Charlotte and Devin were discharged from the hospital two days after he was born. Travis picked them up with both girls in tow, and they talked to their new baby brother all the way home. Charlotte was happy to see them excited about Devin, but she really wasn’t worried about them. They were both very friendly, outgoing and loving girls. Bella and Rog were both there to welcome the family home together.
“Let me see that baby boy!” Rog held out his arms and cradled the infant. The baby cooed, almost as if he knew Rog was his Pop-Pop. “He is precious, princess. He looks like Travis!”
Travis, of course, was all over that. “You really think so, Dad?”
Rog was taken by surprise over Travis calling him Dad, but he loved it. He and Bella had always loved Travis as one of their own. He was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. “Yes, son, I do think so.”
Bella laughed. “It’s too soon to tell, baby.”
“Nah,” Rog countered. “Spitting image of his daddy.” Travis beamed.
Charlotte still wasn’t feeling well. She was sore from delivery and tired from lack of sleep. Devin wasn’t as good a sleeper as the girls were. “I’m going to lay down awhile,” she announced, as the twins enveloped her.
“Please stay up, Mama,” Darcey begged.
Danae joined in the chorus. “Please?”
She sighed. “Okay, but only for a little while. Your mama is tired.”
Both girls jumped up and down with excitement. Rog carried Devin upstairs and placed him in the crib, taking a monitor off the dresser. Charlotte took one of Bella’s books from the bookcase and sat on the floor, one twin on either side and read to them for an hour or so. Danae snuggled up on her left side, and Darcey laid down, her head in Charlotte’s lap, and both listened intently as she read.
Rog pulled Travis aside. “I was surprised to hear you call me Dad.” Travis swallowed hard. “It took you long enough!”
Smiling, Travis hugged him. “I never did before because I always had hope my family would come around. But now I know they never will.” He sighed. “They are a special kind of nuts.”
Rog was familiar with crazy people. “I’ve seen worse. At least they aren’t trying to harm you physically,” though Rog suspected the emotional damage was longer-lasting. Despite his crummy upbringing, Travis seemed well-adjusted and confident.
“I don’t want to think about what could have happened if I had stayed in Dragon Valley.” He shuddered at the thought of it. “I certainly wouldn’t have had the blessed life I have now.” He watched his beautiful wife reading to her two baby girls, and he smiled. “I’d be lost without your daughter. She saved my life. That’s something I’ll never be able to repay.”
“You don’t have to worry about her. She has never kept score. She is head over heels in love with you.” Rog wiped a tear from his eye. “Is someone cutting onions in the kitchen?” he joked.
“No, baby,” Bella answered. “You’re just getting sentimental in your old age.” The three of them laughed, watching Charlotte with the twins as she covered them in kisses and tickled them. Their giggles filled the house. “That is the sweetest sound in the world,” Bella remarked. “The sound of happy, well-loved children.”
Travis nodded his head. “Thank you, Mama and Dad, for bringing her into this world. She is a treasure,” he said, beaming with love. “I will never deserve her.”
“You are perfect for one another. You will always be her only love.” Bella told Travis, hugging him.
Travis walked to the girls. “Okay, sweeties, your Mama needs to sleep for a while.” His announcement was met with cries of disappointment. He picked up Danae and squeezed her tightly. “Why don’t we go play on the swings outside? I’ll push you two.”
“Really, Daddy?” Darcey was beaming with excitement. Charlotte struggled to stand, and blew him a kiss.
“Thank you, love,” she said. “I’ll be up in a few hours, babies.” Bella took her arm and steadied her as they climbed the stairs.
“Get your jackets, girls. It’s chilly outside,” Travis said as he grabbed his own coat. One more time for the season playing outside, before the snow came.
As Devin grew, he had both of his big sisters fussing over him. They couldn’t wait to get home from school to dote on him, and Charlotte was thankful for their watchful eyes. Bella had never seen children get along so well, with hardly a spat or conflict, recalling her own sisters. Much of that she attributed to Travis and Charlotte’s superior parenting skills. Despite their demanding schedules and obligations, they always made time for their three children, in abundance. Bella wondered secretly how they managed to have time for each other, too.
“Darcey, honey, would you give your brother his bottle?” Charlotte asked as she finished up helping Danae with a homework assignment.
“Can I really?” she beamed. Darcey especially loved helping to take care of her baby brother and jumped at almost every chance she had.
“Yes, love,” Charlotte answered, handing her a warmed bottle. “Remember how I showed you, sweetie.” The young girl took the bottle and nodded, chirping happily as she sat with her brother, holding and singing to him. Charlotte’s heart swelled. Please, let them love each other this way all their lives, she thought. Devin was on the cusp of walking, and had a few teeth breaking through that made him cranky, but seeing his sisters always made him laugh and giggle. To Charlotte, there was no sweeter sound.
“There, all done, Mama,” Danae said, finishing up her last math problem. “Thank you for helping. Can I play with Devin now?”
Charlotte smiled. “Yes, honey. Have fun! Remember to be gentle with him.” Danae walked to where Darcey and the baby were sitting, and when he spotted her, he let out a huge laugh, anticipating a tickle.
“You’re amazing with those kids,” Bella said, descending the stairs with a hamper full of laundry. Charlotte rushed to grab the basket from her mother.
“Thank you, Mama,” she answered. “You shouldn’t be carrying our laundry down the steps. Let me know when you need help.”
“I’m okay, princess.” Bella wanted to feel useful, but she was thankful Charlotte took the hamper from her. She was increasingly unsteady on the stairs, and she was afraid she would fall someday.
Charlotte’s beeper sounded, and she looked at it with disgust. “I am needed at the hospital, Mama. Are you okay with the girls and Devin?”
“Oh yeah,” she assured. “I still have your Daddy to help.”
“Mama has to go to work, sweeties. Be good for Nana and Pop-Pop,” Charlotte told the girls as she grabbed her coat and car keys. “I’ll be home soon.”
“Bye Mama,” the twins yelled in near unison.
“Drive safely,” Bella said. “I love you, princess.”
Travis arrived home before Charlotte was back from the hospital. The girls saw him come through the door and swarmed him, giggling. “There’s my little punkins!” he exclaimed, kneeling down to hug them. Danae wrapped her arms around his neck and hung on him, while Darcey sat on his leg. The weight of their little bodies nearly toppled him over onto the floor, and Travis was a big, strong guy. Finally, his muscles gave way, and he found himself on the floor, covered in giggly little girls, and he covered them in kisses.
Rog was in the loft watching the scene. Oh, how he wished he was young enough to get on the floor with his granddaughters like that, to play with them, roughhouse with them. But these days, it was all he could do to walk the stairs safely. Enjoy them while they’re little, he thought. Tomorrow, they’ll be grown with their own family. He thought of Charlotte and Chris and smiled.
“Have you girls had dinner yet?” Travis asked as he scraped the girls off his lap, attempting to stand. He noticed Devin playing quietly in the corner. “How about you, little boy? Are you hungry?”
“He just had a bottle,” Darcey said. “I helped him!”
“Oh, you did? Aren’t you a good big sister!” Travis lavished praise on her. Danae wrapped herself around Travis’ leg and sat on his foot. “Oh cool. A new pair of shoes!” he laughed, trying to make his way to the kitchen. “How about crushed rocks for dinner?” he teased, laughing at the girls’ contorted faces.
“Yuck, Daddy!” Danae trilled. “That’s disGUSTing!” Darcey laughed at her sister, sharing the same sentiment.
“Okay, that’s a no on the rocks.” He chuckled and scratched his chin. “How about macaroni and cheese?”
“Yummy!” both girls sang.
“Alright, then.” He began making dinner for the girls when Charlotte walked through the door, her face pale and her white coat stained with blood. She noticed Travis looking at her funny when she noticed she had forgotten to remove her coat in the garage. Quickly, she slipped out of it and put it, inside out, on the chair by the back door.
“Hey girly girls!” she beamed at her daughters. They both ran to her and wrapped themselves around her legs. “Hey now,” Charlotte said, laughing, “I’m not as strong as your daddy.” Darcey released her grasp on Charlotte and pulled her sister away.
“We’re gonna go play in the treehouse, Mama,” Darcey said, skipping toward the door.
“Okay, but Daddy’s making dinner, so not long.” She walked up behind Travis, who was busy cooking, and wrapped her arms around him. “What are you making for dessert?” she whispered.
He smiled. “I’ll let you know later. It depends on what you’re wearing.”
When dinner was ready, Travis called the family for dinner, and they sat and ate together. Devin was in his high chair, eating some of the soft noodles with cheese, and seemed to like it. Together, he and Charlotte cleaned the kitchen while the girls played peek-a-boo with their brother.
“Come on girls, bedtime,” Charlotte announced as she gathered a book to read. Travis took Devin to give him a bath and settle him into his crib for the night.
“I want the New Puppy book, Mama!” Danae requested. It was one of Bella’s books. The girls knew the stories were about their mother and uncle Chris, and Charlotte loved reading them.
“Okay, but just once through,” Charlotte smiled. The girls squealed with delight. Travis blew her a kiss.
Bella and Rog had retired for the evening, so Travis made a fire in the hearth and was adding some wood to the fire when Charlotte came down the steps. He had a chilled bottle of wine and soft music in the background.
“If I didn’t know any better,” Charlotte teased, “I would think you’re trying to seduce me, Mr. Jones.”
“You would be correct, Dr. Jones.” Travis opened the wine and poured two glasses.
“What’s the occasion?” she asked, trying to anticipate his response.
“No reason, other than I love you.” He always had the sweetest answers.
“That’s good enough for me,” Charlotte purred, as they clinked their wine glasses together.
Snowflake day was upon the family, and Charlotte had just finished decorating the house. A pretty tree sat in the front window, its lights twinkling through the frosty panes of glass. Destiny’s handmade wreath hung just inside the front door, greeting visitors as they entered, and holiday-themed candles and tchotchkes sat on shelves and on tables. All three children were awaiting a visit from Father Winter and were on their best behavior.
Bella and Rog spent most of their time up in the loft, watching the family activities from afar. It was a real effort for them to scale the stairs anymore, so Charlotte brought meals to the loft for them to enjoy together. Other than a kitchen, they had all they needed on the second floor of the house,
“What did you make tonight, princess?” Rog asked as Charlotte set a tray of dinner down for them.
“Stir fry tonight, Daddy, your favorite.” She smiled and kissed his cheek. “Where’s Mama?”
“She will be along any second. She went to wash up a bit.” Charlotte nodded.
“Call down when you’re done, and I’ll send one of the girls to clean up for you.” Bella opened the bedroom door and walked gingerly to the rocking chair where she always sat. Rog handed her a plate, and they joined hands for a moment, to give thanks before they ate. That’s something new, she thought.
Charlotte joined her family for dinner at the dining room table. Inspired by Rog and Bella’s new ritual, she had everyone hold hands and she gave thanks before they ate. Travis looked at her oddly, but she just smiled.
“What was that earlier?” Travis asked her casually before they went to sleep.
“I don’t know, sweetie,” she replied. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Before we ate, what was that?” He was perplexed. In all his nearly 40 years, he had never seen it prior.
“Oh, that,” she answered. “I saw my Mama and Dad do it upstairs before they ate. I thought I’d give it a try.”
“Hmmm…” was all Travis said.
“I won’t do it anymore if it bothers you, love.”
“It doesn’t bother me. I’ve just never seen it before.” Travis shrugged his shoulders.
“It was new for me, too,” Charlotte confessed. “I’ve never seen Mama do that before.”
The next morning was Snowflake Day, and the children were up early to open gifts. Charlotte and Travis plodded sleepily down the stairs to the living room, where there were gifts piled under the tree to open. She was hoping that Rog and Bella would at least watch from their chairs in the loft, but neither of them left their room that morning.
After all of the gifts were opened, Charlotte and Travis began the family meal. The kids were happy playing together and were occupied.
“Have you seen Mama or Dad this morning, Travis?” she asked him as she put the turkey into the oven to roast.
“No, come to think of it, I haven’t.” He walked up behind her and hugged her. “Should we go check on them?”
“They’re probably fine, I just worry about them sometimes.” Charlotte figured she had good reason to worry. Neither of them could get around well anymore, and Rog just didn’t look good the night before.
A little before 1pm, Charlotte heard Bella scream. Startled, she and Travis ran to their bedroom as quickly as they could take the steps. Travis swung the door open to see two sooty black footprints on the floor, with an alabaster white and gold urn on the floor, and Bella sobbing.
“Oh, Mama!” Charlotte exclaimed. “Daddy…” her voice trailed off as she cried. Travis held her as she wept.
The girls appeared in the doorway together, having heard the commotion. “Pop Pop is gone, my babies,” she cried. Danae walked to her and hugged her, while Darcey went to her Nana.
Charlotte was afraid to leave Bella alone that night. She was despondent, crying and talking to herself incessantly. “I’ll sit with her tonight, love,” she told Travis, while he got the children to bed.
“Take me, please,” Bella repeated. “Just take me.” She laid down in her bed, cold and empty without Rog to warm it. “Take me.”
“Mama, who are you talking to?” Charlotte asked, sitting on the bed with her, rubbing her back.
“The Reaper,” Bella stated very matter-of-factly. “I want him to take me to my love.” Charlotte got her medical bag and took some vital signs. Her heartbeat was rapid and irregular, so she made an emergency call to Bella’s doctor, who prescribed some medication for her to take.
“Travis,” Charlotte called, “Would you run to the pharmacy and pick up a script for Mama, please?” She looked at her watch. “It should be ready by the time you get there.”
“Anything for you, my love,” he answered. “The kids are in bed, but I let Darcey read a little before she falls asleep.”
Charlotte nodded. “Thank you, honey.”
Travis returned home about 30 minutes later, a bottle of medication for Bella in his hand. He knocked gently on the door. “Baby, I’m back honey,” he said quietly.
“She isn’t asleep. She just keeps muttering. I’m afraid for her,” Charlotte said. She sat Bella up and took the proper dose of medication from the bottle, and handed her a glass of water.
“No,” Bella shook her head. “I don’t want your pills.”
“They’re for your heart, Mama,” Charlotte assured her. “It’s not for anything else, I promise.”
“I don’t want them.” Bella was adamant.
“I’ll leave them on your nightstand if you change your mind.” She stood for a moment and turned to her mother. “I’m going to get changed for bed. I’ll be right back.”
“Stay with Travis, princess. I’m okay. The Reaper will be back for me tonight. I know it. He never leaves stains unless he had a reaction. He wouldn’t leave me behind. I know it.”
“I’m not leaving you tonight, Mama. You shouldn’t be alone, so I’m staying here with you. Like it, or not.”
Bella began to cry again, calling out for the Reaper to come back for her, but he did not. Charlotte returned to the room to see her crying, and she laid down in bed beside her. “I’m here, Mama,” she said, trying to comfort her. “You’re not alone.” Bella curled up beside Charlotte and sobbed until she finally fell asleep.
Charlotte took some personal time off to attend to her mother. She had plenty of vacation time she hadn’t used, nor did they have any plans to use them soon. She was distraught to watch Bella’s rapid decline. She refused to eat, drank only little bits of water, and avoided her medication like it was poison. When Bella wasn’t crying, she was talking to Rog, or the Reaper, as though either one of them could hear her.
“Maybe I should admit her to the hospital,” Charlotte suggested. “She isn’t right, and without nutrition, she will starve herself to death in a few days’ time.”
“Maybe we need to let her go,” Travis said. “She does not want to be here.” He put his arm around Charlotte. “Baby, I know that’s not what you want to hear, honey.”
“I don’t want to lose her within days of losing my dad. I can’t bear it.” She wept bitterly, wanting Bella to stay for selfish reasons.
“Maybe that shouldn’t be our call to make, honey.” He was making too much sense, and she didn’t want to hear it.
“She can’t go, Travis.”
“But she will, baby, whether you’re ready or not, honey.” Travis kissed her forehead. “It’s time to let her go.”
She walked into Bella’s bedroom, trying to make one last pitch to her, to convince her she had a reason to live. “Mama, please come out and sit with us. You still have a family that loves you. Your grandbabies, Travis, Christopher.. Me.” Nothing Charlotte was saying was making a difference.
“Let me go, Princess,” she said weakly. “I’m nothing without your dad. I don’t remember how to live without him.” Her eyes were sunken in, her beautiful complexion was blotchy and pale, and her hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed in a week.
“Have you taken any of these pills the doctor gave you?” Charlotte asked, shaking the bottle.
“No,” Bella answered. Charlotte knew her heart wouldn’t hold out without the medication.
She thought for a moment and sighed. “I’m not going to make you take them, Mama. I will not force you to stay where you don’t want to be.”
Bella smiled, looking frail and suddenly very old. “Thank you, princess,” she rasped. “I know this will be hard on you and Travis.”
Charlotte nodded. She understood. “Mama, I’m going to get the kids. They will want to say goodbye.”
“I will wait for them, princess,” Bella said, then coughed.
Downstairs, Charlotte gathered the twins together. “Nana isn’t going to make it through the day. She wants to see you all, and say goodbye.” She scooped Devin up and walked toward the stairs. “I’m bringing your brother up first. That will give you some time.”
Charlotte set Devin down on the floor by Bella’s bedside, and he immediately said, “Nana?” reaching his little arms for her to pick him up. Charlotte lifted the young boy and sat him in Bella’s lap. She cuddled him close and kissed his cheek. “Hi sweet boy,” she whispered. “You be good for your Mama, okay?” Charlotte choked back a sob as she watched her son with his Nana. I hope you remember her, and how much she loved you, she thought, heartbroken. Gently, she took him from Bella when it looked like she could no longer handle having him sitting with her.
The girls walked timidly into the bedroom, Danae sat on the bed with her, while Darcey knelt on the floor. “Nana, I love you so much. Thank you for everything you’ve taught me. I will never forget you,” Danae took Bella’s hand, and swallowed the growing lump in her throat.
Darcey stood and walked to Bella, hugging her. “I love you, Nana. Take good care of Pop-Pop, and tell him I love him, too.” She broke down crying and embraced Danae.
“I will, sweet pea. Be good for your Mama and Daddy, they love you so.” Bella coughed as she spoke, and Charlotte knew she didn’t have much time. The girls left the room, their sobs echoing through the hallway and loft.
Charlotte and Travis sat with her, spending her last moments holding her hand, and singing to her. She sang one of her favorite songs softly as she stroked Bella’s hair. They were both holding her hand when she took her last breath and faded away. The Reaper, interrupting a tender family moment, quietly crept into the room. Charlotte looked at him, tears in her eyes, and said, “Bring her to my daddy.” The Reaper nodded, and quietly took Bella from them, leaving an urn identical to Rog’s, and another set of black, sooty footprints.
Travis hugged Charlotte close as the Reaper turned and left as quietly as he came. “Baby, I’m so so sorry, honey.” He held her close and let her sob.
She tried to stand, but her shaky legs wouldn’t hold her. Travis picked her up and carried her to their bedroom and set her on their bed. She rolled up into a ball, sobbing heavily, trying to comprehend the loss. Travis put Devin to bed and curled up beside Charlotte, and they both cried themselves to sleep.
Up Next: Chapter Seven, Generation Four