman in the wheelchair for a moment. “Your vital signs look good enough. Are we well enough to take a visitor?”

“I…I’m well enough,” Orlando said softly, his voice raspy from no use.

“Now you’ve five minutes,” the nurse informed them, looking quite meaningfully at the woman. “After that I have to take Ms. Henderson back to her own room. If she wasn’t as hardheaded as she is, she would be there now.”

Penny merely gave the nurse a close-lipped smile and said nothing. The nurse gave her another look before disappearing, leaving Orlando alone with his visitor.

The room was filled with quiet again as they both gathered their thoughts. The last time they had seen each other, Aurora had been belting out a love song and not long after they met a light pole headlong. Needless to say, neither one of them wanted to ruin the moment with the wrong statement or a misplaced sentiment.

“How do you feel?” Penny inquired. She looked down at her hands a moment. “It was touch and go for a moment there. We…” She looked into his eyes, and he saw the fear that she was going to lose him in them. “Thought we were going to lose you.”

“I hate to inform you, love, but you can’t keep me away for too long,” Orlando responded with a hint of mirth in his voice. He mused upon it a moment and figured it wouldn’t be right to tell her that he had a short stint in Heaven with her baby sister. It would make his short death more real for her. Probably not the best thing for a woman in early pregnancy.

Thinking of the pregnancy, he immediately asked, “How’s…the baby?”

“The baby’s fine for now, Orlando,” Penny told him softly. She pursed her lips together to stop them from trembling. “I guess that means it was meant to be mine. Even though all that happened, I didn’t lose it. So perhaps it wasn’t such a tragedy after all.” Her expression changed suddenly as if she had remembered something. Worry filled her eyes; even without saying anything, Orlando knew who she was thinking about. “Um…Orlando, there’s something I have to tell you.”

Orlando tried to put her at ease—and maybe himself, too—by saying, “Don’t tell me Ariel’s gone out and dyed her hair platinum blonde or something like that. I don’t think I’d survive a heart attack at this rate, love.”

“Don’t worry,” Penny assured him. “Your baby girl is healthy, chaste, and probably still has her mother’s natural hair color.” After a hesitation, she continued. “It has nothing to do with the children. It’s…Jacqueline.”

Orlando feigned concern—somewhat. While he was unhappy that Jacqueline had found fault with him not telling her about Penny’s request of him, he did not wish her harm. Jacqueline Gannon was a troubled woman underneath her polished exterior, and he wished her the best. But still a small part of him wished…

“Where’s Jacqueline?” Orlando wanted to know. “Has she…?”

Penny didn’t say a word. Her eyes, unguarded, said it all.

“She hasn’t come at all?”

“Yes…but she didn’t stay after…after she found out that I was having your baby.”

Orlando nodded slowly, as if it were all sinking it for the first time. He couldn’t deny that hearing Penny saying it brought an unexpected wave of pain that made him tired. The woman that he had loved had not stuck. Aurora had been right, and knowing that made him feel even more crummy. Wasn’t he supposed to be the grown-up, the one beyond all of the silly love games and the romance-induced blindness?

“I’m sorry, Orlando,” Penny said softly. “I wish you didn’t have to wake up to this.”

“Me, too. I…”

“You must be hurt, Orlando,” Penny remarked in a weird tone. Through his pain and fatigue, he could not tell if she were jealous or just stating the obvious. Or maybe even trying to convince herself of it. “Jacqueline not being here must be quite a shock to you.”

“I loved her,” Orlando told her unnecessarily. “If not for this she would be the woman I would be spending the rest of my life, God willing.” He wasn’t sure how he felt about that at the moment. It was a strange awareness.

“I know.” Penny reached out and touched his hand. Her fingernails were perfectly groomed, even in the wake of the accident, unlike her little sister’s had ever been. That realization inspired an ache in his chest in addition to the pink flowers catching the weak rays of a cloud-covered sun. It must have shown in his eyes because Penny added, “And that is why I am willing to give you some space to get over her.”

The gaze they shared in that moment revealed everything. Orlando was not as broken up over Jacqueline as Penny—or anyone for that matter—had originally thought he was. No longer could they hide behind failed relationships and memories of dead loved ones. They loved each other.

“Penelope…” Orlando began.

Penny shook her head. “Quite frankly, Orlando, I want it all. The house with the two-car garage, the kids, even a little dog to get irritated at when it pees on the Oriental rug. I want to bake cookies for my kids and help them with math homework and fight about curfews and boys.” Then she inhaled, for she had run out of breath. “And I want, most of all, someone to share it with.” Orlando swallowed and Penny smiled nervously. “No pressure, okay?”

“Yeah, sure, love,” Orlando muttered, having the feeling akin to being trapped in an airless room without fully knowing why.

“I’m not saying that you should be the one,” Penny tried to reassure him, “or that you’re going to be, but…” She sighed then. “I can’t think of anyone else that could be. Or that it should be.”

“Don’t do this just because of the baby,” Orlando said, shifting in bed to rid himself of physical discomfort. “If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be.”

Penny nodded and took her hand back. She looked slightly as if her feelings had been deflated just a bit. The look in her eyes made Orlando want to rush to comfort her. “Penny, I didn’t mean—”

“You’re right,” Penny interrupted him. “You’re absolutely right.” She folded her hands in her lap again. “So that is why I am going to take this time to think about that.”

Orlando pressed his lips together, feeling like he had bungled things. He spied the emotion swimming in those blue depths as Penny wheeled herself away from his bed and tried to think of something that would not hurt Penny anymore than he already had. He would apologize for it, but she would wave it off because she wasn’t the damsel-in-distress type who relied on batting her eyelashes to get what she wanted. Fuck letting you wipe her tears away. They were her own tears—she’d do it herself.

So he said the only thing he could: the truth.

“I love you, Penelope.”

Penny paused and the door would have closed on her wheelchair if it hadn’t been for the nurse coming to take her back to her room. She turned her head with a sad, wistful smile and said, “I love you, too, Orlando.”

With that, she left, and Orlando was all alone again.

* * *

“Well, all I can say is, you’ve really bungled it this time.”

Orlando’s head came up from his arm and slowly turned toward the sound of that voice. His eyes wide, he took in the sight of his dead wife staring at him. And blinked once, hard. Maybe if he blinked, the apparition would go away.

He blinked. Nope. Still there.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what I’m doing here?” Della demanded, still as beautiful and vibrant as she was when she was alive. This time she was barefoot, clad in jeans and a shirt that mocked, Oh No—Really?

Rising to his feet with a breathless laugh, he charged toward her as much as his healing leg would allow, intending to envelope her in a nice, warm hug. It seemed that his mind had heedlessly omitted her role in the circumstances that had landed him in this mess in the first place. But she held up a hand with a rather stern expression that made him pause.

“Hold it right there,” Della ordered. Orlando stopped and straightened, frowning. “I’ve got to talk to you, first. About Penny.”

Orlando deflated, then leaned on his desk. “Oh. Penny.” He threw up his hands in the air. “I’m at a loss, Della. I don’t know what to do. I am completely flabbergasted.”

Della leaned over and kissed him. “So then you do what’s right. Isn’t that what you learned from the situation before? You do what’s right. Not what’s easy or fun, but what’s right.” She reached over and picked up the phone. “Do it now before you lose her completely.”

A slight measure of alarm went through him. “What do you mean?”

She pressed the phone in his hand. “It doesn’t matter.” She leaned over and started dialing Penny’s cell phone number. Who knew how she came by that information and Orlando was too stunned to ask. Not to mention his mind was stuck on her earlier statement. “Talk to her.”

“I want to know what you meant, Adelaide,” Orlando said, voice stern. “Who is she with?”

Because she didn’t feel like waging a pissing match with her husband, she said simply, “Cameron Byrne.”

Cameron Byrne?

“Hello?”

At hearing her voice for the first time in nearly four weeks, Orlando was stuck at an impasse. What were the right words? But that was the least of his worries, however since he could not open his mouth to speak anyway. He had a chance, but he was like the proverbial deer standing in the road before he was barreled down by a speeding vehicle.

“Orlando?!” Della exclaimed in exasperation, forgetting that she was supposed to be silent.

Orlando dropped the phone on the desk like a hot potato, thus ending the doomed phone call. He stared down at the contraption as if it had been diagnosed with the bubonic plague.

Della slapped her forehead in frustration. “Dammit, Orlando, what the fuck did you do that for?”

“Adelaide, would you shut up for a second?” Orlando shot back. “I’m trying to think here. I can’t think of what to say while you’re over there yelling at me.”

“I’m yelling at you because you’re acting like a fucking dumbass. You had her on the phone. You had her attention. You had a chance to tell her what you’ve been thinking and you fucking dropped the phone! Do you want to be alone for the rest of your life? Is that it, Orlando?”

“Whether or not I spend the rest of my life alone or with a whole bloody horde of Playboy bunnies and Page Six girls with double-D cups is not your fucking business!”

Della put her hands on her hips, eyes flashing. “Damn right it is! I’m your wife.”

Orlando let out a mirthless chuckle. “Bloody hell, Adelaide. You’re a ghost for godsakes! It doesn’t matter what you think.”

A cursing Della, face red and incensed, picked up the newspaper from some long lost day last week which had been on his desktop and started pelting him with it. He protested and tried to fend off her blows, but when Della was on a roll, it was like trying to fishnet an avalanche. Even with a really big net, it was a futile effort.

And then suddenly the phone rang, interrupting their…argument. They both froze and stared at the phone.

home – back

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