Chapter Twelve

Chapter Twelve
Retribution in Bloom

The beginning of the following week. London.

Aurora found that telling Bridget and Lana what happened was like a balm over the healing wounds she’d incurred last week. Despite making up with her father and having fun at the premiere of At World’s End at Disneyland, she needed it. It made her feel like she wasn’t a total idiot for inviting Kylie Hudson to her house on a whim.

Once Aurora had finished, Lana climbed to her feet with red in her freckled cheeks and rage in her eyes.

“Those…those…!” When she couldn’t find an insult vile enough, she just simply settled for emitting a sound that sounded like the sum of short, shrill scream and a growl. Bridget jumped, startled. Luckily, they were outside the building sitting on the steps and no one seemed to notice.

Wanting to know what was to happen next, Bridget spoke. “So what happens now?”

Lana sat down and stared at Aurora in rapt interest as she answered her best friend’s question. “Cousin Audrey said that Daddy should sue,” Aurora responded. “Aunt Lizzie’s got a lawyer friend that wants to help.”

Lana crossed her arms over her chest. “I think they deserve much worse than that,” she remarked. “Maybe we should find some secrets about them to leak to the mags. See how they like it.”

Bridget shook her head vigorously. “That wouldn’t solve anything. My mummy says that whenever somebody does wrong to you, you should never ever stoop to their level.”

Violence in her eyes, Lana clenched a fist. “You can’t stoop to their level if you’ve punched them to the ground.”

“Lana, honestly!” Bridget cried. Exasperated, she turned to Aurora, hoping to find some sense of temperance in her other best friend. “You’re not going to hit her if you see her, are you?”

Brow furrowed and brown eyes dark with fury, Aurora replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’ll do when I see that scheming little snob.”

“Knock her flat. That’s what I say,” Lana supplied.

Aurora considered that. She could see her grandmother’s face in her mind’s eye. And hear her voice warning her not to use violence. Violence was bad. Violence was for people without the courage to walk away. Suddenly, she wasn’t sure she could do the mature thing and walk away before violence overtook her.

Then she saw something in Lana’s grass-green eyes, and her heart sped up. The moment of truth?

“There they are,” Lana declared, her Irish coming out again.

Yes, it seemed that it had come.

Lana shoved her friend and turned her around so that she could see for herself. “Go get ‘em, Aurora. Give ‘em hell.”

Bridget gasped as if her friend had suggested they strip to their undies and sing “Wannabe” in the schoolyard. “Lana! You’re not supposed to swear.”

While Bridget and Lana broke into another argument, Aurora watched as Genifer Doogan walked leisurely across the schoolyard with her two best friends. She and Jordana were laughing as if they were sharing the world’s best joke. Kylie, on the other hand, seemed uneasy. Aurora felt no pity for her even though she knew Kylie was as much a pawn as she had been. She felt no pity at all. Just anger.

She descended the steps, not noticing when Bridget and Lana fell into step behind her. Her angry expression had people moving out of her way, not wanting to incite her wrath. Lana was so giddy she could barely keep the severe expression on her face. This was her idea of excitement.

Aurora paused in front of Gennie and her friends with her arms crossed over her chest. It took a few moments before Gennie took notice of Aurora’s presence. Whether or not that was intentional, Aurora didn’t know. But it made her even madder.

Gennie raised an eyebrow at Aurora as if her mere presence was some sort of social transgression. “Oh,” she said coolly. “You. Sorry, but Kylie’s our friend now.”

Aurora flicked a glance at Kylie, who fidgeted under it, then back to Gennie with steely eyes. “Oh. That’s nice. Well, you can keep her. We don’t want her.”

Lana snickered and didn’t even try to disguise it as a cough. Gennie glared at her, cool look melted into one of fury. Lana looked back at her in defiance and the look in her eyes indicated she wasn’t afraid to use her fists, so Gennie turned back to Aurora. “Who do you think you are?”

“I’m Aurora Bloom,” Aurora responded. “And who do you think you are? Don’t think I don’t know who was behind the story that my cousin Audrey found in Crave Magazine.”

Gennie’s mouth curved upward into a smirk. It appeared she loved to incite her anger. And she knew who to mention to succeed in that goal. “Aren’t you smart? How did your daddy like it?”

Aurora smirked, too, and caught Gennie off guard. Aurora was too smart to fall for that. “Why don’t you ask your mum? I’m sure she’s finding out right about now.”

Fury returned to Gennie’s features. “Your daddy wouldn’t dare mess with my mummy,” she snapped haughtily. “She’s got power.”

Aurora shook her head. “Not after this. Your mummy’s going to pay.” This time she looked at Kylie, then at Jordana before switching her gaze back to the fuming Gennie. “And you are going to pay, too.” Much to Lana’s dismay, she turned to leave. “Goodbye, Gennie.”

* * *

Some feet away, Jacqueline paused in her conversation with Nia and frowned. Nia frowned, too, and was about to ask Jacqueline what the problem was when she just followed the blonde’s gaze. She took in the exchange between Genifer Doogan and Aurora Bloom and understood why Jacqueline’s attention had been diverted.

“Oh,” Nia said, eyebrows arched. She shifted to get a better look. “Well. That looks like that could get ugly.”

Jacqueline watched Aurora. The girl was angry—rightfully so after what had happened—but she seemed to be handing it better than expected.

“She’ll be fine,” Jacqueline said. “She just needs to handle this in her own way.”

“Yeah, and so does her daddy.” Right eyebrow quirked, Nia turned to her friend. “So… Are the two of you going out again?”

Jacqueline sighed. She can have such one-track mind sometimes, she mused. “Nia,” she began, “I don’t think this is a good time to talk about Orlando and me. Besides, we’re just going out a little bit. It isn’t as if he’s already gotten down on one knee and asked me to—”

Unfortunately, Nia was not listening, and it had taken Jacqueline nearly two whole sentences before she figured it out. It seemed it was Nia’s turn to be diverted by the exchange between the two girls.

“She’s gonna make Aurora hit her,” Nia murmured as Aurora tried to walk off—and Gennie taunted her.

“Nonsense,” Jacqueline disagreed. “Aurora Bloom may not be a pushover, but she’s not a violent girl. What would you believe—?”

Much to Jacqueline’s dismay, she was wrong. Aurora Bloom, when provoked enough, could resort to violence.

Gennie walked up to Aurora and grabbed her to spin her around. When she did, she pushed her, yelling about her mother. Fury in her eyes, Aurora reared back with her right fist and did the only thing she could do to shut Genifer Doogan’s big, fat mouth.

She punched her in the nose.

“Damn!” exclaimed Nia, stunned. She stepped back, considered. “Gotta give the girl points for that right cross.”

Of course, Jacqueline was hardly listening. She was pushing through the crowd, trying to get to Aurora. She muttered apologies as she forced her way through the thick of the circle, ignoring irate shouts and shoves. When Jacqueline finally got to Aurora, Bridget was holding her back and Gennie was on the ground crying shrilly. Her dainty little nose was broken.

Jacqueline grabbed Aurora and spun her around to face her. “Aurora—how could you do such a thing? Violence is not the answer to your problems!”

Aurora shook herself from Jacqueline’s grasp. “I was just defending myself. So leave me alone!”

Jacqueline stood there in momentary shock as Aurora rounded her and ran away. Bridget and Lana followed after her. Putting a neutral expression on her face, Nia stepped into Aurora’s path.

“Hey,” Nia said. “Let’s get you calmed down, alright?” Aurora opened her mouth but Nia decided it wasn’t the time for argument, so she spoke over her. “Look, I’m not gonna yell at you. You needed to do what you needed to do. You had no choice.” She placed a hand on her girl’s shoulder and led her inside as more adults went to investigate. She blew out a long breath which fluttered her black bangs. “Her daddy’s gonna be pissed when he hears this,” she muttered under her breath.

* * *

Nia’s words turned out to be prophetic.

Since Jacqueline seemed to believe that Aurora shouldn’t have hit Gennie, Nia called Orlando herself. She calmly and fully explained what had happened, emphasizing that it had not been Aurora’s fault, that Aurora had walked away from the argument and Gennie had provoked her to violence. Unfortunately, the buzz from the powers that were at school was that Aurora would probably be punished, maybe expelled.

And all of this on the heels of a promotion tour for At World’s End made Orlando a very, very edgy man.

Orlando, along with Penny since Rosalind was with Ariel at the moment, came storming up to Aurora’s school with wrath in his eyes and fire in his belly. Yes, he was going to have a word or two with somebody today. Hopefully, he would not be provoked to violence like his daughter had been.

Penny could feel the waves of rage rolling off of him as they walked up the steps. “Orlando,” she began.

Orlando shook his head. “I don’t want to hear it. Aurora doesn’t deserve this.”

Penny nodded decisively. “Damn right she doesn’t. How dare they discuss expelling her? Nia said she saw Genifer Doogan push her. That was the first blow in my opinion.” She smirked. “Damn good luck she had breaking the girl’s nose. I trained her good.”

Orlando glared at her sidelong. “Penelope. Could we possibly be more serious here? And try not to teach my daughter how to fight like Lennox Lewis anymore, would you?”

Penny rolled her eyes and walked with him to the principal’s office. As soon as they came through the door, Aurora leapt up from her chair. Nia turned to the door, brown eyes filled with a mix of relief and indignation. Orlando passed her a look and knew where the indignation was directed.

Aurora launched herself at her father and hugged him. He exhaled and hugged her back as she spoke hurriedly, apologizing and promising never to do it again. Penny sighed, a little weary now. She looked to Nia, who had climbed to her feet.

“What’s going on?” Penny gestured toward the door. Luckily, the itchy feeling that came with being back in the principal’s office had not broken out on her arms.

Nia shook her head and crossed her arms. “Assistant Principal Hollis disappeared with Geraldine Doogan a few minutes ago. She came in here ranting and raving about the Bloom family being nothing but a bunch of—” Nia bit off the last of her sentence. “Ahem. Well. Don’t want to repeat it in front of small ears. It was pretty vile.”

Penny watched as Orlando went to the secretary, who promised him she would tell Principal Maguire that he was there. Then she switched her gaze back to Nia.

“Are they still talking about expelling Aurora?” Penny wanted to know.

“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to talk to anyone. Besides, I’m still pretty low on the totem pole. It’s a wonder they’ve allowed me to stay with Aurora this long.”

Yes, that was a feat. Not only because of her low status as she had jus explained, but of another reason that had Penny’s eyebrows arching. That is kind of strange, Penny mused. You would think Jacqueline would be here soothing Aurora and not Nia. Penny tapped her chin thoughtfully and considered that as Assistant Principal Hollis came into the main office with Geraldine Doogan.

Geraldine Doogan was blonde and fair-skinned like her daughter. While the shade was probably nature’s gift on her daughter, on Geraldine, the color seemed to be the graceful touch of Garnier. In her chartreuse pant suit and sangria-colored jewelry, she resembled a blond tropical fruit.

Her cheeks went red when her steel blue eyes rested upon Orlando and Penny. “I don’t understand why I have to be detained this way. This is a waste of my time.” She pointed a French-tripped finger at Aurora. “She deserves to be expelled for breaking my Gennie’s nose.”

Orlando straightened, eyes darkening ominously, but Penny knew that this was best handled woman to woman. She placed a hand on Orlando’s chest to restrain him and stepped around him. She would have cracked her knuckles, but she figured that would probably get Aurora into more trouble.

“Honestly, Ms. Doogan,” Penny began in an even tone that belied her anger, “I don’t think Aurora should be punished at all. She was defending herself against your daughter, and what is the punishment for self-defense? Nothing. Nothing at all. Oh,” she added in a feigned tone of deliberation as Geraldine glowered, “or maybe we should just rework the legal system and toss all the people in jail who defended themselves against danger. What do you think? Or do you not think at all?”

“The blow was unwarranted,” Geraldine snapped before Hollis could stop her, angry for being there, for listening to Penny’s even, rational tone.

“Oh? Like your little article in Crave about my dead sister and her private life with her husband? I think that was unwarranted, too.” Penny took a couple of steps closer to Geraldine. “You wanna go back and forth like this all day? Go ahead. No skin off my back. But your daughter deserved everything she got.”

Assistant Principal Hollis, afraid that there would be another fight, stepped in-between Penny and Geraldine. “Alright, ladies,” he began in his diplomatic voice. “Perhaps we can settle this in Principal Maguire’s office calmly”—he looked pointedly at Penny—“and rationally.”

Penny gave him a blue-eyed glare. “We’ll just see who’s rational, then.”

Hollis led, with Geraldine on his heels, the adults into Principal Maguire’s office. Nia stayed out in the main office with Aurora, who had been silent the whole time.

As the door to the principal’s office closed, Nia turned to Aurora. “Hey,” she prodded. “You alright, kid?”

With inquisitive brown eyes, Aurora looked up at her. “Are they going to expel me?”

Nia choked back her sigh and patted her hand. “I hope not. Unfortunately, adults can be pretty stupid sometimes. So I can’t say for sure. But I will say that your daddy’s gonna fight for you, all the way.”

Aurora nodded and looked in front of her. They sat in silence for a couple of minutes, trying to listen to what was going on in the office. A couple of times, Nia could hear Orlando and Penny’s voices rising above Principal Maguire’s. That was not a good sign.

“You know,” Nia suddenly said, wanting to get Aurora’s mind—and her own—off of the impending verdict, “a friend of mine went to school with your mama.”

Blinking, Aurora turned to her. “Huh? My mum?”

“Yep. He said he was a couple of years behind her in high school in New York. Anyway, he told me this story once about a girl he knew who got into this fight in the cafeteria. Apparently, some bullies had thrown mashed potatoes on her guitar.” Nia chuckled, imagining the fairy-like Della Henderson in a fight. “She gave ‘em hell, he said. And she got suspended for a week because she gave one a black eye and the other a busted nose.”

Aurora’s eyebrows furrowed. “That’s not right. They shouldn’t have suspended her.”

Nia shook her head. “Nope. But you know what, kid? Sometimes it takes the wrong thing to happen to set us on the right track. Do you wanna know what happened after your mama got suspended?” She grinned as Aurora just looked at her. “She dropped out and joined True Dawn. And think, just think what would have happened if she never would have gotten suspended. You probably wouldn’t be here right now. Funny how that works, huh?”

Aurora chewed on that. She was so deep in thought that she didn’t notice when her father stormed out of the office, more pissed off than ever.

Principal Maguire appeared in his doorway. “Mr. Bloom, Ms. Henderson, we believe that punishment is fitting for Aurora because of what has happened.”

“These events would have been avoided if Genifer Doogan’s mother wasn’t such a heartless bitch,” Penny snapped, ignoring Geraldine’s squeak of protest and Assistant Principal Hollis’s warning to watch her language.

“I have nothing to do with your niece’s bad manners and horrible upbringing,” Geraldine said haughtily.

“My daughter has been brought up in a loving, stable home with people who love her,” Orlando shot back. “She knows right from wrong and would never conspire to do what your daughter did. I believe you’re the one with the bad mannered child.” He cut Geraldine off when she tried to speak. “Save it. You’d better save your energy, Ms. Doogan. You’re going to be dealing with a lawsuit soon.” He looked pointedly at Principal Maguire. “As is this school.”

Principal Maguire opened his mouth, but Aurora, roused by the exchange slid down from her chair and planted herself in the middle of it all.

“No!” she cried.

Orlando looked down at her in surprise. It took a moment for him to switch gears from anger to astonishment. “Aurora?”

She went to him, shaking her head. “It’s alright, Daddy. I…” She turned back to gazed at Nia. Nia nodded encouragingly, and she turned back to her father. “If they don’t want me here, then I don’t need to be here.”

Proud of her niece’s responsible reasoning, Penny smiled. But it was not a nice smile. “Yes. Aurora is right.” She spun to look at Maguire and Hollis. “We’ll be taking Aurora and August out of this school, effective immediately. Screw your unwarranted punishment.” She narrowed her eyes at Geraldine. “But yours is coming, Doogan. Count on it.”

Penny and Orlando, with Aurora under his arm, exited the office while Nia hurried out and promised to find Gus. While they were walking to the exit, the clacking of heels on the tile had Orlando turning his head. He expected to find Nia there, but saw an anxious Jacqueline instead.

He paused. Penny paused, too, confused. When she spotted Jacqueline, she understood that Orlando would need his space for a moment.

“Aurora sweetheart?” Penny held out her arm for the girl. “Let’s go to the car. I think we both need the fresh air.”

Aurora looked up at her father, but he was looking at Jacqueline. She felt funny staring at the two of them. It was strange seeing her father with that look in his eyes. But she saw the strain in them and understood a little bit of what Penny was saying. They needed to go so Orlando could be alone with Jacqueline.

So Aurora took her aunt’s arm and wondered if she would ever see Jacqueline Gannon ever again.

* * *

Orlando knew something was wrong the moment he’d laid eyes on Jacqueline. Yes, like Penny, he’d found it a little odd that Nia had consoled Aurora instead of Jacqueline. He hadn’t had the time to dwell on the thought, but now that Jacqueline was right in front of him, the issue could not be avoided. It was like the pink elephant everyone tried to ignore—except this time, it stood in-between him and her.

Perplexed, Orlando stepped up to Jacqueline. Her eyes were darting all over the walls, all over the floor—everywhere but at his face. Her uneasiness made him uneasy, and he placed his hands on either side of her face in order to get her to look at him. When she did, her dark blue eyes were grim.

“What’s going on, Jacqueline?” Orlando asked.

Jacqueline looked at him steadily for a few moments before shaking herself out of his grasp. She walked to the doors leading outside and put her hands on her hips. She stared at cars passing by for a moment before speaking.

“How’s Aurora?” she finally inquired, absently as if they’d been discussing having peach cobbler for dessert.

Orlando’s jaw clenched. “Jacqueline, you didn’t answer my question.”

Jacqueline turned around abruptly. “And you didn’t answer mine.” She dropped her hands to her sides. “Look, I…I’m sorry for what happened today. Aurora shouldn’t have had to go through what she went through. However, I don’t particularly agree with how she handled it.”

Orlando stood there in disbelief for several seconds. He stared at the woman he had shared meals and meaningful conversation with on two separate occasions and couldn’t believe his eyes. Was this the same woman? Was this the same woman he had kissed and promised to see again once things calmed down?

“You don’t agree with how she handled it?” he repeated. “How the bloody hell can you not? Genifer Doogan provoked her. I’m sorry, Jacqueline, if you find offense to the fact that my daughter doesn’t take shit off anybody.”

Jacqueline shushed him. “Would you keep your voice down? There are children in this building.”

“And my daughter and son will not be a part of them any longer,” Orlando informed her, taking note of the flicker of shock in her eyes. “Yes, I’m taking them out of here. They were going to expel Aurora for doing something that was only her right, and she doesn’t deserve that treatment.”

“She could have thought of something better than breaking Genifer Doogan’s nose, Orlando. There are so many better things in the world better than lashing out and using your fists on someone.”

Orlando opened his mouth to respond, but then he spied the look in her eyes. This was not mere disappointment Jacqueline was feeling. There was something deeper there, something that Jacqueline hid under her smooth, stylish veneer. It was also something that she hadn’t felt the need to share with Orlando. Shaking his head, Orlando walked up to her.

“I don’t understand why you are so opposed to what Aurora did, and quite frankly, I don’t care. But I do feel like something is wrong, Jacqueline. And it hurts me that you don’t trust me enough to tell me.”

Jacqueline pursed her lips together, but not before Orlando caught the bottom one trembling. She inhaled and held her breath for a few moments to get some kind of composure. When she spoke again, her voice was quiet and unsteady.

“I…I have some things to work through, Orlando,” she admitted. “My relationship…” She trailed off, feeling that wasn’t the right word. “My…engagement left a lot of scars on me, and I think I jumped into this too fast.” A lone tear left its wet trail down her cheek but she hardly noticed. “You need time to be with your children, concentrate on them.”

Orlando took a step toward her. She took a step back. Suddenly, his anger was gone, leaving an ache in its place. He ached for her, ached for the fact that she was in pain and he could do nothing about it.

“What did he do to you?” Orlando asked, voice ashen.

Jacqueline shook her head. “It’s nothing. None of your business now.” She turned her head toward the sound of Gus chattering to Nia as they came down the hall. “There’s Gus. Take him and Aurora home. They need to be there with you.”

“But Jacqueline—”

Jacqueline shook her head tearfully and fled down the hall. Nia took notice of this and frowned. She smiled distractedly down at Gus, who asked her a question. Idly, she answered in the affirmative. When she and Gus reached Orlando, she and Orlando shared a look before Orlando knelt down to Gus and explained to him what had happened.

Of course, Gus, being Gus, was more astonished by the fact that his sister had punched Genifer Doogan in the nose than by the reality that they were being taken out of their school.

“Did Gennie bleed and everything?” Gus asked, brown eyes twinkling.

Orlando had to swallow the sudden chuckle that had nearly escaped from his throat. He cleared it, hoping to sound stern. “Now August,” he began, making Nia’s lip twitch, “it’s wrong of us to glean any satisfaction from Genifer Doogan’s injuries.” He climbed to his feet. “Now, do you mind leaving Nia and me to talk? I’ll be outside in a minute.”

“Okay, Dad.” He looked to Nia and waved. “See you later, Nia!”

“See ya!” Nia responded, waving to him as he bounded out. Gus exited the building and waited for his father on the steps. Orlando made sure Gus was within seeing distance before he spoke to Nia. She was shrewd enough to know about whom he’d wanted to talk. So, without any preamble, she said, “I don’t know if I should be talking about this with you, Orlando. It’s kind of private.” She came closer, looking around for any stray ears. “Ian Ballard hadn’t been the best fiancé in the world to Jacqueline. That’s why her mother had him banished—if that’s the word you want to use for her giving the guy the boot—and why she’s been skittish about dating. I thought maybe you could help, but…”

“Did he hit her?” Orlando asked. When Nia bit her lip and said nothing, Orlando was sure the answer was yes.

“She claims it was once. The sad thing is, she was madly in love with him. Maybe she still is.” Nia shrugged, a helpless gesture. “I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried my best to draw her out, but I think seeing Aurora hit Gennie knocked something loose. Or something.”

Orlando nodded, taking this in. He remembered the haunted look in Jacqueline’s eyes as she walked away and could not quite shelve his concern. But he shifted focus and decided to worry about it later. He took Nia’s hand in his own and squeezed it. “Thank you, Nia, for everything you’ve done.”

Nia shrugged again, but this time it was a humble gesture. “It’s what I do. Besides, I like Gus and Aurora. They’re good kids, no matter what Geraldine Doogan says.” She made a phish sound. “What the hell does she know? She probably loves her pink poodle more than her flesh and blood. But whatever. We’ve had enough mention of that woman. You go home and take care of your own, Bloom.”

Orlando nodded and headed toward the door. “I will. We’ll be in touch, Nia.”

Nia surprised him by snorting. “Gee, I get to keep in touch with you?” She faked a surfer bum’s accent for humor’s sake. “Bleeding awesome, dude. Totally nuclear.”

Orlando laughed, a full, booming laugh that came from deep inside his belly. It was a good feeling, being able to laugh that way. It seemed like some of the weight had been magically lifted from his shoulders. Perhaps that hackneyed saying that laughter was the greatest medicine was right—and perhaps was why it was hackneyed.

Nia chuckled to herself as Orlando exited the building and playfully punched his son on the arm. Her lips curved as they descended the steps laughing and chattering. Yes, they would be in touch. Because, as she had told Aurora, it sometimes took the wrong thing to happen to set you on course. And her place was also not here.

Nia turned and walked down the hall, intending to find Jacqueline. She’d coddle, offer tissues and few of her smart remarks. Then she would march right up to the principal’s office and quit.

As far as she was concerned, it was the only right thing to do.

* * *

Meanwhile, Orlando turned the ignition in his car. Penny was in the passenger seat beside him, and she noticed that there was something different about him. When he gazed at her before backing out of the parking space, she noticed a bit of worry in his eyes—but it was accompanied by a twinkle, a twinkle of hope and happiness.

“Did you take care of it?” Penny asked.

Orlando switched gears and drove out of the parking lot. “More or less. I found out that it’s out of my hands.” He glanced in his rearview. Gus had poked Aurora, and she responded by pinching him in the side. He sighed. His children. “I have more pressing matters to deal with.”

“Well, Geraldine Doogan is one person you won’t have to worry about for a while,” Penny informed him. “Apparently, she’s been fired for her involvement in the spread. The owners of Crave have disowned her and promised the speedy return of your property, along with their support in any legal action you may want to take.”

Orlando frowned at her wording. “Any legal action I want to take?”

“It was your property, not mine. After all, Della left those diaries to you. If you want to sue the costume jewels right off of Doogan, you can. You’ll have our full support.”

Orlando considered this on the way home. Even though a part of him wanted to rake Geraldine Doogan over the coals, the better part of him felt that there were better things he could do with his time. Starting with what his mother had suggested.

“I think I’ll pass on the legal action,” Orlando said, prompting an arched eyebrow from Penny. “But I wouldn’t mind your help in another matter.”

The other eyebrow lifted. “Another matter?”

They were at a stoplight that had just turned red, so Orlando looked at Penny. “We’ll talk about it later.”

Penny said nothing but took a moment to take it in. Deciding to divert her attention from Orlando’s I-know-something-you-don’t-know air, she shifted in her seat and patted Aurora on the leg. The girl looked up at her, and she smiled encouragingly. It took a bit, but Aurora returned the smile.

Aurora looked away first and watched the scenery go by as they headed to Penny’s house in Chelsea. She looked at the shops, the people on the sidewalk as her mind blanked from watching the quickly passing background. Her mind eventually drifted back to what Nia had said to her in the principal’s office, leaving questions on her mind. If getting expelled from school was the turning point in her life, where would her life’s path take her now? Was there something huge in store for her as it had been for her mother?

She didn’t know the answer, as usual. It seemed she never had the answers she needed these days. But, as if a guardian angel had leaned down and whispered in her ear, a phrase appeared in her mind: Only time will tell.

 

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