Before Destiny and Arthur had realized, another two years had passed, and it was Bella’s turn to graduate high school. Bree was settled into her job as a firefighter, but was growing restless in the big city. As a little girl, Bree had always been enamored with her roots, and someday hoped to return to Appaloosa Plains to settle down. Bianca had always hoped that she would be able to move back to Destiny’s hometown as well, but for now, she was just a freshman in high school, and she was stuck. Besides, while Destiny and Arthur lived, Bree was going to be where her family was. Destiny felt guilty keeping the girl where she didn’t want to be. After all, she had that wanderlust at Bree’s age, but instead of dreaming about it, she packed up and left. But, she always had that deep regret in the back of her mind, that she didn’t stay put until Fran and Charlie had met the Reaper. She didn’t want Bree or Bianca to have that regret, no matter how much she wanted to encourage them to chase their dreams.
Bella fussed with the tassel on her cap and smoothed out the wrinkles in her graduation gown. “Mama, can I get a different color cap? Blue doesn’t go with my hair.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust. Red and blue were not a good match, she thought.
“No, sweet pea, I think you’re stuck with blue.” Destiny chuckled at the face Bella made. “What’s wrong with blue?”
Bella shrugged her shoulders. “Nothing, I guess.” Bianca appeared in the doorway of the room. “What do you want, squirt?”
“Daddy says it’s time to go.” Bee stated, very straight and to the point. “Bella don’t want to be late for graduation.”
“Bella doesn’t want to be late, Bianca.” Destiny corrected her youngest daughter.
“That’s what I said, Ma.” Bianca turned and ran back down the stairs.
Bella shook her head. “You know she didn’t get that, Mama. She’s cute and all, but she—”
Destiny cut her off. “She sounds like me when I was her age, Bella. She’ll be a perfect fit back home.” Destiny had lost all contact with her cousins, though she had heard one of Jenny’s boys had passed away recently. Chey and Jonah still lived, though she had no idea where.
Bella shrugged again and picked up her car keys. “I’m driving!” she yelled, as she darted down the steps.
As Bree had done, Bella graduated pretty close to the beginning of her class. She was named Valedictorian, and also named “Most Likely To Join A Sports Team” by her classmates. Well, if being a magician doesn’t work out, she thought, there’s always the Shores Llamas. Her Valedictory address was about continuing the Atwood/Farmer legacy in Starlight Shores, and making her own way. She was aware that not all of her classmates would stay in town. Her best friend, Cindy, was already planning on moving to Isla Paradiso. She wanted to be somewhere without snow, and that was the best place to go for year-round sunny beaches. Her ex-boyfriend, Estevan, was staying in town, however, much to her chagrin. If there was ever a person that she wished would leave town, it was Este.
Destiny and Arthur brought the family to the same fancy restaurant where they brought Bree after her graduation. One more, she thought. I hope I live to see her graduate.
The following Monday, Destiny brought Bella to Ernesto’s agency to sign her up as a new talent. However, Desi was distraught to discover that her old agent had passed away the week before and no one had told her. She owed so much to Ernie, and she never got the chance to say goodbye. Instead, his replacement Maria was there to help complete the paperwork for Bella.
Desi and Bella had the conversation before about choosing a stage name, but Bella wanted to use her real name. As a compromise, Bella chose Desi’s last name as a stage name, and registered as “Bella Hill.” She wasted absolutely no time going to the park in the afternoons to perform her magic tricks for tips, and she always came home with a decent amount of simoleons in her tip jar.
Destiny and Arthur tried to plan one last trip overseas before Bianca graduated from school, but with the two older girls always working, it was difficult to coordinate. Desi never really asked Bella if she could get the time off because she was keenly aware that it would be difficult to recover from an extended period away as a performer.
Bree, it seemed, was too wrapped up in her job to spend any time at home these days, and Desi felt it was imminent that she would announce her move back to Appaloosa Plains. Bree slept and ate her meals with her company at the firehouse during the week, only coming home on the weekends and her occasional weekday off. Destiny began to realize how difficult it must have been for Fran and Charlie when she left home for university. Except Bree still lived at home, they just never saw her.
It was Destiny’s birthday, and Arthur was planning on making it the best one yet. A few months prior, a trendy new restaurant had opened on the Los Sueños strip, and Arthur couldn’t wait to bring Desi. In typical Arthur fashion, he made sure every little detail was perfect. A huge bouquet of flowers sat on a table he reserved. A box containing a diamond necklace sat in his pocket. The hired limousine had a bottle of their favorite sparkling nectar and four long-stemmed strawberries. He even bought a new tuxedo and took Destiny shopping at her favorite boutique for a stunning new evening gown for the occasion.
Desi sat in the limo with an ear to ear smile on her face. Arthur popped the nectar open and poured each of them a glass, and they toasted to their love, and to her life and career. They fed each other one strawberry, and when they arrived at the restaurant, he insisted to hold the door open for her. Arm in arm, he escorted her inside to their table. They were seated by the fireplace at a semi-private table reserved for the biggest stars. The roses were especially aromatic, catching Desi’s attention as they sat down. A concert violinist, who happened to be one of Arthur’s dearest friends, played love songs that Arthur chose just for Destiny. As the fire snapped and flickered in the hearth nearby, Arthur took Desi’s hands and just stared at her.
“You just keep getting more and more beautiful, Mrs. Atwood.” He touched her cheek gently, and she blushed.
“I=I don’t know what to say, Arthur. This whole night is extraordinary.”
“It’s only getting started, my love,” he replied.
He ordered the most expensive bottle of wine on the menu and toasted once again to their lives together. The waiter brought their first course, a Caprese salad with freshly baked bread, followed by lemon sherbet. “So, love, what do you think of the restaurant?”
“It’s exquisite, Arthur. You spoil me too much.” Destiny dabbed at her mouth and laid the napkin gently in her lap.
“Too much? I could never spoil you enough!” Arthur smiled sweetly and got up. Taking her hand, he led her to a small dance floor near the table. “Play our song, please,” he told the violinist, handing him a $100. Arthur and Destiny danced through the whole song, her head on his shoulder. As the song came to an end, he spun her into a dip kiss, tears in his eyes. “I love you so much, it hurts.”
Destiny nodded, unable to speak, her own emotions stuck like a boulder in her throat. They returned to their table, and he held her chair as she sat down. Instead of sitting across from her, he knelt down before her, removing the gift box from his jacket.
“Destiny, the past forty years together have been more than enough for me, and though a mere trinket could never express how much you mean to me, I hope that you’ll accept this anyway.” He opened the box to reveal the diamond necklace, which was a platinum chain with diamond chips encrusted on it, and a beautifully cut, flawless diamond in the center. The stone sparkled with the fire of a perfectly cut gemstone, just like her eyes did when she saw it.
“Arthur!” Desi exclaimed. “It’s… it’s too much.” She swallowed hard, trying to find her words. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“No, my love. You are the most beautiful thing ever.” He removed the chain from its box and clasped it around her slender neck. “It is perfect!” Arthur said. “You are perfect.”
Destiny rose from her chair and hugged him. “Thank you, darlin’. I love you so very much.”
The meal they shared together came next, and they took turns feeding the other with small bites, as though they were newlyweds. Arthur and Destiny sat and talked for hours, reminiscing and sharing hopes for their daughters’ lives, praying together they would live to see grandchildren. When the restaurant closed for the night, he led her gently, arm in arm, out to the limo that sat waiting for them. “To the beach, please,” he asked the driver. Reaching behind him, Arthur closed the privacy window and pulled Destiny close for a kiss.
Two days before Bianca’s birthday, she stood in her room before the full-length mirror and modeled her graduation gown and cap. She had decorated the back of her gown with an artsy design and covered the board with glitter paint. “What do you think, Mama?”
“You did a great job, Bee.” Destiny’s frail hands held the cap, as her eyes tried to make out the design.
“It’s a bee, Mama. Because you always call me ‘Bee.’” Bianca stated, looking annoyed that her mother didn’t catch the reference. “Here, you’re holding it upside down.” Bianca took the cap and turned it the right way.
“Oh yes,” Desi answered. “I see it now.”
Bree was just in from work at the firehouse, smelling like soot and smoke. Her company had just spent the past four hours dousing a 3 alarm fire at one of the biggest homes in town, and she single-handedly saved three people from death. Her boss was recommending her for a valor award at City Hall, and was so proud of her. Destiny had heard about the fire on the news, and was relieved to see her oldest walk in the door.
“Mama, I’m home!” Bree called to Destiny.
“I was so worried,” Destiny called back. “I’ve been watching the news all afternoon!”
Meanwhile, Bella was at the Spring Festival working a children’s birthday party. She was beginning to make a name for herself in Starlight Shores, and was in great demand for parties and private events. As she navigated through the party and pulled a coin from the birthday boy’s ear for the umpteenth time, the kids sat completely enthralled with her performance. It reminded her of the show she saw at their age of the magician, and secretly she hoped she was inspiring a child to dream big.
Arthur was on the deck on the roof of the house, sitting by the bar listening to the radio. It amazed him that he could climb the steps at all anymore, never mind to the roof. But he was enjoying the cool, crisp spring evening, sipping his drink. Destiny was finishing up dusting when she heard him call for her. The urgency in his voice startled her, and she sprinted up the stairs as quickly as she could. She opened the door just in time to see Arthur laying on the floor, crumpled in a heap, the Reaper towering ominously over him. Destiny opened her mouth to scream, “No!” but not a sound escaped her lips. Bree and Bianca, who heard Arthur call for Destiny, also made their way to the roof. Just as Bree reached the top step, she saw the Reaper’s scythe swoop, and Destiny dropping to her knees to plead with him. Bree’s heart shattered into a million pieces as she watched the Reaper disappear with her father. Bianca, who had just missed the whole scene taking place, didn’t realize at first what had happened. But when she saw Destiny’s face, contorted in the most agony she had ever seen, she knew what was going on.
“Your sister,” Destiny managed to speak in between sobs. “Call Bella.”
Bella was just finishing up her grand finale of the show when her cell phone rang. Dang it, she thought. I forgot to turn my phone off. Holding up one finger, she motioned to the party while she checked her phone. Bree Atwood, the caller ID said. Excusing herself, she took the phone call.
“What is it, Bree?” Bella answered the phone, slightly annoyed.
“It’s Daddy. Come home. NOW!” Bree spat and hung up the phone.
Bella panicked, grabbed her purse and keys and sped home as quickly as she could. Crying, she could barely see where she was going. Bella didn’t even bother to put the car in the garage, pulling it up outside the house and running toward the front door. She could hear the commotion from the street, so she guessed everyone was either around the pool or upstairs. Seeing no one around or in the pool, she darted up the steps, taking two at a time until she reached the deck. Her mother and sister were huddled together, sobbing around a golden urn, the only thing that remained of Arthur Atwood. Bella sank to her knees and joined them, bitterly weeping with regret that she was not home. She never got to say goodbye to the first man she really loved.
Up Next: Chapter Ten, Generation Two