Life went on.
And Axel grew into a child, gaining the lazy trait along the way.
But try as she might, Aurora could not forget Palani Wahine. His blue eyes (and biceps) invaded her daydreams and swam through her head at night. His face was the last thing she saw before she went to sleep, and when she opened her eyes in the morning, she imagined him in bed beside her.
Aurora sighed and forced herself out of bed. This was ridiculously, vastly indulgent. She needed to be present for her children. She refused to turn into Andalie. She refused to put a man – or her own selfish desires – before her daughter and her sons.
Tabitha: So….who’s the guy?
Aurora paused, shot her niece a cautious, sidelong glance. Tabitha laughed knowingly in response.
Tabitha: Don’t deny it, Aunt Aurora! We know there’s someone! You’ve been walking around here in a trance for days!
Aurora: What do you mean we know? Who’s “we?”
Tabitha: Just me….well, me and Coralie, I mean. Sebastian and Axel have no clue. You know boys – oblivious.
Aurora: Fine. There’s someone, sort of. I guess. I mean, I don’t even KNOW him! I just saw him one day. I’ll get over it.
Tabitha: But why should you get over it? It’s really none of my business, but wouldn’t it be a shame not to at least get to know him? Your duty to the legacy is fulfilled, there’s nothing standing in your way. You could be the first Hasslich heiress to find love before elderhood! This guy could be the love of your life, Aunt Aurora!
Aurora: My kids are the love of my life. I don’t need romance. Romance equals drama, and drama is nothing but a distraction from what’s really important.
Tabitha: Turns out your daughter knows you pretty well then – that’s exactly what Coralie said you would say.
And so, when Coralie called and asked Aurora to meet her for ice cream after school, Aurora didn’t ask questions. She already knew what this would be about. She knew she was walking into an ambush – an intervention, even. She wouldn’t be surprised to see all (33!) of her Hasslich relatives waiting for her, ready to jump on the Aurora-finds-love bandwagon.
It turns out that she was right and wrong. It was an ambush – just not the kind she was expecting.
Son of a plum.
An intervention, she could have handled. But not this. Her body was burning up already, and all she’d done was look at him! And now he was coming closer! He was talking to her! He touched her arm – and her skin was on fire.
Palani: Would you like a drink, Aurora? Or maybe you’d like some ice cream instead?
He raised a (perfect) eyebrow.
Palani: Your daughter told me you’re a fan of mint chocolate chip.
Aurora: Of course Coralie would be behind this. How did she find you?
Aurora was surprised at the sound of her own voice – shocked that she could formulate actual words, that her voice wasn’t trembling like her hands.
Palani: She didn’t find me. I found her. I’ll be honest – you made quite an impression on me. Your family possesses a unique brand of beauty, Aurora – it doesn’t take a genius to see the resemblance between mother and daughter.
She could feel her head swimming. Palani was so handsome, so sexy – and he knew just what to say to heighten her interest. She eyed his tattoos again, wondering where she’d gotten them, and imagining – not for the first time – his mysterious “Amazon” home. He seemed so sweet and so gentlemanly, but Aurora sensed an underlying edge to him. A hint of that bad boy magnetism that only intensified her longing.
She took a breath and shook her head, breaking herself out of her trance. A sudden sense of urgency overwhelmed her – she needed to get away from him.
Aurora: I’m sorry, Palani. I have to go. My daughter….she was mistaken about all this.
She turned to go, forcing herself not to break into a run. She couldn’t trust herself with him, she couldn’t go down this rabbit hole! There would be no going back and she’d be useless as a mother! – it would be Andalie all over again! No – she had to get away from him – it was the only way.
Her phone chirped in her pocket and she pulled it out as she walked. Coralie. Of course.
“Mom – I’m sorry for tricking you, but you should give him a chance. I know you’ll want to run from this, and I know why. But you’re nothing like her – you could never be like her. You love us so much. Maybe you can love him too? You’ll never know if you don’t try.”
Aurora slowed to a stop – her daughter knew her even better than she’d realized. She paused, staring at her phone, considering. And then she turned and looked back. Palani was still there, watching her. He hadn’t moved – too respectful to follow her against her will but not quite ready to give up on her, either.
And so she put her phone back in her pocket and walked back toward him.
He looked at her quizzically, waiting for her to speak first. And then she smiled.
Aurora: I guess I can’t resist that mint chocolate chip, after all.
Their date passed by in a whirlwind, and Aurora found that the more she got to know him, the more she liked him – and the more she was able to relax around him, too. With every tidbit of information she gleaned, Palani became more and more human. He became more real to her, more than just a pretty face.
They talked about his childhood, the perks and pitfalls of growing up in an Amazon tribe. Aurora hadn’t known that such a society even existed – but she was glad he escaped the fate of a slave and had found his way to Willow Creek. And it turned out that Aurora was right about that bad boy vibe she’d picked up on – Palani had been a slave so long that he had grown into a dastardly rebel with a Public Enemy aspiration – but Aurora was far from bothered. To the contrary, she found the flaw endearing – it was proof of his imperfection, proof of his humanity. Palani was no longer a fantasy, held up on a pedestal of her own creation. He was real, and Aurora knew that her feelings for him were real as well.
And as their conversation continued long into the evening, they discovered that they each had suffered the loss of their mothers, which naturally led to talk of the Hasslich legacy, and Aurora’s role as heiress. She told Palani how Grainna had begun the whole thing so long ago, and how the responsibility of continuing the family line had landed squarely on her shoulders. She told him about the one-child-per-daddy rule and she told him how her mother’s erratic, neglectful behavior had impacted their family, and she told him how she’d vowed to be a better mother to her children than she’d ever had herself. Aurora heard the words tumbling out of her mouth, and amazingly, she did nothing to stop it. Palani was easy to talk to, non-judgmental, and she found herself telling him things she’d never said out loud before.
Aurora: At the risk of sounding presumptuous, the whole legacy thing also means I can never get married. Well – I could get married, but I’d have to be done having kids first. That’s why most of the Hasslich heirs never got married, and the ones who did didn’t do it until they were already elders.
Palani: Correct me if I’m wrong, Aurora, but doesn’t that mean you could get married anytime you want now? I mean, you do already have a daughter…
Aurora: I never really thought about it before, but yeah, I guess I could. I’ve just always assumed I’d have as many children as possible and marriage would be a non-issue…
Palani didn’t say anything for a moment, and the silence hung meaningfully in the air between them. They both knew that something special was happening, that this date was the beginning of something wonderful. But Palani held his tongue – no need to rush things. Instead, he took her hand..
Palani: Come with me, Aurora – there’s something I want to show you…
She should have thought it was creepy, walking off into the bushes with a dastardly (and dangerously sexy) man.
Maybe it’s some kind of Amazon thing, she thought to herself. He must want to show me some basil bushes or something.
But there were no basil bushes. Palani just wanted a little privacy for their very first kiss…
…..and a selfie, naturally.
Maybe it was an Amazon thing, after all.