After Charlotte’s engagement, Bella felt guilty that she had given such a beautiful heirloom to Chris, and had nothing for her. In comparison, Charlotte’s ring didn’t look much different than the purity ring she still wore on her left hand, and at a quick glance, they were difficult to distinguish. But for Charlotte, it could have been plastic and she would have loved it just the same. For her, it was never about the ring anyway. She just loved that boy, and it broke her heart when he went back to school, even though she had the opportunity to encourage him to stay.
Bella wasted no time preparing for Charlotte’s wedding. She wanted the whole experience: The church, the flowers, the cake, the dancing. The chapel’s first realistic opening for a wedding, however, was nearly a year away, in the beginning of winter. In a way, it made planning easier, but Bella knew her daughter would have a rough time resisting Travis for that long. He was a handsome, very affectionate guy. Having him under the same roof could be a recipe for disaster.
Looking through Charlotte’s contacts on her laptop, she found the one she sought. Dialing her cell, she waited for the voice on the other end.
“Travis, hey this is Bella,” she greeted. “Do you have a moment or two that we could talk?”
“Sure,” he said, hesitant. “What can I do for you?”
“Charlotte’s dad and I want to give her a family heirloom to wear as a wedding ring, and we would be honored if you would do that for her.” Bella had already planned on taking her ring to be sized and cleaned, so she hoped he would be amenable to the idea.
Travis thought for a moment, not sure if he felt insulted or happy. “May I ask why?”
“Well, we gave her brother a sizable gift when he married Cade. I feel funny not doing the same for her, even though she insists she isn’t looking for such a gift. I don’t mean any insult by it, Travis. It’s just something I wanted to do for her.” Bella hoped he would give it some thought before completely dismissing the idea.
“Well, I hadn’t even considered a wedding band for her yet. I’m still struggling to survive here on campus, so I guess the offer would be welcomed.”
“That is great to hear, Travis! I will set it aside for you to see before you make your final decision.”
“Sounds good,” he replied. “Look, I hate to cut this short, but I have class in ten minutes.”
“Oh, it’s all good, Travis. Study hard!” she said, as they hung up the phone. Bella slid her wedding band off and placed it into a clamshell box, and into her dresser drawer.
Her next phone call was to Pastor Mark Murphy, the chaplain at the wedding chapel where she and Rog had been married. He was fairly new, but he was well-liked in the community and she looked forward to meeting with him.
“Hello?” he said into the receiver of his office phone.
“Pastor Mark?” Bella started. “This is Bella St John, we spoke last week about my daughter’s wedding. I wanted to confirm the date so we can go forward with planning.”
“Oh yes,” he said, “I remember you!” He shuffled through his paperwork on the desk and found his planner. “I think we decided the first week in winter, is that correct?”
“Yes, Pastor,” she answered. “The spring date was too soon, and her fiancé won’t be graduated from university before late spring anyway. He will be coming to live with my family once he leaves Sim State, so he can find work and settle in.”
“Let me pencil that in right… now.” He finished setting the appointment in his book. “We can discuss times when you have a better idea of other plans.”
“That works for me, Pastor, thank you so much for being flexible on this. I’ll be in touch soon!”
She jotted the date into her notebook. Church, check. Ring, check. So much to do, and not much time, considering how quickly time seemed to fly anymore.
“Hey beautiful,” Rog greeted her as he walked through the back door. Charlotte was working a later shift, and was not with him.
“Hey my love,” she said, wrapping her arms around him. “I have missed you today.”
“Oh, you have?” Rog raised an eyebrow at her. “How much?”
She laughed. “You’re insatiable.”
“You know it,” he joked. “But you made me this way.”
“While you’re in a good mood, I have a proposition for you.”
He stood straight up. “I like to be propositioned.” She nudged him gently.
“Not what I meant,” she laughed and stuck her tongue out at him. Taking his hand, she led him up to the bedroom.
“Wait, now I’m confused,” he said as he followed her.
“Don’t be. This will just take a moment.” She went to her dresser and pulled out the box that contained her wedding ring, handing it to him.
He opened the box, and he fluttered his hands, pretending to cry. “Yes, Bella, I will marry you!”
She laughed way too much at him, and when she was able to pull herself back together, she said, “I want to give this to Charlotte as a wedding band.” Rog’s face went stone straight.
“But, I gave you that ring, darling.”
“I know, and I love it. But I have this gorgeous ring, Chris and Cady have my Mama’s rings, and poor Charlotte has…” her words faded away with emotion.
He nodded his head. “Nothing.”
She sighed. “Yes, she has nothing.” She hugged him and rested her head on his chest. “I would really like to do this for her.”
“You have my blessing. She is my princess, after all.” Rog kissed the top of Bella’s head as he held her close.
Charlotte and Bella took a day trip to Isla Paradiso to look for a wedding dress. She wasn’t impressed by the findings in town, despite the number of dress stores on the strip. Charlotte wanted something different. Bella had already booked two appointments in two of the most exclusive wedding shops on the island, so they didn’t need to waste their time looking around the town.
After the tenth dress in the first shop, they were coming up empty and had another appointment in less than an hour. Then, their flight back to the Shores left at 8pm, so time was of the essence. “Thank you for your time,” she said as they left the store empty-handed. Charlotte was feeling hopeless.
“Mama, what if we don’t find it here?”
“Then we’ll have one made, just for you,” Bella said. They walked to the next boutique, which was next door to a coffee shop. “Let’s get some coffee while we wait,” she suggested. Charlotte could definitely use a pick-me-up.
“Sounds good, Mama,” she said as she held the door for Bella.
They opened the door of the little boutique, and the bell on the door chimed. The shop smelled of lilies, Bella’s favorite flower, and the sitting room was comfortable. The store owner, a little lady native to the island, greeted them when they walked in. “You must be Mrs. St John!”
Bella smiled. “I am indeed! This is my beautiful daughter, Charlotte.” She held out her hand to shake, and the owner wrapped Charlotte in a hug.
“We’re all friends here, Mrs. St John.” She grabbed Bella into a friendly hug and sat down. “My name is Jayna, and this shop has been in my family for three generations.” She handed a book of dresses to Charlotte. “I can get any dress you’d like and have it sent to a local shop of your choosing. We also have the best selection in three counties, but I’m sure you already know that.” Jayna was sure of herself and her market.
“Thank you, Jayna. Please, call me Bella,” she said as she leafed through the large catalog of dresses. Charlotte was already up and looking around.
“Mama!” Charlotte gasped. “I think I found it!” The dress was pure white taffeta and satin, a full skirt and fitted bodice, no sleeves, encrusted with pearls and rhinestones. It had no train, but it had room to have one attached if she desired. Bella walked to her daughter, and Jayna was right behind them.
“Ah yes,” Jayna exclaimed. “This one was handmade by a local seamstress. This is the only one like it. Try it on, Charlotte,” she encouraged.
She carried the dress gingerly to the dressing room and called Bella to help her. The dress was nearly a perfect fit on Charlotte’s petite frame and only needed minor alterations. They walked to the sitting area, and Charlotte stepped onto the pedestal in front of a set of mirrors. Bella was overcome with emotion as her daughter modeled the dress.
“This is the one,” Charlotte said, admiring herself in the mirrors. “What do you think, Mama?”
Bella reached for one of the many tissue boxes Jayna had scattered around the sitting area and suddenly realized why there were so many of them around. “Oh sweetheart,” she said, “You look stunning.” She took her phone out and snapped a picture of Charlotte in the gown. “I guess we’re going to take this one, Jayna.”
“Are you not going to ask the price on this one, Bella?” Jayna asked, astonished.
“No, because if that baby girl wants it, then her father and I will gladly pay for it.” Jayna was moved by Bella’s statement.
“Well, just for you today, because you made a special trip from the Shores, and because I happen to know your family is a big deal back home, I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse!” Jayna wrote down a number on a slip of paper and showed it to Bella. She walked to Charlotte and saw the tag on the dress.
“Jayna,” Bella said, almost as white as the dress, “your offer is well over half off the tag on that dress.”
“Well, recommend my shop to your friends, and I’ll consider it even!” Jayna held her arms out, and Bella accepted the hug. “Handshakes are so twenty years ago!” Jayna exclaimed.
“I can’t thank you enough, Jayna. Really.” Bella was floored by the generosity of the deal. The dress was originally §15,000 and Bella would have paid that. Instead, the offer was only §6,500.
“I’ll have it packaged and shipped, so you don’t have to carry it on the airplane this evening,” Jayna offered. Bella finished the sale and left their home address for Jayna. “Remember to take lots of pictures of this beautiful bride. I want to see them!” Jayna hugged Charlotte and Bella one more time.
“Thank you so much, Jayna. I feel like we spent the afternoon with a close friend.” Bella said as the woman offered one last hug.
“That is what I aim for with every customer, Bella. It was how my mother did business here, and it is why people come from all over to get their dresses here.” Bella nodded.
The mother and daughter left the store, feeling accomplished.
Bella was just finishing up getting Travis’ room ready for him when the phone rang. “We’re almost there, Mama,” Charlotte’s voice rang on the other end. “Maybe 10 minutes out.”
“We’ll be waiting, princess!” Bella said and hung up the phone. For the next few months, Travis would be living in Shana’s old room, until the wedding. She knew it would be tough for him to get on his feet right out of school, and he would need some time to establish himself in a job. She was still nervous about having him in the house with Charlotte so close by. She didn’t want to get herself caught up in minutiae with their relationship, but she expected Charlotte to honor her promise until her wedding.
Rog had just gotten home from work and hadn’t had a chance to shower or even change when Charlotte’s little orange car opened the gate from the road. He was proud of her, driving around town like she owned it, not fearing any longer.
Travis opened his door and walked around to open Charlotte’s door. He held his hand out for her, and she gladly took it, as he pulled her up to him. Bella ran excitedly to the couple, and hugged both of them. “Welcome home!” she beamed.
“Thank you, Bella,” Travis greeted her, holding a hand to shake.
“We’re all family here,” Bella giggled, pulling the young man into a hug and planting a kiss on his cheek.
Rog helped him bring in his bags. The rest of his belongings were three days behind them as the movers made their way to Starlight Shores. Charlotte pulled Bella aside before they reached the door.
“Mama, Travis and I had a talk while I was there. He wants to respect my promise, so we have nothing to worry about.” She spoke with much relief in her voice, and Bella was happy to hear it.
“That is fantastic, princess. I know that has to be a huge weight off your shoulders.”
She nodded, but in the back of her mind, the photo of the young girl that should have been Travis’ wife lingered. “It is.”
“And yet, something is on your mind, sweetie. What is it?” Bella saw right through her, and Charlotte was thankful.
“Come, let’s go somewhere private.” Charlotte started walking toward the garage, and Bella followed. She opened her bag and placed her dirty items into the washer and started it. “Mama, when I got there, he had a photo of a pretty blonde girl on his nightstand. I asked him who it was, and…” Charlotte swallowed a growing lump in her throat, “it was his high school sweetheart.” Bella frowned, and before she could speak, Charlotte did. “She was killed by a drunk driver 6 years ago when they were around 15 years old.” Hot tears rolled down her cheek. “He was… intimate with her, Mama. I had a feeling he had been, but to see her…” Bella held Charlotte as she cried. “It should have been her marrying him, not me.”
Rog came looking for them and found Bella holding a teary-eyed Charlotte. “Whoa, what is all of this?” He walked to Charlotte and lifted her chin, looking into her eyes. “What’s wrong, princess? Do I need to go beat up Travis for you, because you know I will…” He was half-joking.
“Travis had a picture in his dorm of his high school sweetheart. She was killed 6 years ago.” Bella left out the intimacy part. Rog didn’t need to know… yet.
Rog opened his arms and enveloped Charlotte in them. “Aww, baby girl, he is with you now. That’s all that matters. That boy, he is so in love with you.” He kissed her forehead.
“I know, Daddy,” she sniffled. “It was just hard to see her. It should have been her, not me.”
“Shh, you’re okay, Charlotte. He’s going to be wondering what happened to you. Go on inside and be with him. Help him get settled.” He hugged her once more and sent her to find Travis.
After she had left the garage, Bella stepped closer to Rog. “They were… physically involved. Travis and this mystery girl.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Rog asked her.
“I think so.” Bella wiped her own tears away. “Please find out.”
The next morning, Rog dialed a familiar number. “Shores Private Investigations, this is Michael.”
“Hey Mike, it’s Rogelio St John. How are you this morning?”
“Well hi Rog,” Mike greeted. “I meant to call and congratulate you on your big win.”
“Thanks, Mike. I have another tiny problem if you could help.” Rog looked for the information he had written down.
“Sure thing! What’s up?
“Our daughter, Charlotte, is marrying a guy she met at school. They have been friends for about 4 years, but she learned something about him that makes me uneasy.”
“Okay,” Mike said, waiting to take notes.
“His name is Travis Jones, and he is from Dragon Valley. Bella said something about a girlfriend, killed in a drunk driving accident about six years ago. They would have been around 15 at the time. Could you see if there is anything we need to know about him and this girl?”
“Sure… thing…” Mike was finishing up notes. “I’ll run a cross-check on this today, I should know something by tonight. Are you thinking criminal again, Rog?”
“No, well, at least I hope not!” Rog rolled his eyes, “That’s all we need. No, I just want to see if there is anything about this girl that could come back and haunt Charlotte. I guess after Estevan, there is no such thing as too careful, especially with my only daughter.”
“Indeed, Rog. I’ll be in touch, and thanks!”
“No, thank you,” Rog said as he hung up.
A few hours later, his phone rang. “Hey Mike, were you able to find anything?”
“I found something that could possibly be of interest. The girl’s obituary. Her name was Amy Cohen, but the person charged with vehicular manslaughter had two counts against her. If there was no one else in her vehicle, which the police report doesn’t state there was, that can only mean one thing, Rog.” Mike paused as he flipped through the report quickly, double-checking his information.
“What’s the one thing, Mike?”
“Miss Cohen was pregnant when she was killed.”
Rog dropped his phone. He heard Mike calling his name as he fumbled to pick it up. “Mike, no!” he said as he finally had the handset under his control. “Say it isn’t true.”
“That’s my only conclusion, Rog. The police report doesn’t say, and I can’t access her medical records without a warrant.” Mike sighed. “I know this isn’t the desired result.”
“But it’s helpful, thanks, Mike. Please, don’t send the bill home. I don’t want Charlotte to find it.”
“Gotcha,” Mike said. “As always, Rog, it’s a pleasure. Call me if you need anything else.”
“Thanks, Mike, take care.” Rog hung up the phone.
He dialed Bella’s cell number. “Rog?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Hey, I called Mike McKinnon, had him do a check around on Travis.”
“Did he find anything?” Bella was nervous.
“He found the girl’s obituary. Her name was Amy Cohen, sixteen years old. So that part checks out. However, the woman who was charged in the accident had two counts of vehicular manslaughter.”
“Was there someone else in the car with her?”
“No, darling, not according to the police reports. Mike thinks she was pregnant when she was killed. It’s the only logical explanation.”
Bella fell to her knees. “Oh, that poor kid,” she said.
“You know we are going to have to tell Charlotte. Or force him to come clean about it,” said Rog. “He can’t carry that around with him indefinitely. It will eat him alive.”
“Tonight,” Bella said. “We’ll talk to Charlotte tonight.”
“She will be very angry, Bella. We should tread lightly.”
Bella walked through the kitchen where Travis was sitting, scouring the newspaper for help wanted. “This isn’t going to be as easy as it seemed,” he sighed, frustrated.
“There’s no hurry, Travis. You can take some time to settle in. Learn your way around.” Tell me your past secrets, she thought.
“Hey Travis, can I talk to you for a moment? A mother to son-in-law?”
“Sure,” he said cautiously. He hated these kinds of talks.
“Charlotte was pretty upset about a photo you had in your dorm room. She said it was a former girlfriend of yours.”
Sadness took over his face. “I thought this was all behind me,” he said with a deep sigh. “Her name was Amy. We started going together in middle school. Everyone wanted to be Travis and Amy. The envy of the school. Everyone just knew we’d be married someday, until the accident.” He wiped a tear from his eye. “A drunk woman, shouldn’t have been driving, she killed them.” His shoulders heaved as he relived the memory.
“Them?” Bella asked. “Was there another person in the car with Amy?”
“Not exactly,” Travis said. “Amy was 5 months pregnant with my son.”
“Oh, Travis, I am so sorry.” Bella’s first instinct was to hug him. “I couldn’t imagine.”
“It nearly destroyed me when they were killed. But then, I met your daughter. She pulled me out of my funk, and she made me want to live again.” He wiped tears away from his face. “For two years, I couldn’t do anything. All I could think about was my baby. My fiancée… How broken I was. Bella, I don’t know how I got through high school and into college. But Charlotte…” He paused, “she was so full of life, and vivacious, and beautiful. And crazy smart! I have loved her since I met her, but she was all, friends only.”
Bella smiled. What an incredible story he had to tell. At least, they didn’t have to tell Charlotte that her daddy was snooping behind their backs. “Thank you for sharing this with me, Travis. It means a lot to me, that you would tell me. It couldn’t have been easy.”
“It wasn’t, and I haven’t told Charlotte yet. Please, don’t say anything to her? I really need to be the one to tell her.”
Bella texted Rog a simple message:
He told me the whole story.
Rog immediately felt at ease. His daughter’s instinct was good. Travis was a good man, albeit with a tragic past. But the rest of the day, he smiled and was happy.
Bella was so excited. It was finally Charlotte’s wedding day. What made it all the better for her, was when she realized she would be the first mother in generations to actually get to see her daughter be married. She didn’t meet Rog until well after Destiny and Arthur had both met the Reaper, and Bella was happy Charlotte didn’t have to do everything alone.
The wedding was beautiful and went off perfectly. Rog was so proud of Charlotte as he walked her down the aisle, and gave her away to Travis. They wrote their own vows, and Travis couldn’t wait to give her Bella’s wedding ring, which was far more extravagant than anything he could have bought for her. Plus, it had extra meaning, and Charlotte recognized the ring immediately, looking at her mother as Travis slid the ring onto her finger. She had no idea, and she was deeply moved.
Bella’s favorite moment of the night was Rog’s dance with Charlotte. She wept as she watched their sweet dance, and it reminded her of their dates when she was little. Rog had a hard time containing his emotion through the night, and by the end of the wedding, both he and Bella were worn out, physically and emotionally.
As they settled into bed for the night, she cuddled next to him. “Thank you,” she said, twirling his hair in her fingers.
“For what, darling?” he asked.
“For everything.” She kissed him, and he turned out the light.
Up Next: Chapter Nineteen, Generation Three