Collision in Bloom
Still in London. Inside Killigan’s.
Aurora was sure that her ears were bleeding from the thunderous applause as she walked off the stage. As she walked past well-wishers and congratulators to her small makeshift dressing room she wondered if this was how her mother felt after a show. Did she feel that same giddy relief that it was over yet experience that anticipation for the next time?
The noise faded into the background; Aurora was enveloped in self-induced silence, alone with her sadness—a sadness that came out of nowhere, it seemed. It was supposed to be a joyous occasion. Why was she so sad all of a sudden? Her family was here, safe and out of the rain, and she got to perform for the people whom she loved, for the people who mattered the most to her. The crushing despair she felt made no sense.
She walked into her little dressing room and dropped down into a chair. She wanted to go out and see her family, but not like this. She stared at herself in the mirror, frowning at her reflection.
“Snap out of it, Bloom,” she muttered. “Everything’s all fine and dandy and you’re just finding something to complain about.” Then she looked down at her hands. “But I do wish Mum was here right now…”
Not sensing Aurora’s melancholy, Jamie stampeded into the room out of nowhere and hugged her tightly, making her feel like her brain was going to ooze out of those aforementioned ears.
“Jamie…?!” Aurora managed as the chair stopped teetering. “I…don’t think…I can breathe…!”
There was a pause, then Jamie disentangled himself. He smiled at her sheepishly and Aurora rolled her eyes. “What? Can’t I be happy that we did such a wonderful job up there?”
“Not that happy, Jamie.” Jamie stared at her for a long time until a smile began to form on the corners of her lips. “Oh alright. I’ll admit, it was smashing being up there with everyone cheering us on and clapping along with the music.”
“See?” Jamie said, grinning. “I knew you liked it. Perhaps you’re going to become a big star or something. And then I can say that I worked with the talented Aurora Bloom.”
Aurora waved it off as she had other things on her mind. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Have you seen my family? I thought they might be looking for me after the show.”
“Nope, I haven’t seen them,” Jamie answered. “But then again, it is quite hectic out there. I’m sure we’ll get a visit from Cam here in a moment about an encore performance.”
A movement over Jamie’s shoulder caught her attention. She climbed to her feet and Jamie turned around to see Rory stride into the room with Cameron behind him. At the sound of their footfalls, Jamie and Aurora paused and stared at them.
Rory’s blue-green eyes shifted from Jamie to Aurora, then back again. Jamie and Aurora shared a glance as Rory’s expression didn’t change. It wouldn’t have disturbed Aurora at all if it hadn’t been for the look in Rory’s eyes. Something was wrong.
“Rory?” Aurora frowned at him, then looked to Cameron. “Cameron? What’s the matter?”
Rory’s eyes dropped down and away. Cameron stepped forward, expression solemn. A quiver started in Aurora’s belly, but it was not a nice one.
“Aurora, love,” Cameron began, “we need to talk.”
Aurora tilted her head at the somber tone of the usually jovial, witty Cameron Byrne. “Is it about the performance? Because we can change—”
“It’s not the performance, Aurora,” Cameron interrupted. “It’s something more serious.” Aurora opened her mouth to ask, What could possibly be more serious? Cameron hastily added, “It’s your dad.”
Dad? Aurora instinctively leaned back on the chair, not sure she could keep her feet for much longer. She was so afraid to ask, but she had to know.
“Cameron, what’s happened to my dad?” Aurora wanted to know. Suddenly, Cameron looked away, too. What was it with him withholding information from her like this? Angry, she grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him until he looked at her. “Goddammit, Cameron—!”
“You really should not hear this from me,” Cameron said tightly. “I don’t think I should be the one to tell you. It’s not my place.” He took her hands from his shoulders, which were as limp as floppy rag dolls. “Aurora, your brother and sister are outside. I think they should be the ones to tell you, not me.”
Horrified, Aurora stared at him as her eyes filled with tears. “What happened? Is my father…?”
“Just go, Aurora,” Rory broke in, his voice unusually husky. “Don’t waste any more time here.”
There was only one word in her mind as she pushed past Cameron and Rory: move.
At that instant, it was the only thing she could do.
* * *
Rosalind Bloom considered herself a strong woman. She had lived through the untimely death of her husband and countless other loved ones, managing to erect and maintain a pillar of strength around her. She remained strong raising her only son, the son she had so many hopes for. She had lived through his childhood, his rocky and rebellious adolescence, then his star-studded adulthood. She grinned with pride when he gained his accolades, gasped in horror when he fell, sighed with relief when he picked himself back up again.
She did not want to out live him. She did not want to stand over his grave knowing that it should be her six feet under instead of him.
Rosalind paced the waiting room at the hospital alone. Her grandchildren, battling the congested traffic, were on the way, while Della’s sisters and cousins were on airplanes headed toward London. Well, except for Laine, who now worked at this London hospital because she wanted to be nearby. Rosalind knew that things would be considerably more stressful if it had not been for Laine and her promises for an update as soon as she was able to step away.
The raven-haired doctor looked harried and exhausted when she finally visited Rosalind. There was a smudge of blood on her green scrubs and her short black hair was mussed. The two women shared a hug before Laine stepped back to look Rosalind in the face.
“They’ve run some scans on Orlando and they now have him in surgery,” Laine explained to Rosalind. “His left leg was horribly broken in the accident, and they’ve got to set it along with some other things. Obviously, there was some internal damage. After that, they want to see how the brain scans look. The aim is to make sure he doesn’t have any brain damage.”
Rosalind covered the doctor’s hand with her own, sensing Laine’s barely harnessed grief. “And how about your sister?”
Laine’s lip trembled slightly, but she kept her composure. Better than I would have, Rosalind mused with some admiration and sorrow. “I haven’t…I mean, I don’t know if I could stand it if something…” Laine broke off and inhaled deeply. After a moment, she tried again.
“I haven’t had a good chance to check up on her yet,” Laine explained in a steadier voice. “I…I know she’s okay. They’ve assured me that she’s okay, but…” Laine squeezed her eyes shut. “She was so happy yesterday afternoon when they told her, and if something’s happened to end it—”
Rosalind placed her hands on Laine’s shoulders. “End what, Elaine? What are you talking about?”
The elevator slid open several feet away and the hallway was suddenly filled with noise. Even though the doors to the waiting room were closed, Rosalind could hear her grandchildren’s voices, accompanied by a few others she couldn’t place at the moment because she wasn’t paying attention. Rosalind just stared into Laine’s tired blue eyes for the answer to her question.
“Elaine…?” Rosalind began.
“All I can say is that she finally got what she wanted,” Laine said quietly.
Rosalind could not break her gaze from Laine as realization dawned. Face slack and mouth open in shock, Rosalind idly raised a hand to her heart as her grandchildren stormed into the room, flanked by Keira and Nia. Ariel came and hugged Rosalind as soon as she laid eyes on her. Closing her eyes, Rosalind wrapped her arms around her granddaughter and squeezed.
“My Ariel,” Rosalind murmured against the teenager’s long brown hair.
“Tell me they’ve told you something about Daddy, Nana,” Ariel said tearfully. “Please tell me he’s alright.”
“Aunt Laine, have you heard anything?” Gus asked his aunt as the others stood by and watched Laine with rapt interest.
In a softer tone than she used with most patients’ families, Laine told them what she had told Rosalind just moments before about what she knew. Taking it all in, everyone stood there silently. Laine hugged them all before she dashed back into the fray to see if there had been any change in Orlando’s or Penny’s conditions.
“Maybe you all should sit down,” Nia suggested as she surveyed the weary family. “It’s going to be a while, unfortunately.”
“She’s right.” Gus led his grandmother and little sister to the couch nearby, while his twin remained standing. She had her back to them, and the way her shoulders heaved, it was clear that she was crying.
Gus rarely witnessed his sister cry. Even when she fell and scraped a knee, or stubbed her toe on a chair leg, she’d just swear and walk it off. But he had a feeling that giving a good yell of Bloody hell! and stalking away would help matters here. Gus ached to comfort her, but Ariel had his hand clasped in a death grip, so he could not leave his baby sister.
So Keira went to her instead. She enveloped Aurora in a tight, warm hug even as her own eyes watered. Nia looked on, trying not to burst into tears herself.
It was during this quiet moment of misery that the doors opened again. Everyone looked up in half-hope, half-dread as Jacqueline Gannon slowly walked in.
The blonde looked like she had walked miles without an umbrella. Her hair was stringy and limp, whatever makeup she wore smudged. Her skin was pale, making the streaks of eyeliner stand out in sharp contrast. The doors closed behind her neatly and quietly but she said nothing, just staring at the Bloom family, Keira, and Nia as if she didn’t know where to begin.
“Hey,” Nia greeted Jacqueline with a bit of concern. “Where have you been this whole time?”
Jacqueline pursed her lips together for a moment, then spoke. “I’ve been…talking with the police,” she replied.
“The police?” Rosalind blurted. “What exactly did you tell them?”
Nia wrapped an arm around Aurora’s shoulders as Keira, brown eyes filled with anger, glared contemptuously at Jacqueline.
“Now would be a good time for you to tell us what happened, Jacqueline,” Keira began in a strained voice.
Seeing the grief flicker in Jacqueline’s eyes, Rosalind placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Keira…” she began.
Jacqueline raised a hand. “No. You have a right to know. Right now, I’m the only person who can shed some light on what happened tonight.”
* * *
Earlier that night.
In the middle of Aurora’s rocking rendition of George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set on You,” Penny started to look a little green.
Orlando was the first to notice. Jacqueline and Ariel were totally engrossed in the music, clapping along with the rest of the spectators. Orlando was, too, but Penny’s peculiar pallor caught his immediate attention. Penny was good at hiding her emotions or physical ailments to people she didn’t know very well. Orlando, however, knew Penny extremely well, and he could sense her discomfort as it began to outweigh her excitement and happiness over Aurora’s performance. Silently, he reached across and placed a hand on hers. She looked up at him, blue eyes filled with bewilderment.
“Are you alright, love?” Orlando asked in an undertone that could be heard under the music.
Penny mustered up a smile. “What do you mean? I’m fine. It’s just all the excitement, that’s all.”
As Orlando studied Penny intently, Jacqueline glanced over at him. Jacqueline’s mouth was open as if she were going to speak, but the look in Orlando’s eyes startled her a bit. Her jaw tightened and her mouth closed slowly as Penny barely held her ground underneath his intense gaze. Jacqueline told herself that he only looked at Penny that way because she was his dead wife’s sister and the aunt of his three children, but an uncomfortable tingle started at the base of her spine.
“Don’t you lie to me, Penelope,” Orlando warned, still gazing at Penny so intently he probably could have stared a hole through her head. “Are you sick or not?”
Penny straightened and seemed to find some of her trademark valor. “Would you stop badgering me? I said I’m fine, Orlando. Besides, you should be worrying about watching Aurora right now. She comes first right now.”
Orlando gritted his teeth together for a full thirty seconds. At that moment, Aurora completed “Got My Mind Set on You” and the crowd clapped and cheered enthusiastically, particularly the ones on the dance floor in front of the stage. Orlando, sitting on the higher level of the dining room with his companions, idly clapped along, glaring at Penny. He turned and watched the stage Cameron talked about the next song.
“This song is not quite one of Aurora’s favorites,” Cameron told the audience, and Aurora made a face that indicated that was an understatement. Jamie laughed along with the audience. “But once we heard her rehearse this song, we knew she had to sing it tonight. I feel it makes her come out of her shell a bit more than the last three songs.” Cameron shifted and started at Aurora. “So, Aurora love? Would you mind performing the next song for us?”
“Do I have a choice?” Aurora asked, which inspired more laughter.
Aurora started the song, a cover of an old R&B song that Orlando hadn’t heard of before. Jamie played the piano and another employee, a mere shadow at Aurora’s back, played the drums. Both supplied backing vocals and helped give the song a more soulful sound. But the voice that came out of Aurora Bloom this time wasn’t sweet; this time it had more grit and more depth. People filled the dance floor for the chance to sway cheek-to-cheek to the music. The change in his daughter filled him with pride…
I know it’s not the first time
That you ever felt this way before
Ooh, but those memories are still lasting
Of the pain you got for your trusting
So when love calls you walk out the door, ooh, but this time, boy…
Until his eyes rested on Penny again. She looked like she was about to toss her dinner onto her new Ferragamo wedges, which would have horrified her in any case.
“Penelope…” Orlando began in a tone that indicated that he was about to admonish her.
Irritated, Penny climbed to her feet. “Would you just shut up? I’m fine. And to prove it, we’re going to dance.” Penny grabbed Orlando’s hand before he could protest. Penny dragged him around the tables and down to the open area that served as the dance floor.
It’s real love
Don’t be afraid of the way you feel
(Ooh, don’t be afraid now, baby)
It’s real love (Oh…oh…oh…oh…)
“And just what will this prove?” Orlando asked as she turned to face him.
Penny tilted her head at him and took his hands in hers so that they could sway together. “That’s you’re just crazy, Orlando.”
I’m not the one who hurt you, boy
And with love there’s no real guarantee
If you believe in what you’re feeling
And you wanna make love to me, oh, baby
Orlando sighed. “Penny, look. I’m sorry if I’ve been overbearing. But you have to understand that I care about you.” Then he paused as something occurred to him. “Did Aurora just say something about sex?”
Penny rolled her eyes, seemingly almost back to her old self again. “Orlando…?! Back to the situation at hand,” she said, exasperated. “You need to let up on me. You forget, I’m almost the same age as you. You can’t order me around like some older brother or something.”
“As true as that may be, love, I have to say it again: I care about you.” Penny looked away. “What? Did you think that I would ignore that something is wrong with you?”
It’s real love (It’s time to do it right)
Don’t be afraid of the way you feel (Ooh, I need you tonight, I need you right now)
It’s real love (Oh…now what you got to say, baby)
Penny sighed. “No. I didn’t. But I really wish you would concentrate on Aurora right now. You know I can take care of myself.”
Orlando stared at her again, that intense look in his brown eyes that made her mouth go dry. Not that she’d let him have the satisfaction of knowing. It would be like relinquishing some of her power, and if there was one thing that Penelope Henderson held on to, it was her designer shoes, her Maybelline mascara, and her power.
“I honestly think you need more taking care of than you like to admit,” Orlando said quietly.
“Oh? And would you like to be the one to do that for me?” Penny demanded, blue eyes flashing and a little bit of life coming back into her cheeks.
Orlando stopped swaying to the music, but Penny felt a little shaky then as Orlando kept staring a hole through her, his eyes boring through hers. “I would if you would just stop trying to be bloody Superwoman, Penelope.”
Penny didn’t blink. She was miserable all over, but she didn’t blink. “And what would Jacqueline have to say about that?”
Don’t be afraid of the way you feel (Ooh, yeah, yeah, baby)
Open your heart and you’ll see it’s real (Ooh, it’s real love)
It’s real love
Don’t be afraid of the way you feel (I’m not the one who hurt you)
It’s real love (Give your love to me)
The silence between them could not even be penetrated by the music. They hardly noticed it now as the space between them was rapidly filling with the whispers of unrequited love from years past, present, and future. A door had been opened, and now it was too late to slam it shut. The damage had been done.
Before Orlando could reply, a voice behind him said angrily, “So this is the British gentleman you’ve thrown me over for.”
Penny’s eyes widened in shock, then her eyebrows furrowed in confusion as Orlando turned around and faced the person behind him.
Harold Carson was the consummate picture of the Hollywood lawyer. He seemed to be well-preserved for his age, sporting a well-toned body and healthy skin, and the only whispers of maturity were his pewter hair and the laugh lines around his eyes. But he was not laughing tonight.
“Harold?” she blurted in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”
“I’d ask you the same thing but as I have eyes, I can see what you’re doing,” Harold replied tersely, gesturing to an irritated Orlando. “I guess I wasn’t good enough for you, Penny, was I? What does this guy have that I don’t have?”
“Damn right you weren’t good enough for me,” Penny snapped. “I love Orlando and have for a long time. He would do anything for me, even help me do the thing that I want most: having my own baby. Now get out of here and find someone else to bother.”
Penny’s words seemed to wound Harold like an arrow going at high velocity. He took a couple of steps back with his hand over his heart as if the words had a tangible force. Penny spun around on her heel and stalked off. She walked past a concerned Cameron Byrne as Harold’s face twisted into a mask of rage and he lunged for Orlando.
“Bloody hell,” Cameron muttered under his breath before jumping into the fray.
Penny saw the movement, paused and turned. Cameron was restraining Harold, who was red-faced with anger and spitting out threats. Orlando, meanwhile, appeared calm on the outside, but Penny could see him ball up his fist in preparation for a fight. Not a good sign.
See, she knew him well, too.
“Orlando, don’t,” Penny pleaded with him and tugged on his arm. “This is neither the time nor the place. Please, don’t give him any more attention than he deserves, which is none at all.”
I need you by my side, boy
Uh, let’s make it last forever
It’s real love (Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, no, baby)
Orlando stood there for a second, weighing his options as Harold spat at him to fight. Then he looked back at Penny and saw the worry and misery in her eyes. A pang of guilt speared through Orlando and he took Penny’s hand.
“You’re right,” he conceded. “I’m going to take you home, love. You need some rest.”
Penny nodded wordlessly. She turned around to walk to the exit and came face-to-face with Jacqueline.
There was something in the blonde’s eyes. Penny could not tell if it were fury, jealousy, concern, or a mix of the three, but it made her stop short because of the intensity of it. She wasn’t sure if Orlando could notice until he went to the woman and clasped her hands in his.
“Jacqueline, I’ve got to take Penny home,” he told her in an undertone. “She is not feeling well. It shouldn’t take me long, and I should be back to see the end of Aurora’s set.”
“But Orlando,” Jacqueline started to protest. Penny noticed that there was more concern in her eyes now.
“It’ll be okay. I’ll be right back, I promise, love.” He placed a quick kiss on her temple. “Tell Ariel where I’ve gone, and be sure to tell Keira, Gus, and Nia the same thing when they get here.”
Without pausing to hear if Jacqueline had anything to say about that, Orlando took Penny’s hand and led her out. Harold broke away from Cameron and stormed out after them. Jacqueline did the same, weeding her way around the tables and out of the dining room. And still Aurora sang, not knowing what had just taken place on the dance floor in front of her.
Seeing a puzzled Ariel sitting at the table by herself, Cameron sighed and sat down beside her. “Need some company, love?” Cameron asked the befuddled teenager. She was too flabbergasted to refuse his offer for company.
Don’t be afraid of the way you feel (Time is right tonight)
Open your heart and your heart and you’ll see it’s real (I need to, I need to, I need to hold you tight)
It’s real love
Don’t be afraid of the way you feel
It’s real love
Outside, meanwhile, Jacqueline heard thunder rumbling as Orlando opened his car door for Penny. She ran for Orlando’s car, her shoes clacking on the sidewalk, as he rounded the front to get to the driver’s side.
“Orlando!” she called. “Orlando, wait!”
Orlando paused. His eyebrows furrowed as he laid eyes on her. The rain began to spill from the sky, soaking their clothes and hair. They gazed at each other silently, one assessing the other.
“Jacqueline, what’s the matter?” Orlando yelled over the rain.
“Please don’t go, Orlando!” Jacqueline called back. “Can’t you stay?”
A pained look crossed Orlando’s features, and he shook his head. “Please try to understand. I have to do this. Penny means a lot to me.”
Jacqueline didn’t squelch the frisson of jealousy that made her ask, “And what about me, Orlando?”
The rain fell, a rhythmic hiss around them, and people fled for shelter or tried to brave the coming storm. The world was filled with the sounds of falling rain, disbelief and surprise, and umbrellas in bloom. For a long time, it was the only sound between them. Neither spoke.
Finally Orlando said, “We’ll talk later, Jacqueline. Now is not the time for this.” Then he got in the car without another word and left.
The enormity of had just happened weighed on Jacqueline so much that she just stood there in the rain, shell-shocked. Jacqueline watched Harold zoom off in his car after them. Her hand went instinctively to her cell phone in her jacket pocket, but after a moment, her lips set in a firm line. She was tired of helping, tired of doing things that would help others, especially Penelope Henderson. If Harold wanted to catch up with her, fine; he could. Jacqueline Gannon was not going to be the one to stop him.
* * *
The room was silent once Jacqueline finished her narrative. Nia pursed her lips together, watching Keira and Aurora worriedly, knowing that they had the biggest and most fierce tempers in the room. Much to her dismay, Aurora moved away from her grandmother, twin and little sister and toward Jacqueline.
“So you didn’t try to stop Harold at all,” Aurora said in a low tone that reminded everyone of Orlando when he was angry. “You knew that he was unstable and would try to hurt Aunt Pen and you didn’t even stop him?!”
Jacqueline stared at the eighteen-year-old with tears running down her face. “What could I have done? Laid down in front of his car and put my own life in danger? It would have taken a Herculean effort to stop him, Aurora. I am not superhuman.”
“I don’t think you’re even human,” Aurora remarked bitterly.
Nia climbed to her feet, hurt that two people she cared about were fighting with one another. “Aurora,” she started.
“Aurora, please,” Ariel broke in gently. “Don’t do this now.”
“Bollocks! I am so bleeding sick and tired of tiptoeing around Jacqueline like she’s some sensitive child,” Aurora burst out angrily. “I don’t understand why my father loves you. No—wait, I see why. Because he’s a good, decent, caring man and you do nothing but trample all over him to get what you want. I wouldn’t doubt that you’re good at that.”
“How dare you?” Jacqueline demanded. “How dare you stand there and malign me like you’re the poster child for decency?”
“I may not be, but I’m not the one who can’t stick when the going gets tough,” Aurora shot back.
Rosalind rose and stood in between them, the tension in the room so thick it could have choked an outsider. Rosalind saw the resentment and fury in her granddaughter’s brown eyes, then the resentment and fury in Jacqueline’s eyes. Even though Aurora had voiced some of her own deepest opinions about Jacqueline, it was not the time to voice them. Orlando and Penny were fighting for their lives, and here they were fighting with one another.
Faced with her grandmother, Aurora backed down noticeably. Chastised, Aurora lowered her head and said nothing. Rosalind then shifted toward Jacqueline, words of admonishment on her lips.
They died when Laine entered the room.
Laine looked exhausted when she walked in. She looked like she had lived through a thousand lifetimes. Rosalind understood; tragedy had a way of aging a person. Nia, Keira, Ariel, and Gus noticed her presence and came closer. Seeing that Rosalind’s eyes were focused on something beyond her, Jacqueline spun around quickly. Seeing Laine there gave her a jolt since she was identical to Penny. But she said nothing.
Laine ran a hand through her hair before speaking to them. “Orlando’s out of surgery,” she told them. “He’s in a room now if you want to visit him. But you’ll have to do it in pairs. They won’t allow more than two at a time.”
“Nana, you go first,” Gus offered. “You’re his mum, and I’m sure you want to see him very much right now.”
Rosalind opened her mouth to protest, but everyone insisted that this was the best thing. Rosalind chose Ariel to go with her, and Laine led them to where Orlando’s room was. Once the door had closed, Aurora gave Jacqueline a scathing look and went to the window where she could watch the rain. Keira went to her. Uncomfortable with the thick silence and tired from the night’s events, Gus offered Nia a candy bar and coffee. Nia tried to get Jacqueline to join them, but she hastily waved them off and left the room. Exhaling heavily, Nia leaned on Gus and went with him for sustenance.