Flower Twenty: Oleander–Beware

oleander

Emma

I left Cantin Mansion in high spirits.  As I waited in the front driveway for the driver who was supposed to escort me home, I couldn’t help beaming.  Not only had I helped Heath get back on track to art school, but this was also the first time someone other than Grandmother or one of the thieves had told me they believed in me.  It felt thrilling and motivating to know I wasn’t the same girl I’d been just this past summer, and Mr. Cantin actually noticed.

I kept playing back in my head how he’d decided I was the best choice to run both companies and that he believed in me.  I still couldn’t believe he wanted me to take over his company.  After all these years, our companies had been rivals.  Part of me wondered if he’d made the decision because he still had a thing for Grandmother, and he only liked me because I was Penelope Lockhart’s granddaughter.  But I tamped the thought down.  Even if Grandmother was the real reason for his decision, I would continue to prove myself to be the right candidate.

Because I wasn’t just the heiress to Splash and Spray, and I wasn’t just Penelope Lockhart’s granddaughter.  I was a girl who loved flowers and perfumes.  I was a girl who wanted to succeed in making my company even stronger one day.  I was—

“Emmaline Lockhart.”

Instinct told me to put up my defenses, especially when I recognized the chilling voice.  Whirling around, The Bulk was standing right behind me.  I must have been too absorbed in my thoughts to have noticed his ham-fisted presence.

“What do you want?” I glared at him coldly.

His oily face lit up like the mall during Christmas, and I wondered what I’d said to make him react as such.  That is, until I realized that he’d called me by my real name, and I’d unwittingly responded to verify my identity.

“I knew it,” he cried, doing a victory dance.  He looked like a troll.  “I was right all along.  You’re Emmaline Lockhart, and I have all the proof I need to tell the world.”  Something round and shiny in his hands reflected the sun’s rays directly into my eyes.

Proof?  My fists clenched as I shot him an alert look.  “What is that?”

“Wanna know?”  He waved the thing in the air, and I identified it as a CD or DVD.  “I’ll tell you the story of how my day went.  I was walking along to meet my dad after school.”

“Liar,” I spoke out, “Cantin fired your dad.”

“But Cantin’s head gardener hired him.  It’s all thanks to your boyfriend,” he spat out hatefully, “That Dad now has the worst kind of labor.  If Dad hadn’t been caught taking the Lockhart Winter, he wouldn’t be suffering now, doing menial tasks like pruning roses, adding manure to flowerbeds…”

“Get on with your point.”

“As Miss Lockhart commands.”  He bowed theatrically.  “So I see this girl I know to be Emma Hartley scurry up to Mr. Mars, the security guy.  To my surprise, she’s let inside.  So I go up to Mr. Mars to see what’s goin’ on.  And he tells me the young master of the house is missing, but his little girlfriend seems to know where he is, or at least he sure hopes so because the girl seems a little out of her mind.

“Of course, I ask him what he means, and Mr. Mars informs me that the girl came claiming she was Emmaline Lockhart, of all people.  So I get a little crazy myself, since I thought I’d been proven wrong that Emma Hartley was Emmaline Lockhart, and I ask Mr. Mars if I could see the security tape.

“Unfortunately the tape itself doesn’t have sound.  But I asked for a copy anyway.  Since Mr. Mars is a friend of the family, he lets me have one.  So I wait outside for the supposed Emma Hartley to come out and call out Emmaline Lockhart, and she turns around, confirming my suspicions.”

Surely, there could be no greater fool who existed on this side of the equator.  “So what?  You said yourself the video footage has no sound.  And any girl would turn around if you suddenly barked at her.”

“No use getting out of this one, Miss Lockhart.”  The boy just wouldn’t give up.  “Someone out there will be able to identify you, your own mother included.  Very convenient she’s my dad’s on again, off again girlfriend, and currently, they’re on again.”

The mention of my mother made my body quake, as always.  But I remembered what Marcus taught me…stay cool, even when the enemy provoked.  I knew The Bulk was trying to get me to panic, but I refused to let him get the satisfaction.

There were two options for me at this point: one, I could continue to deny my true identity, or two, I could just admit it.  Since The Bulk was too convinced I was Emmaline Lockhart, I decided there was no use denying it any longer.  Now the question was what he intended to do with his newfound knowledge.

“Fine, you caught me,” I said.  “I’m Emmaline Lockhart.  What’s it to you?  You can’t get anything out of revealing that tidbit to everyone.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, my little moll doll,” he sneered.  “I know there must be a reason you’ve tried to hide your identity for so long.  So I’ll tell ya what.  I’ll keep my mouth shut in exchange for one thing.  All you gotta do is make-out with me of your own free will.  Just one make-out session.”

I stared at him, stunned he would even have the audacity to suggest such a thing.  Then again, this was The Bulk.  Apparently, he took my silence as consent because right then he tried to grab my hand.  Since there was no way in a geologic eon I’d ever even so much as give The Bulk a peck on the cheek, I reacted the way any girl would when faced with an attacker.  Or any not-so-normal girl, that is.

The Bulk already had a strong hold of my hand, but I remembered a certain maneuver Marcus had taught me.  Using my free hand, I grasped his, spread my feet apart for balance, and flipped him over.  He landed with a loud oomph, and he looked so dazed that if this had been a manga, his eyes would be drawn as little swirly circles.

I towered above him in triumph.  “Listen clearly, you horrid little boy.  You’ve got it all wrong if you think you can blackmail me.  Go ahead and tell everyone who I really am because I don’t care.  And if you ever try to grab me again, I’ll do more than flip you to the ground.”  With the point of my toe, I indicated a rather private area of his prone body.  “Let’s just say, if you want all your alleles to contribute to the gene pool of the next generation, you’d better learn to keep your hands to yourself.”

As The Bulk let out another groan, there was a sound of pattering feet.  As always, assistance had come a moment after the fact.  Two men dressed in black came to my rescue, glaring at the villain and talking into their walkie-talkies for someone to come remove the intruder from the premises.

“My father works here,” The Bulk protested.  “You can’t do this to me.”

The men ignored him and came over to me.  “Sorry we took so long, Miss,” one of them apologized.  “There was a little incident in the garage.  A lizard found its way into one of the cars, spooked the driver, and he collided into a post.  Take him away.”  He gestured to The Bulk, who was being dragged away kicking and screaming.

“I predict major firing in the near future,” the other guard said rather gleefully.  “This time we’ll be rid of Lyons for good.  Third time’s the charm.”

 

Marcus

 

When I got back to the mansion, I knew something was up.  Nobody was at their posts.  Marlin wasn’t at the door to greet me, Porter and the other drivers weren’t in the garage, the maids weren’t dusting, and the gardeners weren’t pruning.  In fact, it was so quiet that I wondered if aliens had abducted the mansion’s inhabitants during my absence.

But as I slowly climbed the stairs to see if everyone had been murdered, I heard a quiet clip clip that slowly grew louder until I recognized the sound to be a stampede of footsteps echoing on the marble tiles.  Soon all the servants reemerged from hiding, scurrying back to work as though it was perfectly ordinary for all of them to take a break at the same exact time in the middle of a busy work day.

As the last of the servants returned to their stations, Mrs. Lockhart finally materialized.  “Marcus,” she called, “It’s about time.  You’ve missed a very important meeting.”  She gestured for me to follow.  As I entered her study, I noticed that Emma and the guys, including Heath, whom I’d thought was supposed to be at a meeting, were already there, seated around Mrs. Lockhart’s desk.

“Emma totally slugged The Bulk,” Tony whispered excitedly, as I passed him.  But then he sulked in disappointment.  “Can’t believe I missed it.”

“She did what?”

“I didn’t slug him,” Emma spoke out.  “I just tossed him to the ground when he tried to grab me.”

“When did he have the opportunity to grab you in the first place?” I found myself growing angrier by the second, and I didn’t even know the whole story yet.  If he’d sprung a surprise attack on her on the way home, I’d never forgive myself.  Selfish, stupid me.  I should have been protecting her instead of venting and purposely avoiding her.

Suddenly, everyone was eager to tell me the story, talking all at once.  I couldn’t register anything at all.

A shrill whistle came from Mrs. Lockhart’s lips, and all chatter died instantly.  “One person speak, or we’ll be here all day.  Emma, tell Marcus what happened.”

She was a bit breathless and overwrought as she spoke, so her words were a little clipped, and she tended to go off on tangents.  But I was able to gather something about Heath drawing on the bus and Emma running off to tell Cantin to let Heath go to art school and The Bulk knowing she was Emmaline Lockhart.

“He threatened to tell everyone unless you made-out with him?”  The blood in my ears was boiling.  “I’ll kill that little—“

“I took care of him already,” Emma quickly interrupted, recognizing the danger in my eyes.  “I flipped him using the move you taught me.”

“But he knows now,” I said.

“So what?  Let him tell.”  She shrugged nonchalantly.  “It’s true that I’m Emmaline Lockhart.  I’m not scared anymore if people find out.”

This was the polar opposite reaction that she’d had at the Halloween party, when she’d been frightened to death of being discovered.  Back then, she’d told me she was scared people would be disappointed that the real Emmaline Lockhart was so different from the one they’d concocted in their imaginations.

But now something had changed.  She’d grown more confident.  It was there in the way she’d handled The Bulk, and there in the way she sat, straight up and looking me directly in the eyes as she spoke.  I might be angry at her for personal reasons, but I couldn’t be more proud of her at this moment.

“We have to be prepared for when Ben Lyons reveals this information,” Mrs. Lockhart said.  “The reporters will flock to the house, wondering why we’ve kept her identity a secret.  The kids at school will treat Emma differently.  She won’t have privacy any longer.”

“Will she have to change schools?” Stan asked.

“I’ve thought about that,” said Mrs. Lockhart.  “But June is just around the corner, so we’ll stick it out and see what happens.”

We talked a bit more about how we would deal with the consequences of The Bulk’s big mouth.  We had to be prepared for the worst.  No longer would we take the bus to school and back.  Instead, someone would drive us wherever we wanted to go.  And because the Lockharts were so rich, Mrs. Lockhart said there had been threats before to kidnap Emma when she’d been younger.  None of those threats had been carried out, nor had any been made during the years Emma was rumored to be a ghost locked in the attic or dying of a terminal disease, which was one of the reasons Mrs. Lockhart had encouraged all the crazy rumors.  But now, she’d assigned two body guards to follow Emma if she ever went somewhere outside of school or the house.  And it was our job to protect her during school hours.

“And Emma,” she added with finality, “Please, please, please remember your tracking device.  Because if you forget it again, I’m going to have a doctor implant one in your foot.”

Being prepared with every precaution, we waited for morning to arrive.  But as the sun rolled around, there were no reporters to greet us outside.  And as our driver pulled up to school, everything seemed normal.  Nobody stared at us as we walked through the hallways.  Nobody gawked at Emma as though she were a circus act.

The next week came along, and still, no signs that anyone knew.  Our only conclusion was that The Bulk hadn’t talked.  Which made us wonder—just what was the sneak planning?

During lunch one day, I saw The Bulk lurking near the restrooms, so I cornered him, deciding to get to the bottom of his creepy intentions once and for all.

“Why hello, Mucus Eww,” he drawled, with a greasy smirk.

I didn’t have time for his antics.  “What are you planning?”

“Planning?” he chuckled.  “You make me sound like some mad scientist.”

“Cut the crap,” I growled at him.  “I know you tried to blackmail Emma, so let me make this clear.  If you ever get within an inch of her again…if you ever do anything to harm her, I will make sure your miserable ass won’t sit comfortably ever again.”

He grinned, apparently not taking my threat very seriously.  “Why would I ever try to harm Miss Lockhart?  She’s an heiress.  Besides, even if I wanted to get to her, and I don’t, her lapdogs would jump on me.”  He narrowed his eyes, insinuating that I was one of those lapdogs.  But I wasn’t goaded easily.

“I’m so glad we have an understanding then.”  With that last remark, I stomped away.

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