Bella sat up in bed covered in sweat. She tapped Rog on the shoulder. “Wake up, Rog!” The baby was coming!
Rog opened his eyes and saw her sitting up. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s go time. Quickly!” Bella was already putting her shoes on and making her way downstairs.
“I’m right behind you.” He knocked on the butler’s door, and let her know they were headed to the hospital. “Charli is sleeping, but I wanted you to know we’re on our way out.” The clock read 3:30am.
They piled into the car and drove to the hospital. There were no cars on the road and the snow was falling at a blizzard rate. It was the quietest Bella had ever seen the city. Rog took his time in the storm but they made it with much time to spare. Their son, Christopher Arthur St John was born on Snowflake Day. Because Bella had such a rough pregnancy the doctor wanted to keep her overnight just to be on the safe side. Rog was thankful for having the butler back at the house to care for Charlotte.
The next morning Bella and Chris were discharged. She and Rog were shocked to see a shiny black limo and the driver holding a card with their names as they left the hospital. He looked at her and she shrugged her shoulders. Once they were inside, however, the gift was clear. Jen Crawford had sent the limo with flowers for Bella and another doll for the baby. She smiled and dialed Jen’s number.
“Jen Crawford Agency, this is Jen!” Bella missed hearing her perky voice every week.
“Hi, Jen! This is Bella—” She no sooner got the words out of her mouth when Jen interrupted her.
“Did you get the limo ride from the hospital? I wanted to make sure they were there on time.” Jen’s voice was bubbly, giddy with excitement.
“We did and thank you! You didn’t have to do that you know. I don’t work for your agency anymore.” The car hit a bump and woke the baby, who began crying into Bella’s ear.
“Aww, is that the little one crying? Did you have a boy or a girl?” Jen was totally oblivious to anything Bella had said once she heard the baby.
“We had a boy. Christopher Arthur St. John.” Bella put her pinky finger into the baby’s mouth for him to suckle on while she talked on the phone.
“Aww! I can’t wait to see him! I bet he looks just like his daddy.”
“A little too soon to tell but he’s the first boy born in my family in over four generations!” The car drove up in front of the house, and the limo driver opened her door. Rog was the first out and took the baby while Bella exited the car. “We’re home Jen, and I want to get Chris settled in before he wakes up again. Can I call you back?”
“Nah, you don’t have to until you’re ready. But I want to see that strapping little boy!” Jen said. “We’ll get together soon, okay?”
“You bet!” Bella said as she hung up the phone. It was cold, and she didn’t want the baby to get chilled. Holding him close, she walked briskly to the front door. Charlotte and Shana were waiting for them to come home.
“Mama mama mama!” Charlotte babbled upon seeing her mother then stopped in her tracks when she saw Bella carrying a bundle wrapped in a blue blanket. “Wat dat?”
Bella knelt down with Chris and uncovered his face for her to see him. “This is your baby brother, sweetheart.” Rog opened the door and shook the snow from his boots before coming inside. The cold blast made the baby awaken but he didn’t cry.
“Me see!” Charlotte demanded as she grabbed the blanket from him. He opened his eyes and looked at her, then yawned sleepily. “Why?” asked Charlotte.
“Don’t you like your brother, Charli?” Bella asked sweetly. Rog gently took the baby and went upstairs to put him in his crib.
“No!” she said, “No like bruddah.” Charlotte sat down on the floor, her little arms crossed in front of her, looking like she was about to cry.
Bella picked her up and snuggled with her. “You’ll be okay, Charli. I promise you.” Rog was descending the staircase and signaled that the baby was asleep. “How about I read you a story?”
“Story! Story!” Charlotte clapped her hands and waited for Bella to get a book from the shelves. She carried the toddler upstairs, tucked her into bed and read until she fell asleep.
Rog was already downstairs by the fire curled up with a book of his own when Bella reappeared an hour later. “Feeling better, darling?” he asked.
“Yes and no. I don’t hurt everywhere anymore but I’m tired.” Bella curled up on the sofa with him, her head on his chest and his arms wrapped around her snugly. He ran his fingers through her ponytail and tickled her cheek with the tips of her hair.
“Are you ready for bed? We should probably sleep while the baby sleeps.” Rog kissed her forehead.
“I think so.” They both got up and to her surprise, he picked her up in one motion and carried her up the steps to their bedroom. She clung to his neck and rested her head on his shoulder. She was so tired and thankful for the help upstairs. Rog helped her get undressed, got her bed clothes on and tucked her into bed. She was asleep before he had the words “sweet dreams” out of his mouth. Rog went into the next room to check on the children and Shana was already rocking Chris back to sleep.
“You go ahead and take care of Miss Bella. I’ll take baby duty tonight, Mr. Rogelio.” Shana gently patted Chris on the back as she cuddled him.
“Thanks, Shana, you’re a peach!” Rog turned and headed back to their bedroom, climbed into bed next to the mother of his children and snuggled up with her.
The next morning Rog woke to the sensation of kisses on his shoulder and neck. Bella had gotten a good night’s rest and had been watching him sleep. He turned over and planted a kiss on her nose. “Good morning, love of my life.”
“Good morning, Daddy,” she replied. With Rog lying on his back, she snuggled up to him, her ear to his chest. His heartbeat was strong and steady. He brushed the hair back from her face.
“I love mornings like this. Snow is falling, I don’t have to work and you in that nightie.” He squirmed needing to get up but not wanting to. Bella snickered.
“This is the first time it has fit me in well over 8 months.” She draped her leg over his and wrapped her arm around his shoulder. “You know I’m going to wear it if I can get into it.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.” Rog half teased. “You know I can’t resist you.”
She wagged her finger at him. “Nuh-uh,” she said teasing him back. “Not for 8 weeks.”
With that, he wriggled away from her and sat on the edge of the bed. “Okay, time for a cold shower.”
Bella wrapped up in his robe and went in to check on Charlotte and Chris. The baby was still sleeping, but Charlotte was ready for breakfast. Plucking the child from the crib, Bella carried her down to the kitchen. Shana was already cooking French toast and it smelled delightful. “Good morning, Miss Bella!” Shana greeted them when she saw them. “Breakfast is almost ready.”
“Thank you, Shana.” Bella sat Charlotte in her high chair and got her a cup of milk. While Shana got breakfast on the serving platter Bella poured coffee for herself and Rog. His light footsteps were descending the steps.
“Good morning, Mr. Rog,” Shana greeted. “Breakfast is ready.” She turned to go check on the baby as Bella fixed a plate of French toast for Charlotte.
“How was your shower?” Bella teased as she poured a little syrup on her daughter’s breakfast.
“A bit chilly, thanks a lot.” Rog stuck his tongue out at her as she handed him a cup of coffee. “Thank you, love.”
“Any time, on both counts.” Bella kissed him then sat next to him with her plate of breakfast.
Bella had been honing her writing skills since she left the talent agency the previous year. She was working on a children’s book she hoped to have published once it was finished. She sat at the dining room table and worked during the day while Chris napped and Charlotte played with her doll, Riley. For now, it was a hobby but she hoped it would turn into something better. Rather than use her real name she was using a pen name. Even her stage name had a stigma attached to it. If she was going to get started as an author then the publisher and public must not know her real name.
Rog was at work and Shana had the children in the nursery while Bella sat at her laptop. She was amazed at how easily writing came to her and she was full of ideas for even more stories. The book was only 20 pages long but once she finished doing the artwork, it was ready to send to publishers. I wish I would have discovered this when I was younger, she thought to herself, instead of wasting time playing magic.
Shana came downstairs at two-thirty to get a bottle for Christopher. “How is the writing coming along, Miss Bella?”
“So far, so good Shana.” Bella sketched out her ideas for illustrations on Destiny’s old sketchbook. “I’m just working on this drawing for the book now.” She turned the pad around so Shana could see it. It was a rough drawing of a kitten sleeping in the arms of its new owner. “The book is called The Softest Kitten. I thought this would be cute for the ending.”
Shana looked at the drawing and nodded her head. “You have such a talent, Miss Bella.” Bella’s ears perked up when she heard the gate outside. It meant Rog was home from work. He had recently gotten a big promotion and it meant the end of Bella’s money worries. He was now making enough to replace her stipend and money from her magician jobs and his own income on top. She saw him dodging the raindrops as he ran from the garage.
She opened the door for him and he ducked inside. “I’m so glad to see you,” he said to her. “I’ve had a rough day, and it’s not over. I’m on call tonight.”
She took the umbrella from his hands and shook it out, then opened it and placed it in the bathtub to dry. He looked miserable. “I know just how to make you feel better,” she said. She sat him down in the living room on the sofa and told him to wait. She went to the kitchen and made his favorite hot drink: a non-fat banana latte with vanilla whipped cream. She carried the mug to him, and sat beside him, his feet on her lap. With skillful and capable hands, she massaged his feet and sang to him in soft, melodic tones.
“You know, Bella,” Rog said, “You have a beautiful voice.”
She blushed. She hadn’t been told that too many times in her life. It was something she never considered being in her mother’s shadow. There’d never be another Destiny Hill and she wasn’t even going to try. “Well, you DO know who my mother was, right?”
Rog smiled. “How could I ever forget?” He only wished he could have gotten to know Bella’s folks when they were alive. Destiny was a legend in this town.
Bella shook her head. “I can’t even think about doing something like that. Besides the Hill name is ruined.”
“No, it’s not darling. Destiny is still looked upon with great pride and respect in this town.” Rog began, then saw Bella’s nose wrinkled in disapproval.
“Yeah, well,” Bella replied. “I already know what I did to it. Mama would be so ashamed—”
“You did nothing to it,” Rog responded. “Your idiot ex-boyfriend is the one who lied. And your mother would be so proud of you, not ashamed.”
“But the lies were easier to believe than the truth.” Bella hung her head in defeat. “At least the town knows the truth about my mother. And they believe it.” She got up and walked outside.
Rog looked puzzled. “What did I say?” he asked an empty room.
She licked the seal on the manila envelope, the fifth one that day as she prepared the manuscripts of her new children’s book, Charlotte’s New Brother. Bella had planned, written, and illustrated the whole thing herself and was sending it to as many publishing companies as she could. Her first book was well-received, though the audience was small. So instead of relying on one publisher, she figured she might break into a larger company with a broader audience. Having poured her heart and soul into this particular book, she felt like she was preparing to send her own child away from home. Charlotte loved having the book read to her every night. She knew that the book was about her and she almost knew the text by heart. Bella was sure to keep a copy of the manuscript for home because Charlotte would have been heartbroken otherwise.
As Bella finished the last envelope Shana entered the dining room carrying Chris.
“Do you need me to run those to the mail, Miss Bella?” She set Chris down on the floor and he crawled to the television to watch.
“No, but thank you, Shana.” Bella gathered the envelopes together and took her keys from the hook on which they hung. “I’ll be home soon. Do you mind watching the children?”
“It’s what you pay me to do, Miss Bella.” Shana smiled and went to get Chris a bottle.
The postmaster greeted Bella as she walked in the door. “Hi, Mrs. St John! How’s the family?”
“They’re fine thank you, Grace.” Bella fumbled with the envelopes trying not to drop them.
“Whatcha got there? I’m intrigued!” Grace stepped out from behind the counter to help her.
“Some manuscripts for a book I’ve written. I’m hoping to get an offer or two on them.” She set her bag down on the floor and prepared to pay the postage on each envelope. “I feel like I’m mailing my kids!” Grace chuckled.
“I know what you mean, Mrs. St John.” She tallied up the postage and took payment from Bella. “I wish you every good thing with these!”
“Thank you, Grace. I mean that with all my heart.” Bella retrieved her bag from the floor and waved.
“Tell Rog I said hi!” Grace called as Bella left.
Once she got to her car, something struck her as odd. Why did Grace call her Mrs. St John, but refer to Rog by his first name? Something didn’t sit right with her about it. While she trusted Rog with her life she wasn’t sure about anyone else. Who could she trust after having such issues years before?
Rog was home from work when she returned. She hung her key on the hook and grabbed her laptop to put away when Rog caught her arm. She was taken aback.
“Is something bothering you, Bell?” Rog asked. He couldn’t help but notice the look of worry and concern on his wife’s face.
“Well, now that you mention it, yes.” Bella sat down and Rog sat next to her on the sofa. “While I was at the mail center the girl behind the counter seemed to know you. She asked me to tell you ‘hi’. Do you know her, Rog?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t think so. I don’t know as many people as you’d think. What’s her name?”
“Grace. I don’t know her last name. All I’ve ever seen on her name tag is Grace.”
He thought for a moment then said, “No, I don’t remember knowing anyone named Grace.” Then the more important question was raised. “Why does this bother you, Bell?”
“It’s nothing,” Bella answered. “It just struck me as odd. She calls me Mrs. St John but you Rog, and then she told me to tell you hi.” She rubbed her temples with her thumbs and sat back in her seat. “I don’t even want to ask this—”
“I already know what you’re going to ask me and I can’t believe you even think it.” Rog stood up and paced the floor. “I don’t know this woman Bella, I swear. I have no idea who you’re talking about.”
“I’m sorry, Rog. I know in my heart it’s not you. It’s just that I don’t know who or what I can trust anymore.” Bella felt awful she had even brought the topic up but he was the one who had asked.
“I thought you knew you could trust me.” His heart was breaking to think she didn’t feel she could trust him, of all people. “I’ve done nothing but support you even when you never asked me to.”
“Rog, I’m sorry. I know you’re not seeing her. I just thought it was weird, is all.” Bella stood up and went to hug him, but he pushed her away.
“I need some time to think. Please, Bella.” Rog turned and left the room. She wanted so badly to follow him but thought the better of it. Instead, she sat on the sofa and cried.
In the other room, Rog was stunned and blinked back tears of hurt and frustration. Why would she suspect him of seeing someone else? He loved no one but Bella, but she cast a cloud of doubt on him. To think she saw him in this way tore him to pieces.
“Rog?” Bella was standing in the doorway of the spa room, watching him wrestle with the exchange they just had. It broke her heart.
“What is it, Bella?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to see her, let alone talk.
She approached him carefully, choking on sobs that were attempting to escape. “There aren’t enough words to tell you how sorry I am.”
“You found enough words to wound me. That sure came easy enough.” There was no hiding his hurt.
“Baby, please believe me, I never thought for a minute that you—”
He cut her off. “Oh really? That’s why you were not going to ask me but did anyway? What have I done to make you feel this way? Have I done anything at all that would cause you suspicion?” Though he was spitting mad he bit his tongue to keep himself from speaking something he would regret.
“Please, hear me out?” Bella couldn’t contain the tears any longer. “I know I’ve hurt you and I didn’t mean to.” She was barely able to speak. “I just love you so much I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” he spat.
“I’m afraid that someday you’re going to believe all the lies. That someone will turn your head. That I’m not enough for you. I’m terrified you’ll leave me for someone else… ” She was doing her best to keep herself together but it wasn’t working very well.
Rog’s anger faded. “Is that really what you think? That I’m going to believe some whackadoo sitting and rotting in a prison cell hours and hours away from us? Darling, I know all of that wasn’t true.” He understood her insecurity but it bothered him that she was letting it sabotage their relationship. “Bella, you are the one I love, not anyone else. You. Only you.”
Bella couldn’t speak. Her body shook with sobs as she fell to the floor. Rog walked to her and sat on the floor next to her, holding her and trying to comfort her the best he knew how. When she finally settled down she looked at him. Her eyes were almost swollen shut and she felt like death warmed over. “I don’t deserve you,” she finally said and laid her head in his lap while he caressed her face.
“I want you to hear me Bella, and I want you to believe me. I will never leave you. I will never dishonor you. And I will never cheat on you.” Rog gently rubbed her back. “Do you remember that first night at The Grind?”
Bella sniffled and sat up. “I do.”
“I came looking for you because I knew there was something special about you. I loved you from the moment I saw you but I was afraid someone of your status wouldn’t give me a second look.” Rog wiped tears from his own eyes. “Imagine how I felt when you agreed to have dinner with me! I was on cloud nine and even though I hadn’t slept, I felt alive when you were nearby.”
“Yes, but why? Why don’t you believe what the city thinks is true? Why do you love me so much when I don’t deserve it?” Bella sighed and leaned up against the wall.
“Because none of that garbage is true. I know who and what you are. The city? They can go pound sand because they don’t see you the way I do.” He moved next to her and put his arm around her. “You have given me two beautiful children, Bella. You are more than enough for me.”
“I’m tired, Rog.” Bella scooted over and placed her head on his lap again and closed her eyes. He stood and picked her up and took her upstairs to bed. They fell asleep together, holding each other close.
Up Next: Chapter Nine, Generation Three