Lorna pulled her finger into her mouth and began sucking on the small cut. She glared at the rose bush and stuck out her tongue. She only did it for a few seconds because she needed to keep her mouth closed to stop her finger's bleeding. It didn't stop her from glaring at the offending plant.
Her mother looked over her shoulder at her and walked over.
"Did you try to pick a rose?" she asked.
Lorna nodded, glaring at the yellow flower.
"You can't use your bare hands to pick roses. If you do you'll get hurt," her mother said, "How many times have I warned you that they have thorns?"
"A lot," Lorna mumbled.
"Exactly. It's why you need to use clippers Lorna," her mother admonished, "Otherwise you'll cut yourself."
She reached into her gardening basket and pulled out the clippers. Lorna eyed them suspiciously. She wasn't a fan of all the different tools her mother used for gardening. It was much more fun to just dig with her hands and let them get all muddy. The tools and gloves always took away that pleasure.
"It's not fun," she protested.
Lorna eyed her suspiciously.
"Well, it's a tamer sort of fun," her mother admitted as she cut the yellow rose and held it in her gloved hand, "But it's still fun."
Lorna jutted out her chin.
"It's not fun if you're not getting dirty when you do it."
Her mother laughed.
"You've been talking to Rahne too much," she said, "Some things require patience, but it's well worth it."
In the background Lorna heard Neena stifle a laugh from her position on the other side of the garden. Lorna frowned at her, feeling strange. She pulled her knees up to her chest and looked down at the ground. Her mother noticed and sat down next to her. Turning her clippers onto the side with the blade her mother began shearing off the thorns. Lorna continued to look down, twisting the green silk of her dress.
"I like Rahne," she said.
"I like Rahne too," her mother replied, "She's a good girl, even if she is a little wild. You two'll be getting into all sorts of trouble when you're older."
"You're getting into all sorts of trouble now."
Lorna flushed and pulled her hair in front of her face. It was an old habit of hers.
"We didn't know that the chef had just finished that cake," Lorna said, "And I was just trying to get to the ice cream."
"Which I told you you couldn't have in the first place," her mother said.
"Well…yes…" Lorna said.
Her mother laughed and kissed her forehead. She clipped the rose in half once she was finished removing the thorns. She brushed the thorns off her dress and onto the ground. Her mother looked the flower over carefully before tucking the rose behind her ear. Lorna grinned and touched the soft petals.
"There you go," her mother said, "Wasn't that worth the wait?"
"Yes mother," Lorna said.
Footsteps made Lorna look up. She had expected, perhaps hoped was a better word, to see her father. He often came down when her and her mother were in the rose garden. When she had still been nervous around him it had been the perfect way to see him; outside in a happy place with her mother.
However, he hadn't come down in a long time. Lorna had mentioned this to her mother once, trying hard not to sound too upset. It didn't matter; her mother had known how she felt. She always did. Her mother had explained that he was very busy; Lorna figured that Kings would be, so she had seen less and less of him recently. It still didn't seem fair and she craned her neck to see if he was coming.
Hence her disappointment when Charles walked into the garden. Her mother smiled at his approach and straightened the flower in Lorna's hair.
"Go on with Neena," she said, "I'm sure it's nearly time for your lessons."
Lorna frowned as she got up. Rahne had been telling her stories from her school the last time she'd seen her. She wished she had the courage to broach the subject a year ago, but she'd missed her chance. A new school year had started and Lorna was still taking her lessons in the palace. She was trying to change that.
"Okay mother," she said.
Her mother nodded to Neena. She came over and took Lorna's hand. Lorna waved to Charles. He waved back; he always seemed to have time to wave back or slip her a lollipop. She was glad that he was going to be Rahne's new father; that way it would be like they were related.
Lorna gave a last glance over her shoulder at her mother before adjusting her flower and walking into the palace.
"The roses are coming on nicely," Charles observed.
Susanna nodded, getting to her feet.
"They seem to like the climate. Lots of life," she said, "I heard Logan's wife had a daughter yesterday."
"Her name's Laura."
"Well then, we'll have to send our congratulations," Susanna said, picking up her gardening basket, "It's not every day that you have a daughter; and this is their first child. I'm sure they're enjoying their time off."
"And I'm certain that Kayla's enjoying the new maternity leave laws," Charles said, smirking.
She grinned. There was something infectious about Susanna's good moods. He remembered Moira mentioning how different she was from her husband. Charles admitted that this was true, but unlike Moira he could see how the two of them had gotten together. It wasn't hard when he'd known Erik for as long as he had.
Erik tended to be drawn to people with the personalities that were different from his. His best friend was something of a pacifist while he was militant. He knew that Erik admired certain qualities, even if he himself didn't possess them. Charles could imagine Erik, even more angry and violent than when he'd first met him, meeting someone like Susanna, who was all sunshine and compassion.
She was also, as the new maternity leave laws showed, a woman who could influence politics. Susanna mostly stuck to charity work and education reform, but the maternity leave laws had been near and dear to her. Erik had told him that she'd had to get back to taking in laundry two days after Lorna was born. He could imagine that the experience had left a rather negative impression on her.
So far her involvement in politics were only linked to successful humanitarian efforts, meaning that her image as Erik's queen was a sparkling one.
"Now," he said, "you said you wanted to talk about the programs that are rehabilitating the MRD prisoners?"
"Yes," Susanna said, "Are you sure it's wise to have the new rehabilitation clinic so far away from the city?"
"Some psychiatrists thought that the noise of the city might overwhelm them," Charles said, "Why?"
"Well," Susanna said, "what if they have relatives that are here already?"
Charles shifted on his feet. It was something that he had thought of. The list of missing relatives of Genoshans was still on file in his office. Not everyone had been as lucky as Erik in finding lost family members. Each year people were sent out trying to find them, but the list had now existed for nearly four years. It seemed like it was going to exist for a long time still.
Sometimes prisoners from other MRD facilities did indeed turn out to be the long-lost relatives. However, identifying them could be difficult. Some of them were so far gone that they couldn't remember their own names, let alone others. Others who were identified were too lost to recognize their family.
"I understand that it's the only place that we have room," Susanna continued, "But I was thinking that maybe we could make a shuttle system. Especially for employees. I know that they won't want to move to a more rural environment."
He managed a smile, pushing away his past concerns.
"I think we could manage that," he said, "Anything else?"
Susanna bit her lip and looked off into the distance.
"I want Lorna to go to school," she said.
Charles sighed and rubbed his temples with his hands.
"We tried this last year," he said regretfully, "And the year before that. Erik isn't going to change his mind."
"Yes, but now we've got a secret weapon," Susanna said, her voice conspiratorial.
"Which is?" asked Charles.
She tossed her head.
"Lorna," she said, "Lorna wants to attend school. It's one thing for him to say no to you or me. It's another thing for him to say no when his little girl wants it too."
He blinked at her in surprise. For the most part Lorna had stayed silent about whether or not she wanted to go to school. Lorna was a timid child and Erik had argued that she didn't seem to care one way or another. Charles had seen that she felt lonely and probably had wanted to go to school but was too shy to broach the subject. As long as she stayed silent on the matter they couldn't do anything though.
"She said that to you?" he asked.
"It was right after Rahne left the other day," said Susanna, "Charles, I really want her to go to school. I want normality for her, and now she's finally got a chance to take it. We should start soon."
"Erik will still protest," Charles said.
She paused and pursed her lips thoughtfully.
"I know," she said, "But in the end he wants what's best for Lorna. All three of us together will be able to figure out something."
Susanna smiled and Charles nodded. The gesture betrayed more confidence than he felt. He knew just how stubborn his friend could be, but he'd also seen how determined Susanna could be. She was a counter-point to him, not as strong-willed, but fierce when it came to doing the right thing. It would be interesting to see who would win when push came to shove.
"I'm sure we will," he managed.
She nodded, apparently satisfied.
"We'll start planning soon. After your wedding of course," she said, "How's that coming by the way?"
Now he was on more certain ground.
"Splendid," said Charles, "If all goes to plan and nothing insane happens, which I'm not ruling out, I should be married in a month."
"Anything can happen on Genosha," Susanna said, "And I've seen that it most often does. But you'll be fine."
She adjusted her gardening basket.
"Rahne's very excited," Susanna said, "She spent an hour talking about her flower girl gown the other day."
"We wanted to include her," said Charles, "It's…different when the person you're planning on marrying has a child."
He closed his eyes for a moment. When he had told Moira eight months ago that he was willing to be Rahne's father he'd meant it. He'd made an effort to ingratiate himself with her and earn her favor. Now that the date was approaching he was having a few doubts about helping raise the feral child.
Charles wasn't doubting his wish to marry Moira, or to help raise Rahne. He was still had both feet planted firmly in that plan. He was starting to worry that he wasn't going to be up for it though. Charles didn't want to fail at something so important. With the wedding so close he felt like he did on the first day that he took office as Prime Minister.
"You have to consider their feelings," said Charles, "You have to remember that you're not just newlyweds; you're parents too."
"Well spoken," Susanna said.
Charles opened his eyes again and let out a deep breath.
"I'm lucky she likes me."
"Oh come on Charles," said Susanna, "You're hard not to like. Don't worry about it; you'll do fine."
He swallowed nervously. He sure hoped so.