“Charlotte Destiny, it’s school time,” Bella yelled from the kitchen. Since the family meeting, she had been cold and distant with Bella, and it was getting old. Despite the numerous explanations and apologies, the relationship between them remained strained.
“I’ll be there when I’m good and ready!” Charlotte screamed.
“You’ll come NOW, young lady!” Bella was at her wits’ end with Charli and her attitude, but she felt powerless to change it.
“Make me!” Charlotte taunted, remaining defiant, fairly confident that would end the conflict. She was wrong. Bella’s angry footsteps made their way to her bedroom, but she was thwarted by a locked door.
“Charlotte, open this door, NOW!” Bella yelled. Then she remembered the door in her bedroom, which locked from their side. She quietly tiptoed into the master bedroom and opened the door. Charli had been outsmarted.
“Mama, I’m sorry,” she pleaded, trying to weasel her way out of punishment.
“Too late,” Bella yelled. “You’re grounded, two weeks.” She picked up Charli’s backpack and nearly threw it at her. “Get your butt to school. And you’d better go, because you’ll just make life more difficult for yourself if you don’t.”
Charli gathered her bag and jacket. “I hate you,” she sneered at Bella.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I love you.” Bella swallowed back tears of frustration.
After Charli left for school, Bella texted Rog.
Baby, we need to talk about Charlotte. I can’t handle her anymore.
After school, Chris came home on the bus, and Bella was expecting Charlotte home around the same time. She had been allowed to drive her car that morning because she had missed the bus, but her driving privilege would be revoked while she was grounded. But 2 hours after Chris came home, Charlotte still wasn’t home.
“Was your sister at school today, Chris?” Bella asked as he worked on his history assignment.
“I didn’t see her, Mom. But that isn’t unusual. We don’t have the same classes.”
“Thanks, Chris.” Bella was furious. She dialed Charlotte’s phone number and got no answer. “Your sister is in deep trouble.”
An hour later, the gate opened, and Rog’s car drove into the driveway. Walking through the door, he greeted Bella with a kiss. “She’s still not home, baby,” she told him, starting to worry.
Rog’s temper immediately flared. “I’ll go looking for her, and she’d better hope I don’t find her. Enough is enough of this garbage.” He went upstairs to change his clothes, and got into his car, on his way to look for their daughter.
Driving through the streets of Starlight Shores, he hit a traffic jam on the main strip, Los Sueños Drive. Flashing lights and people gathered; Rog got out of his car when he recognized the remains of the white car they had given to Charlotte on her 16th birthday. Now running, he was frantic by the time he got to her. Charlotte sat on the back bumper of an ambulance, with a crowd of paramedics around her.
“Please let me through,” Rog demanded at the police barricade. “That’s my daughter.” He ran to her and asked the paramedics to let him see her. “Sweetheart, are you okay?”
“She only has minor injuries, Mister… ?”
“Doctor… St John. Rogelio St John. I’m her father.”
“Just some small cuts and lacerations from broken glass, we don’t think she has any glass embedded, a few contusions. She will be a little sore, but nothing serious. She is lucky to be alive,” the EMT said to him, pointing toward the wreckage.
Rog glanced at the car, and it was destroyed. The front end was demolished, and it sat upside down on the street. “What happened?”
“From what we can tell, someone turned in front of her. She couldn’t stop in time. She wasn’t at fault. We will know more when the investigation is complete, but we don’t anticipate charges.”
Charlotte was crying as she gave her statement to the police, and she was released to Rog, knowing he was a doctor and could monitor her at home for signs of shock and concussion. Together, they walked back to his car, and he drove them home.
Bella heard the gate open and rushed outside to greet Rog. The passenger door opened, and Charlotte got out, sporting bandages on her face and blood on her clothes, and Bella’s heart sank. “What happened?” she asked him.
Charlotte ran to her mother, sobbing, “Mama, I’m so sorry.” Bella held her as she cried.
“She was in a bad accident by the Hoi Polloi. Some guy pulled out in front of her, and she nailed him. The car is totaled.” He walked to Bella and Charlotte, hugging them both. “The officer and paramedics both said she’s lucky to be alive.”
Bella hugged Charli close. “Are you okay, sweetheart?” Charlotte sobbed as Bella held her, nodding.
“Mama, I’m so sorry for the way I’ve treated you. I thought I was going to die in that accident, and all I could think of is that I’d never get to see you and Daddy again…I thought I’d never get to say I’m sorry.” She sniffled, and Bella helped her wipe away tears.
“You’re forgiven, sweetheart. But you’re still punished for skipping school today and not coming home when I told you that you were grounded.” Bella kissed her head. “But we’ll talk about that later.” Bella examined her daughter’s bandaged face. “Oh sweetie, I’m so thankful you’re safe.”
Charlotte adjusted her makeup to cover the scar on her face from her accident. Bella was finished ironing her graduation gown and laid it carefully on the bed. On the cap, Bella had written in beautiful calligraphy, the word “Blessed,” at Charli’s request.
“Turn around, let me look at you,” Bella said. Charlotte turned around, and Bella checked her concealer coverage. “I can’t see it, sweetie. You did a good job hiding it.”
“Thank you, Mama,” Charli answered, and then thought twice. “You know what, I’ve changed my mind,” she announced as she went into the bathroom to wash her face. “I don’t want to hide my past.” Bella stopped in her tracks. It was probably the best and most profound advice she had ever gotten, and it came from the mouth of her 18-year-old daughter.
“I can’t believe my baby girl is all grown up!” Bella cried, wiping happy tears away. “I’m so proud of the young woman you’ve become.” Charli’s accident had made her grow up all too quickly, and wise beyond her years. Bella helped her into her gown, and then fastened the cap on her head, and fixed her hair afterward.
In Chris’s room, Rog was preparing him for graduation, too. Chris, who was a certified genius, was graduating three years early and was already accepted to Sim State. School was never much of a challenge to him, and he worked his way through the curriculum in no time, earning the credits needed in less than 2 years.
“I feel too young for this Dad,” he said as he adjusted his gown.
“You’ve earned it, son,” Rog encouraged. “You’re much too smart to be held back in high school here.”
He fixed the cap on his head, which had been sitting askew. “Thanks, Dad. I’m going to miss you and Mom while I’m at school.”
“We are so proud of you, Christopher.” Rog hugged his son and wiped a tear away. “We will miss you, too.”
Chris was the youngest student to ever earn a diploma at that high school, and was given a special award to commemorate the achievement. Charlotte easily earned Valedictorian and was voted “Most Popular” by her classmates. Her valedictory speech was about living in the moment, and not postponing dreams. All of her classmates knew about the accident that changed her life, and all of them considered her speech to be the most inspiring one they’d heard. Bella and Rog were right there, taking pictures and cheering them on, and sharing tears of joy.
Charlotte and Chris were leaving the following Monday for Sim State, so the family spent the weekend together, making memories. Rog did a cookout pool party for them as a send-off, Bella invited all their friends and everyone had a great time. The next day, the kids spent packing clothes and personal items for the trip for Sim State. Both of them knew they would be returning home to live, at least for a little while, after their graduation from college, so many things were left behind. Besides, they would be home between semesters for break. Charlotte was pursuing a degree in medicine, to follow in her father’s footsteps. Chris was waiting to declare his degree until after his first year was completed unless he figured it out before then. Both had sizable scholarships based on their previous school performance, but the tuition, room, and board still took a sizable portion of the family savings.
The next morning, the van arrived to take the kids and their boxes of stuff to college. Bella hugged each of them and cried.
“I’m going to miss you so much, baby girl,” she said to Charlotte as they embraced.
“I’ll be okay, Mama, and I’ll call every week,” Charlotte replied. “I’m going to miss you!”
“Come here Chris, and hug your Mama,” she said to him, holding her arms open for a hug. She kissed his cheek and whispered, “Remember, even if you make mistakes, we will love you. I’m going to miss you, little man.” She sniffled as they broke their hug.
Rog hugged both of them together and kissed them. “You two be good, remember your promises, and call if you need us. We are always here for you.”
“We will,” they answered in almost near unison. “Bye-bye!” They piled into the van and waved to their parents as the truck pulled away.
The last royalty check arrived for the last children’s book she had written years prior. Charlotte’s statement echoed in her ears as she deposited it to their account. “I’m not going to hide my past.” Bella realized that was all she had ever done, and she felt like the world’s biggest hypocrite. She and Rog had always encouraged their children to accept responsibility for their actions, but Bella ran from hers her whole adult life.
“Baby,” she said to Rog as they ate dinner together, “I’ve been thinking about something since the kids’ graduation.” Her face was serious, and he was concerned.
“What about, darling?”
“Charlotte said something profound while she was getting ready that day. I can’t get it out of my head. It’s like, her words are convicting me.”
“What did she say, love?” Charlotte had never been known for her deep thoughts.
“We were doing her makeup to cover that scar on her cheek. We had it perfect, and then she washed it all off, and said she wasn’t going to hide her past.” Bella shook her head. “Baby, that’s all I’ve ever done. Run and hide from my past.”
Rog nodded. “I can see why that would bother you, but don’t let it. You were justified. Estevan proved himself to be a maniac.”
“I’m tired of running, baby.” She sighed. “We always taught the kids exactly the opposite of what I’ve done my whole life. I’m a hypocrite.”
“You had good reason, darling,” he replied. “It’s hard to protect little ones with people like Estevan around. No one, not even the kids, will fault you for that.”
“What if I just want to come clean? Get all those skeletons out of my closet, once and for all.”
“Have you really considered what that means? How that will affect your life? Our lives, Bella.”
She nodded. “I have. It means that I can finally either clear my name or go back into hiding for the remainder of my life. Look at how much we’ve lost because of that monster.” Not only the settlement from the lawsuit years ago but the potential life-changing income from the biography. She had some privacy and her anonymity, but at huge cost.
“If you really want to do this, I will support you. Maybe,” he said, thinking, “maybe you’re right. Facing the beast head-on might do some good.”
“Thank you, love,” she replied. “I’ll need all the support I can get.”
“Fournier Law, this is Nicholas, how can I help ya today?” Nick greeted on the other end of the phone.
“Hi Nick, it’s Bella St John, how are you?” she greeted.
“Hey beautiful!” he gushed at her. “What can I do for my favorite girl?”
Bella was blushing. It’s a good thing Rog couldn’t hear him. He already didn’t trust Nick that much, and that exchange would have sent him over the brink. “I need a favor.”
“For you, my dear, anything!” She could almost hear him smiling.
“Are you free today? Say, an hour or so from now?” She heard him shuffling papers, and fumbling with the receiver of the phone, which had slipped from his hand.
“Oops! Sorry, Bella. I dropped you! Of course, I have time, but only if it’s quick.”
“I don’t need much of your time,” she told him.
“Then I’ll see you in an hour.” As he hung up the phone, he thought to himself, Alone, I hope.
The speedster arrived at Nick’s office 45 minutes later. Grabbing her purse, and a huge dose of courage, she took the elevator to the penthouse firm. The secretary pointed her toward Nick’s office. Approaching the door, she nervously checked her reflection in the mirror that hung in the hallway over a large potted plant. Gently, she knocked on the door.
“Come on in, Bella my sweet!” Nick said as he opened his arms for a hug. In his warm and overly friendly embrace, he planted two kisses on her cheeks. Then, touching the small of her back, he guided her to a chair and motioned for her to sit.
“That was quite the welcome, Nick,” she said, embarrassed.
“Nothing is too good for my Bella Mia.” She was suddenly uncomfortable, and her hands began to sweat.
“Anyway,” she said, hoping to change the subject, “the reason I’m here. I need to make a public statement, as a town socialite and celebrity.” She made air quotations around the word celebrity.
“What kind of statement?” Nick asked.
“I want to clear my name, once and for all, Nick. Whatever it takes to stop running from the rumor mill, and from Estevan’s shadow.” She rubbed her hands on her jeans, hoping they would stop perspiring.
“Um, that’s not a good idea, Bella,” Nick replied. “First, you have your books…”
She interrupted him. “I got my last royalty on that one yesterday, so that’s a non-issue.”
“Well, there’s your children…”
She interrupted him again. “They’re away at college, and they’re safe.”
“Well,” he replied, “you certainly have thought this through.”
She nodded. “I have, Nick. My daughter said something to me that I can’t get out of my head. She told me she wasn’t going to hide her past. But that’s all I’ve ever done. I can’t do it anymore, Nick.” She was fiddling with her phone, then set it down in her lap.
He stood and walked around his oversized desk. “I understand, Bella. But you know, Rog… well he can’t protect you.” Nick sat on his desk, right in Bella’s personal space.
“Yes, in fact he can, Nick.” Bella pushed her chair back, looking for a quick exit.
He reached for her where she was seated and lifted her out of the chair. She noticed how freakishly strong he was. Holding her tightly, he looked right into her eyes. “Not like I can.”
“Let me go, Nick. Please, don’t do this,” she pleaded with him.
“Do what, Bella? When I see something I like, I just… take it.” His face was close to hers, and he kissed her forcefully.
Flailing to get away, she tried to scream, but she couldn’t. She scratched at him, hit him and before she could punch him, he grabbed her hands and held them. “Ooh, you’re feisty!” He licked his lips, holding her captive. “I like feisty women!”
“You won’t get me without a fight,” she warned.
“We’ll see about that,” he growled. “I’m bigger and stronger than you.” He moved closer and she backed away until she was against the wall of his office. He pressed himself against her, trapping her completely, one hand working on unbuttoning her jeans as he kissed her repeatedly and forcefully.
“No, Nick, please…” she begged.
Rog burst through the door in time to see Bella at Nick’s mercy, helplessly restrained. “Hands off her, or you’re going to have a huge problem.” Nick let his hold on Bella loosen and turned around, and she wiggled away, running to Rog and hiding behind him. She hugged him and started to cry.
“What are you going to do, doctor? Take my temperature?” Nick taunted him, but Rog stood his ground. “You don’t deserve her,” Nick spat. “She needs a real man, not a spineless worm like you.”
“Too bad for you, she’s mine,” Rog replied. “You touch her again, and I will hurt you. Badly.” He turned to Bella, and said, “Come on, darling.”
They left the office without saying a word to the receptionist and got on the elevator quickly.
“I’m so, so sorry I went alone, Rog,” Bella cried, shaking like a leaf. “Now I know why you don’t trust him.”
“Shh, it’s okay darling,” Rog said as he held her. “I’m glad you texted me when you felt weird. I came as fast as I could. Much later, and I might have been too late.” The thought made him physically ill.
The television was on the local news channel, and they awaited the evening broadcast. Bella was nervously pacing back and forth, wringing her hands.
“What if I made the wrong decision, Rog?” she asked, worried.
“You’ll know tomorrow, baby. But I have your back,” he replied, hugging her. “Together, we’ll deal with it.”
The lead into the 6pm news flashed across the screen, and the headline was an exclusive interview with Bella Hill. She felt sick and sat down. The interview was done, and there was no going back.
“Coming up next, our exclusive SSN interview with Bella Hill, daughter of singing legend Destiny Hill.”
Rog rubbed her back as she swayed in her chair. “You’re going to be okay, my love.”
“I hope so, baby.”
During the interview, she explained the history of bad blood between her and Estevan Best, and the threats of violence against her family that landed him in prison for the rest of his life. She revealed that she was the writer behind the wildly popular “Charlotte and Chris” children’s books, and that they were written about her children when they were little. The interviewer asked why she chose to do a reveal publicly.
“Well, my daughter, who recently went off to Sim State, said to me, ‘Mama, I’m not going to hide my past.’ Her words cut me to the heart, and I realized I had been doing exactly that for nearly 25 years. I don’t want to hide anymore.” Bella’s voice on the television sounded garbled to her, and she felt woozy.
“Rog… catch…” was all she managed to say before she fell to the floor.
Rog picked her up and held her in his arms, trying to wake her. When she finally roused, she said, “Is it over?”
“Yes, darling. The broadcast is over.” He inspected her head, checking for bumps or bruises. “Are you okay?”
“I think so,” she said, rubbing her knee. The phone rang.
“Bella? Hey, it’s Jen!” Jen Crawford’s cheery, peppy voice greeted her.
“Well, I’ll be!” Bella exclaimed. “How have you been, Jen?”
“I’ve been fantastic. I just watched your interview, Bella. It was a brilliant move! The city is atwitter talking about you, and I’ve heard nothing but good things!” Jen was genuinely happy for Bella.
“Really, Jen? That is wonderful!” Bella nearly jumped out of her skin in excitement.
“You done good, Bella. Congratulations for finally shedding that burden. I bet you feel tons better, and lighter.”
“You have no idea. My baby girl, she inspired me. I really love that kid.” Bella beamed with pride.
“We’ll have to get together for lunch soon! So much to catch up on. I have to run, but I wanted to be the first to congratulate you!” Jen and Bella hung up the phone shortly afterward.
“Rog! Jen says the news is good on that interview!” Bella did a fist pump and tried to jump, but her knee reminded her she had fallen on it. “Ouch!”
“That is great, darling!” Rog replied. “You did it!”
The newspaper the next morning had articles about the interview, and not one pundit in the city had anything bad to say about Bella. The truth was finally out, and the community finally believed it.
“I should have done this years ago, Rog,” she said, after reading the tenth article about her interview. “All those years, all that money… all those unnecessary fights.” She sighed.
He hugged her close. “That’s the past, just like all of this. Let it go.” He kissed her.
“You’re right, as always.”
“I’m glad you recognize my excellence,” he teased. She gently shoved him and stuck her tongue out at him. They laughed and breathed easy for the first time in 22 years.
Up Next: Chapter Fifteen, Generation Three