Travis walked into the house, his hands full of mail. “Darce, Nae, you have letters from Sim State,” he yelled. As he expected, two nearly eighteen-year-old girls came running down the steps at breakneck pace and squealed. He handed the letters to the appropriate twin, and wiggled away from the bangarang, laughing.
Nearly simultaneously, they shredded the envelopes open and read their acceptance letters together, and in total synchronization, they squealed their joy. Charlotte, who was finishing up dinner in the kitchen, snickered at the girls. “I guess they got in,” she observed.
“You think?” Travis chuckled, beaming with pride at his twin daughters. “Congratulations, girls!” He held his arms open and embraced both of them in a hug. “You girls are so mature, it’s almost not cool to hug your daddy anymore.”
“Keyword, almost, Daddy,” Danae giggled, hugging Travis tightly. “I always want to be your little girl.”
“Don’t worry, Nae,” Charlotte smiled, “You’ll always be Daddy’s girl.” She noticed Darcey pouting, looking toward Travis.
“Aww, Punkin, you’ll always be my baby girl, too.” Travis hugged her and kissed her forehead.
“I can’t believe you two will be eighteen in a month, and graduated from high school in less than three months,” Charlotte remembered her own mother and hearing those same words from Bella. Oh, how quickly the time had gone, and she ached for it to be rewound.
“Don’t worry, Mama,” Darcey comforted her. “One of us will give you grandchildren someday, and you’ll have to start all over again.” Her impish smile made Charlotte laugh.
“Just not too soon, okay?” she reminded them. “I still have a young teenager in the house, and he doesn’t know about the birds and the bees yet. You don’t want to have to tell your baby brother about babies, do you?”
“Eww, no!” Danae said, recoiling. Travis laughed at her reaction and Charlotte’s suggestion that the girls would be the bearers of uncomfortable news.
“That is brilliant, honey,” he chuckled. “Making the girls tell Devin about babies if they get pregnant.”
“I have my ways of making them keep their promise, without actually telling them I’m doing it.” She winked at Travis and blew him a kiss.
Though Darcey and Danae were both strikingly pretty girls, neither of them had a boyfriend, or even dated that much in their high school careers, though it wasn’t for Danae’s lack of trying. She seemed a lot more in touch with her sexuality, and it was Danae that Charlotte feared for the most going into college. It seemed she was like her Nana Bella in more ways than looks. Darcey, on the other hand, was more focused on school and starting her career. Her grade point average was 4.0, and she had a better than decent shot at being named Valedictorian for her graduating class.
Their senior prom was upon them, and Charlotte wanted to take them for evening gowns in Twinbrook to a dress shop that Jayna had recommended highly. It would only take a two-hour drive over and back each way, as Twinbrook was the next town to the east, on the other side of the mountain range that ran behind their home. Since both girls had been driving for a couple of years, they shared the duty between the three of them, and Charlotte was impressed that both of them were so responsible and mature behind the wheel of Charlotte’s fancy car.
The GPS took them right into town and to the dress shop. Charlotte was quite taken with the cute little village, which really didn’t seem that much bigger than Isla Paradiso in size and population. The bell on the shop door rang as Charlotte opened it, holding it for the twins. “Good morning, ladies!” the friendly voice greeted them from behind a sales counter. “You must be the Jones family.” They had an appointment but were there 30 minutes sooner than they were expected.
“We are,” Charlotte confirmed. “This is Danae and Darcey, and my name is Charlotte.”
“I am LeeAnn,” the store owner introduced herself. “I’m so pleased to meet you. I hear that my dear friend Jayna referred you to me. I’ve seen a lot of her business since her retirement.” Charlotte nodded. “What can I help you with today?”
“The girls are going to their senior prom, and they need evening gowns. They will probably want to have matching gowns, in different colors if history is any indication. Am I right, ladies?” Charlotte asked them.
“Yes Mama,” Darcey confirmed. “I wear purple or lilac, and Danae usually wears orange or red.”
“Well, we have a lot of styles in those colors.” She looked at the girls, sizing them up and down, and figuring what size to bring out. “How about we start with our most popular gowns, and we work backward from there?”
“Sounds good,” Charlotte agreed. The twins were looking and gawking at the prettiest wedding dresses they had ever seen, though Charlotte hoped that one of them would agree to be married in her old one-of-a-kind gown someday. LeeAnn went into the back room and came out with three of her best selling gowns, in the colors that Darcey had specified. She studied Darcey’s small frame and looked at the first gown.
“Here, sweetheart, try this one. I think you’ll love how it fits you,” she said to Danae, holding out a crimson gown. “And one for Darcey, in lilac. You both are so identical, size-wise, I mean. This is going to be a breeze for me.”
Danae inspected the gown, but she couldn’t imagine herself in it, while Darcey loved it immediately. “Let’s go try them anyway, Nae,” she said, taking her sister’s hand. “I’ll help you if you help me.”
“Can I get you a cup of coffee, Charlotte? Water? Some extra strong wine?” LeeAnn winked at her, laughing like a schoolgirl.
“As tempting as the wine is, I do have to drive home at least part of the way. Coffee sounds fabulous, though, thank you! Just a little cream is perfect.”
There was little to no noise coming from the dressing rooms, so Charlotte got up to check on the twins. Suddenly, she realized why. The gowns they had on were so perfect for them, they stood there staring at the other, gobsmacked.
“Danae, that gown is so pretty on you,” Darcey chirped. “It makes you look like a movie star!”
“The lilac dress is gorgeous on you, Darce! It makes your eyes look more violet and less blue, like mine.” Danae oohed and ahhed over the dresses.
“Holy wow, girls,” Charlotte remarked. “I don’t think we have to look any further than these, what do you think?”
“But, if these are the most popular dresses, won’t other girls have them on, Mama?” Danae asked, not wanting a repeat of their freshman spring dance.
“Maybe in Twinbrook, but I doubt that will be the case in Starlight Shores, sweetie.” She nodded her approval of the dresses on both girls. “Not every family in the Shores can afford to drive 3 hours out of their way to get a dress for prom.”
“True,” Darcey concurred. “I think we’ll be okay, Nae.”
“Okay, I’m sold,” Danae announced. “This is good for me if Darcey agrees.”
“Me too,” Darcey agreed. “I love it.”
“I guess we’ll take these,” Charlotte told LeeAnn, happy they didn’t have to spend all day driving from place to place looking.
The twins went into the dressing rooms to change back into their normal clothing, and Danae giggled. “Now, if only I could get that boy to go to prom with me, this would be perfect!”
“You’re wasting your time, Nae,” Darcey countered. “He doesn’t date girls like us. He will see that ring on your finger and walk the other way.”
“What if I took it off?”
Darcey shot her a look. “You’d better not! We’re in this together.”
“You are absolutely no fun,” Danae said, pouting.
“Don’t make me tell Daddy on you, Nae. I mean it.” Darcey warned her.
“You wouldn’t,” Danae challenged her older sister.
“Don’t try me, Nae.” The conversation ended there, and both girls brought the dresses to the front for Charlotte, Darcey keeping a watchful eye on her sister.
“Mama, can I ask you a question?” Danae asked Charlotte before bed that night.
“You can ask me anything, sweetie.”
“What is it like to make love with someone?”
Charlotte almost choked on her wine. “Where is this coming from?”
“Darcey and I were talking about prom, and there is a boy I want to ask, but she said he would look at my ring and walk away.” Charlotte swallowed hard. “What is so special about sex that makes boys do stupid stuff?”
“Well, with the right person, making love is magical, Danae. It’s personal, and it’s loving, and there isn’t a more intimate thing you can do with someone. But, remember honey, it should be reserved for a marriage relationship, where the people involved are better prepared for the potential consequences.” Charlotte looked her in the eye. “Are you thinking you want to try it, honey?”
“Not necessarily, Mama. I’m just wondering why it seems all my friends are doing it, when they know they shouldn’t be.” She blushed a little. “What does it feel like?”
Charlotte didn’t honestly know how to answer the question. She didn’t want to make sex sound so fantastic that she couldn’t wait to try it, and on the other hand, she didn’t want to scare her away, either. “You know, it feels different for every person, so it’s hard for me to answer that for you, Danae. I know it is hard to want to wait, and when you find someone you think you love, it will get harder. Remember what Daddy has been teaching you about respecting yourself. Keeping yourself pure. There’s no danger in that, and no shame. Don’t let anyone, your friends, a boy, anyone, tell you that you’re less of a person if you choose to wait.”
“What did Nana Bella do that made her ashamed? Daddy has mentioned it a couple of times, but he never tells us what she did.”
“Wow, you’re really asking me some tough questions tonight, Nae. This is really bothering you, isn’t it?”
“It is, Mama.” She looked troubled.
“Is it because you think a boy won’t want to go out with you if you don’t have something to offer him?” Charlotte hoped that was the root cause of the discussion. She didn’t want to go into her mother’s sex life with her daughter, unless she truly had to.
“Kinda. What if I’m not enough?”
“Then you don’t need him, Danae. If you aren’t enough for him without sex, then you’ll never be enough with it, either.” Charlotte gave her a hug. “I know I really emphasize this, but I mean it. It will mean everything to your future husband if you save that for him alone. I’ve never been with anyone but your father. I’ve never once wondered what I missed, or what someone else might offer me, because I know your daddy loves me. He’s more than enough for me, and I am more than enough for him.”
“What if something happened, and Daddy wasn’t here anymore?” Danae asked. “Would you go with someone else?”
“Never. I could never bring myself to be with anyone else. He is my life partner, and if he should die before me, I will never remarry. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is, Danae, to love someone that deeply, and completely. Someday, you will understand, when you have someone like him, who cherishes you and would do anything for you. But it’s so important to know for sure, absolutely certain, that you have someone like that. That he isn’t putting on a show to get what he wants. He needs to commit his heart to you, just like you commit your heart to him. A boy will walk away if you give him what he wants too quickly, because he will have no reason to stick around.”
“I think I understand. I’m going to miss you when I go to school. I can’t talk to Darcey like this, because she gets snippy with me.” Danae hugged Charlotte. “Thank you, Mama.”
“You can talk to me any time, honey. Even up at school. I’m just a phone call away.” She looked into Danae’s pretty violet eyes. “I love you Danae. Never forget it.”
“I won’t, Mama.” She smiled and hugged Charlotte. “I love you, too!”
“Are you ready for this, Danae?” Darcey asked as they adjusted their graduation gowns. “In some ways I am, and others, not so much. I know college is only a week away. I’m nervous.”
“I don’t know, Darce. Sometimes I don’t want to grow up. And then, I hope I meet someone at school that will just blow my mind like Mama did.” Even though Danae had aspirations to be a singer, she wouldn’t mind being a housewife, devoting her life to caring for children and a home.
Darcey adjusted her cap, as she heard light footsteps coming up the stairs. “There’s my baby girls,” Charlotte chirped. “You two are so grown up. I can’t believe you’re graduating from high school today.” She hugged the twins one at a time. “Are you ready to start the rest of your lives?”
“Yes and no,” answered Darcey, not really wanting to rehash what she and Danae had already discussed. “I mean, I’m looking forward to college.”
“I sense a ‘but’ in there, Darcey bug.” Charlotte looked concerned.
“I am not sure I’m ready to be an adult, Mama,” Darcey finally stated.
Charlotte laughed and hugged her older daughter. “I’m afraid there is nothing anyone can do about that, sweetheart. Just embrace it.”
“Come on, ladies,” Travis called from the first floor. “It’s almost time to go.”
“You heard your Daddy. Time to go, girls.” Charlotte guided them toward the stairs.
She stopped them before they got into the car, and made them pose for photos. Charlotte wept while Travis took the pictures, and Devin waited impatiently in the car. “Come on, guys! Let’s move!” he snapped.
“Okay, son,” Travis laughed. “I guess we’re good here. Are you ready, my sweet Charlotte?” he asked his wife, taking her arm.
“Yes, my love. As ready as I’ll ever be.” They got into the car, Travis in the front seat with Devin, who was driving the fancy sports car, and Charlotte got in back with the girls.
Darcey was named Valedictorian, like her mother, grandmother and great grandmother before her, and Danae was named unanimously “Most Popular” by her classmates. After the graduation ceremony, the family posed for a family photo inside City Hall, with the girls in their graduation gowns and caps, and Travis took them to The Tower for one last family dinner out to celebrate. On Friday, the girls would leave Starlight Shores and begin the next chapter of their lives. Everything was happening too fast, and Charlotte wasn’t ready to let them go.
They spent the week packing boxes with clothes, keepsakes and other things the girls would need to set up the house to live for the next four years. They tagged and moved furniture to the garage they would take with them. Travis and Charlotte had to trust that they would put everything they were taught to good use when presented with situations. They were smart girls, and they both had good sense and instincts. But yet, Charlotte worried about Danae.
Travis and Charlotte were relaxing in bed, watching television, sore and tired from a full day of packing and moving, cuddled together. “Honey, I’m worried about Danae,” she finally said.
“Worried how?” Travis asked.
“She has been asking me increasingly difficult questions about sex. The last time, I had a very hard time answering them without getting into some very uncomfortable things. I don’t want her to be so curious that she forgets her promise, but at the same time…”
Travis hushed her. “She will be fine, honey. The last thing Danae wants to do is disappoint me, and she knows that would. I do think she is probably more likely to come home from school with a guy on her arm, though. Darcey just doesn’t seem very interested in a relationship, from what I’ve seen on our dates.”
“I hope you’re right, honeybear. She really has me nervous about letting her go.” Charlotte buried her face into Travis’ neck. “I love you so much.”
“Oh? Is that so?” he teased, caressed her neck and kissed her.
“Baby, I don’t think I could tonight. I’m so sore from moving stuff.” Every muscle in her body was fatigued.
“Then you shouldn’t have started it,” he pouted. “But, are you sure? I mean really sure?” He caressed her cheek. “I hear non-strenuous exercise is good for muscle strain.”
“You’re insatiable,” she teased.
“And you’re irresistible,” he purred back at her. Travis turned off the television, and she let him love her.
The moving van was packed and pulled away from the driveway, on its three-day drive to Sim State from Starlight Shores. Charlotte and Devin had already said goodbye to the twins before they left for the morning, and Travis would take them to the airport. This was the day he had dreaded since the girls were born. But it was time for them to embark on the next chapter of their lives, and spread their wings. Both of them looked incredibly sad as they got into the back seat of Travis’ sports car.
None of them spoke on the way, knowing tears would likely follow any attempts at conversing. He pulled up to the terminal to unload their suitcases and checked them curbside and helped them with their tickets and backpacks. Danae’s face was contorted with agony, not wanting to leave. “Aww, Punkin, you’re going to be okay,” Travis hugged her. “Don’t cry, sweetie.”
“I love you, Daddy,” Danae wept.
“I love you too, Nae Nae,” he replied, wiping his own tears from his eyes. He hugged his baby girls one last time and kissed their cheeks. “Don’t forget to call us when you get there. Have a safe trip, and have fun! You’re going to love it. I promise.”
“We will Daddy,” Darcey cried, giving him one last hug. “I love you.” Darcey took Danae’s hand, and together they walked into the terminal, their dad watched as they turned one last time to wave as they disappeared into the crowd. Travis waved to them, holding back tears and hoping the Paparazzi would leave him alone long enough to compose himself. The drive back to the house seemed longer than usual, and not even his favorite music in the car could cheer him up. For a moment, he contemplated taking the day from work, but then decided to go. He had a ceremony to attend, and he looked forward to it every year. Besides, it would get his mind off missing his baby girls.
He walked into the stadium looking sad, and Neil couldn’t wait to razz him. “What’s up your butt today, Jones?” he huffed.
“If you must know, I brought the twins to the airport this morning. They’re off to college.” Travis sighed and shook his head. Smitty, who had heard the exchange, walked to him.
“They’re going to be okay, Travis,” he said, placing his hand on Travis’ shoulder. “You and Charlotte have been excellent role models for them. They’re smart girls.”
“I know. It just kills me to say goodbye.” He choked back tears, dropping his bag by the bench. “The house will feel empty without them in it. I’m not looking forward to tonight.” Despite his best efforts, a single tear dripped onto the floor.
“Hey, it’s not ‘goodbye.’ It’s just a ‘see you later’ kind of thing. My dad never let us say ‘goodbye.’ He said it was too permanent.” Smitty replied.
“Thanks, Trey. I needed that.” He straightened his tie and grabbed his water bottle. “Let’s go sign some autographs and get ready for the award ceremony.” On this particular day, the scholarship that Travis and Charlotte founded was being awarded, and Travis was presenting the certificate to the recipient. This was the last year that they would be the sole benefactors, and Mary Riggins was attending the ceremony, along with her family. Even after ten years, no one knew that Charlotte and Travis were the benefactors, other than Logan’s mother.
Work was much more pleasant for Travis without Kathleen hanging around, and together, he and Smitty jogged to waving fans, ready to sign autographs and take pictures with their fans. After ten minutes of mingling with fans and press, Armand appeared and a procession of scholars, sports icons and the scholarship recipient and her family were seated on the stage that had been constructed on the field. Travis joined the procession, and sat between Neil and Armand, waiting for his presentation. This year, Charlotte’s absence was felt. Where was she? He thought.
Armand stood to speak, explaining that the scholarship would remain available for multiple benefactors, but the original contract was for ten years. This year would mark the tenth scholarship awarded, and for the first time since its inception, the winner was a young woman, full of promise and ambition. And then, it was Travis’ turn to speak.
“This year, I am honored to present the scholarship to the first woman to be bestowed with this honor. She is a rising star in women’s soccer, and when she is finished at Sim State University, we hope she will return home, to Starlight Shores, to play for the Lady Llamas. This year, on behalf of the Shores Llamas, I proudly present the Logan Riggins Memorial Scholarship to Leigh Zavala, for her excellence and dedication to the sport.” Travis applauded the young lady, one of the twins’ classmates, and she walked to Travis and accepted the plaque and check for the full scholarship amount.
After the ceremony, Mary Riggins caught Travis’ eye, and he walked toward her and embraced her. “It’s good to see you, Mary,” he greeted her. “Thank you for the opportunity to do this in your son’s memory. It’s been our honor and privilege.”
“Oh Travis,” she replied, “please tell your lovely wife thank you again. Your gifts have been a blessing to ten deserving kids over the years. My family and I appreciate the sentiment.”
“The pleasure has been ours, Mary.” He hugged her one last time and went back to signing autographs for the crowd of fans that were on the field after the ceremony. Looking around, he still did not see Charlotte and was disappointed she didn’t make it.
Charlotte wept while she prepared dinner that evening, wondering what the girls were doing at Sim State. Devin was tackling his homework, doing a project that he had a week to complete. Travis walked through the back door and the silence in the house stunned him. No blaring television. No silly teenage girl arguments about what to wear to school the next day, or which boy was cuter. No giggles. Of all the things the girls brought into the house, it was their giggles he missed the most. “Hey honey,” he said, putting his duffel on the floor by the spa room. “We missed you at the ceremony today.”
“Oh no, that was today?” Charlotte looked distressed. “I am so sorry! I wanted to be there, too.”
“It’s okay. Mary missed you, though. She wanted me to tell you thank you again. She is very fond of you.” Travis walked to where she was cooking and kissed her. “Why the tears, baby?”
“I miss the twins. It’s too quiet.” Charlotte sighed. “I’m waiting for them to call.”
“How’s your project coming along, son?” Travis asked. “How is school?”
“High school is a drag, Dad. Not impressed.” Devin was a boy of few words, extremely introverted on his own. He missed Darcey, with whom he was extremely close. She brought out the best in her younger brother, and he was lost without her guidance and companionship.
“Can I help you with anything?”
“Nope. I just need to put in the time to finish it.” Devin sighed and got up to stretch. “Wanna go throw a baseball around, Dad?”
“Now that I can do, Dev.” Travis went to the spa room closet and dragged out his mitt. “Let’s go.”
“Dinner is in about 20 minutes, guys,” Charlotte called to them as they headed to the front of the house.
“I get the feeling something is bugging you, son. Do you want to talk?” Travis asked as they walked together to the driveway.
“Nah, Dad, I just miss Darce. I feel like I should have been a triplet with them.” Devin kicked at the gravel on the driveway, and threw the ball into the air, catching it.
“We all miss the girls, Dev. It’s going to be an adjustment for all of us.” Travis held his mitt, signaling he was ready to play. Devin threw a strong pitch toward him, and the ball stung his hand, even through the thick leather. “That’s quite the throw you have there, son. Ouch!”
“Sorry, Dad,” Devin laughed. “I guess I don’t know my own strength.”
“Just like your old man,” Travis laughed with him.
The guys played for quite a bit, while Charlotte finished up dinner. When she called them inside, they went in and cleaned up. They all sat together, and as they had been doing since Bella and Rog’s passing, they held hands and gave thanks before they ate.
After dinner, Devin went to bed, tired and emotional, leaving Charlotte and Travis together by the fireplace. The phone rang as they settled in with a glass of nectar.
“Daddy!” came Darcey’s cheerful, but tired voice on the other end. “We miss you guys!”
“Hey, Punkin!” Travis said, wondering why they had called his cell. “What’s cookin’?”
“Daddy, we need to go to the bookstore tomorrow. We have a LOT of things to get, and it’s going to be expensive.”
“Baby girl, I love that you called to clear it with me, but you really didn’t have to. Get whatever you need. You have your cash card, right?” Travis smiled, amused. The girls always had no concept of the family wealth and were unaware that Travis was a millionaire in his own right.
“Yes, Daddy. Are you sure we can afford it?” Darcey thought she knew the answer, but she always liked to check.
“I’m positive, honey. I’m sure your mama and I can swing it. Before you hang up, she has been waiting to hear from you all day, hold for your mama,” Travis said, handing his phone to Charlotte.
“Hi sweetie pie,” Charlotte beamed. “Are you all settled in, Darce?”
“Yes, Mama, we’re just getting ready for bed. We’ve had a long day.”
“Okay, honey. Remember we’re here if you need us, you can call any time,” Charlotte reminded her. “We love you so much, and your brother misses you terribly. You might call him soon, Darce.”
“I will, Mama. We love you.” They hung up the phone.
Charlotte’s eyes filled with tears. “Hold me, baby. I’m so sad.”
Travis wrapped his arms around her, and let her cry.
Up Next: Chapter Nineteen, Generation Four