Dressed in a pink gown, Bella held her cardboard scepter and with Destiny’s homecoming crown atop her head, she declared the royal court in session. Boinky, her “jester,” sat next to her, a small paper hat that Arthur had fashioned from the morning newspaper sitting askew on his head. The doll was a gift from Destiny’s comeback tour, straight from her hometown of Appaloosa Plains. Bella loved the doll sometimes more than her own sister, Bree, and he certainly seemed more alive and less like a doll to her. On the “queen’s” other side sat King Arthur, or “Daddy” as she called him. She poured a cup of imaginary tea, and set his cup on a placemat she drew herself.
“One sugar or two, Daddy?” Bella asked, giggling as if she had heard the funniest joke.
“Just one, my queen,” he replied. He lifted the cup, pretended to drink it, then made a funny face. “I guess I should have asked for two!” Bella giggled even harder.
“Oh Daddy, you’re silly!” Bella popped up and served Boinky a similar plastic cup of pretend tea, stirred in two sugars, on her Daddy’s advice, and sat down to fix her own. Arthur marveled at her vivid and incredibly active imagination.
Just then Arthur’s phone rang, and Desi’s voice chimed on the other end. Hearing her mother’s voice, Bella immediately began jumping up and down. “Mama! Mama!” She chanted, “Wanna talk to Mama!”
Knowing he was fighting a losing battle, he handed the phone to Bella, and whispered, “I’m going to check on dinner. You be good!”
Taking the phone from Arthur, Bella began filling Destiny in about the royal tea party. “Daddy was my king! He made me laugh, silly Daddy!” She paused to take a breath. “Mama, Boinky wants a friend, he told me so last night!”
“Oh, is that so?” Destiny laughed. “Well, tell Boinky he might get his wish!” Bella chattered aimlessly for the next 10 minutes when Arthur returned and retrieved the phone. “Go play now, little one, and let Daddy talk to Mama, okay?”
“Okay, Daddy! Come on, Boinky! I have some great news!” Bella was still gibbering as her little feet descended the stairs.
Bella sat in her seat, her undivided attention turned to the shadowy figure that stood on stage. Destiny explained that what she would see wasn’t what it looked like, and to not be afraid. But Bella watched the magician perform what looked like the impossible, and she was hooked. She watched in eager anticipation every move the magician made, and she clapped first and she clapped the loudest. When the show was over, Destiny asked her how she enjoyed the show.
“Oh Mama, I loved it! How did he do those things? I wanna know everything!” Bella rambled non-stop for at least an hour, asking questions that Desi didn’t know how to answer. “When I grow up, I want to be just like him!” Destiny sighed. I was hoping none of my girls would follow me into show business, she thought to herself. However, she was more than a little hurt that singing wasn’t in the girl’s heart. Can’t win them all, Destiny. Take what you can get. She chuckled to herself, and Bella noticed. “What’s so funny, Mama?”
“Oh, nothing that should concern you. You’re going to be a great magician!” Desi hugged her, and Bella just beamed with excitement.
“I know, right?” Bella took Desi’s hand and pulled her to the lobby of the Binder Clips Center. “Can I have this magic set? Please?”
“Okay, but don’t tell Bree! It’s a secret, just you and me, okay?” Desi giggled as they approached the merchandise vendor.
“Cross my heart and hope to die!” Bella exclaimed. “Can we get ice cream on the way home?”
“Not tonight, my sweetheart.” Desi was tired, and she had to be on the road early in the morning. “But I’ll make it up to you when I get home on Tuesday night, okay?”
Even the thwarted effort for sweets did not dampen Bella’s spirit. The excitement began to die down on the way home, and by the time Destiny pulled into the driveway, Bella was sound asleep. She carried Bella into the house and up the stairs, doing her best not to wake her. Tucking her in, she kissed Bella goodnight and told her that she would be home soon.
Destiny was busy getting ready for Bree’s big sleepover party, the first one of the school year, and all her friends were invited. Bella was not happy about having a bunch of older kids in the house, but when they began to arrive, she found that she actually fit into the crowd better than she imagined. One boy, Estevan Best, was among the invited, and he and Bella got along rather well. They spent the night and into the wee hours of the morning talking, getting to know one another. The next morning during a breakfast of Destiny’s famous banana pancakes, Estevan, or Este as his friends called him, asked her to his junior prom. He was one year younger than Bree, and two older than Bella. Bree had already been dating Nigel Martin for a year or so, and they were going together to Bree’s senior prom, so they decided to double date. Rather than have two different formal dances, because the classes were so small, the junior and senior classes had a combined formal dance. Both of Destiny’s girls had dates, so she took them shopping and for primping at the salon before the dance.
Though Bree had won prom queen, Bella and Este had won honorable mention for the dance’s cutest couple. They spent the entire evening on the dance floor, and most of the time were the only ones because the whole party had their eyes on them. It was at the prom that Bella had her very first kiss with Este, during the photo that was taken for the yearbook and their own keepsakes. By the end of the evening, Bella was certain she was in love with the boy.
Bella didn’t go to prom again until her senior year, but it was different because Este did not go with her. During her junior year, Bella and Este had a huge fight when he dared to treat her as poorly as Nigel treated Bree. Nigel and Estevan were close friends and had been hanging around together, maybe a little too much. Perhaps Bree would put up with it, but there was no way that Bella would do the same. The fight was heated, and she stormed out of math class, right in the middle of a lesson. Bella spent the rest of the afternoon in the principal’s office, trying to calm down and waiting for Arthur to pick her up.
“I’m disappointed in you, young lady. Causing a disruption in class? Being combative? Bella, this is not like you,” Arthur lectured on the way home.
“Daddy, it isn’t like you think.” Bella cried, her heart completely broken, and consumed with anger for Este.
“So, if it isn’t what I think, then tell me your side of the story.” Arthur tapped on the steering wheel, waiting for Bella to speak.
“Este! H-he called me a tramp.” Bella tried to calm herself down, but reliving the ordeal was just making things worse. “And, he told me I dress like a streetwalker!” She tried to keep calm, but she shook from anger and emotion.
Arthur’s temples twitched as he clamped his teeth together. “He said WHAT?”
Bella sobbed. “I can’t, Daddy. I can’t say it again…” her heart was breaking in two right before his eyes.
He pulled the car over to the side of the road, shaking with rage. Then he noticed his daughter, completely broken, sobbing in the seat next to him. Taking a deep breath, he collected himself and took Bella’s hand. “My love,” Arthur began, “You don’t need that…blockhead… in your life.” As he spoke, the thought of Estevan mistreating his daughter drove him near mad. “That boy must be out of his mind because he never realized the treasure you are.” Art unclenched his jaw, reached out and lifted his little girl’s tear-stained face to his, and his expression softened. “I am so proud of you, Bella.” He took his handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her.
“You… you are?” Bella said, trying to speak between the sobs.
“Yes, I am. You stood your ground. I can’t be angry with that.” It was evident that she was listening to him on their daddy-daughter dates. Arthur put his arm around her and pulled her close. He noticed the small diamond purity ring she wore on her finger, a gift from Arthur on one such date, and smiled. “I wish you could teach that to Bree. That boy Nigel is no good for her. But I can’t get through her thick head.”
“I know, Daddy, and she knows he is toxic. But she loves him, so…” Bella sobbed again.
Arthur sighed. This was the part of having girls he wished that Destiny could handle. Teenage drama was way over his pay grade. “Are you okay, sweetheart?”
“I will be Daddy. I just want to go home.”
“As you wish, my princess.”
Thud… thud… thud…. Arthur and Destiny looked at the ceiling and wondered if Bella would suddenly appear in front of them, crashed through the floor of her bedroom. “Settle down up there!” Arthur called to Bella.
“But I’m so excited about graduation!” Bella was always so excited about every good little thing that happened, and overly emotional about the rough patches. But on this day, the day before she received her high school diploma, she was especially passionate.
“And, I’m excited about my new J!”
thud. Bella thought she would burst at the seams.
Destiny looked at Arthur, who briefly looked up from his morning paper. “She’s a handful,” he finally observed. “She always has been.”
“But she’s also always been a good girl, Art.” Desi sipped on her morning coffee, wincing with every new “thud” emanating from the girls’ room upstairs.
“I’m not going to tell you again, Bella! Settle down!” Arthur called to her. He rolled his eyes and laughed. “Tell me again why we had another after her?”
“It was your fault, Arthur.” Destiny teased.
“Me? It takes two to tango, Mrs. Atwood.” Arthur rolled up his newspaper and swatted Desi on the bottom, to which she stuck out her tongue. He reached for his wife and hugged her close.
“I like the sound of that.” Desi repeated, “Mrs. Atwood.”
The next morning was graduation for Bella. Destiny was upstairs helping the graduate with her hair and gown, while Arthur held the fort downstairs, preparing breakfast and putting Bianca’s hair into a ponytail, much to the girl’s chagrin.
“Mama, can I get a different color cap?” Bella adjusted and readjusted the cap. “Blue doesn’t go with my hair.”
“No, sweet pea, I think you’re stuck with blue.” Destiny chuckled at the face Bella made. “What’s wrong with blue?”
Bella shrugged her shoulders. “Nothing, I guess.” Bianca appeared in the doorway of the room. “What do you want, squirt?”
“Daddy says it’s time to go,” Bianca stated, very matter-of-factly. “Bella don’t want to be late for graduation.”
“Bella doesn’t want to be late, Bianca.” Destiny corrected her.
“That’s what I said, Ma.” Bianca huffed and ran down the steps.
Bella shook her head. “You know she doesn’t get that, Mama.”
Destiny shrugged. “She sounds like me when I was her age, Bella,” Desi remembered the country accent that she struggled for years to diminish, but when she heard Bianca speak, it was as if that part of her was still alive, a part she missed.
The family piled into the car for the ceremony. Like Bree, Bella was among the first in her class to receive her diploma and was easily named class Valedictorian. She also received an award for “Most Likely to Join A Sports Team.” After Bree’s award for the exact same thing, Bella wondered if they gave that award to just anyone. But she did have to admit that she and Bree were in very good physical condition. After the ceremony, Bella was treated to the same restaurant that Destiny and Arthur had brought Bree to after her graduation. But Bella stood at the head of the table and gave a speech. Bree wanted to sink under the table, but Bella was relishing the spotlight. Arthur nudged Desi’s arm and pointed to Bella. “That’s your child,” he whispered to Desi, to which she burst out laughing. Bella was not amused but kept going, not skipping a beat.
Bella signed up with the talent agency that managed her mother for so many years, only to find Desi’s agent had recently passed away. But Maria Best, Este’s sister, was the new agent and eagerly got to work helping Bella with the paperwork. Her registered stage name, though Bella wanted to use her real name, ended up being a compromise: Bella Hill. She wasted no time getting her name in the public arena, using every opportunity to network and distribute her business card. It wasn’t long before she was being booked for children’s birthday parties, but her real goal was to be on stage, like the magician she saw so many years before. That was the end game.
Bella was quickly becoming noticed in the performance circles and earned promotions with ease. The proprietor of Verde Park, Phil Trice, auditioned her for her own show after a year on the job doing kids’ parties and odd jobs at the park. He had seen her work some private parties and was impressed with her command of the audience, no matter how young or old they were.
“You were great, Bella,” Phil told her after the audition. “We’d be honored to have someone with your pedigree on our stage tomorrow night.”
“What do you mean by ‘pedigree,’ Mr. Trice?” Bella did not want to ride anyone’s coattails, especially her mother’s. If she was going to make it in show business, it would be a result of her own hard work and commitment.
“Well, you have the Hill name, Bella. Around here, that means excellence.” Phil explained to her. “You are plenty good enough on your own. There’s no need to feel threatened.”
“I’m not, it’s just that I want to step outside of my Mama’s shadow and be who I am.” Bella kicked at the grass, sorry she had asked the question.
“You’re okay, Miss Hill. You are in a whole different class than she was, trust me.” Bella nodded and thanked him, but wasn’t sure if he meant his comment as a compliment.
All of the doubt was short-lived, and when she arrived home, she could not wait to tell Destiny and Arthur about her show. Destiny vaguely remembered Phil Trice, but had not dealt with him specifically. But she did know from Arthur that he was very fair, and was not easily impressed. This made Bella feel better. Even though Arthur had been out of the scene for nearly 20 years, he was still on top of who and what was going on in town. Like it or not, he had been a proprietor for years before Destiny came singing into his life. It was in his blood.
Bella tapped her ring nervously on the edge of the chair. Not happy with the sound, Arthur rose and spoke.
“You’re going to bend your ring, Bell. Stop banging it.”
“Sorry Daddy,” she replied. She popped up and started to pace. “I’m just really nervous about tonight’s show.”
“You’re going to be great, you know that, right?” He smiled at her, beaming with pride. “You are your mother’s daughter. Born for the spotlight.”
“But what if I mess up? People will laugh at me!” Bella wrung her hands as the scenario played out in her head.
“So? If something doesn’t work out just right, then act like the result was intentional, and laugh it off!”
Bella’s face showed relief as she pondered her father’s advice. “Daddy, you’re a genius! I have to run through my tricks one more time!” She ran up the stairs to her bedroom and closed the door.
That evening, the family was in the crowd at Verde Park when the lights came up and Bella made her stage debut. Almost every trick went off without a hitch, and the one that failed miserably, Bella recovered with a joke. The show went just a bit longer than three hours, and the immediate reviews from Mr. Trice were very positive. Destiny was waiting for her side stage with a hug and a bouquet of pink roses.
“You were incredible, Bella!” Desi kissed her cheek.
“Thank you, Mama!” Bella’s face glowed with excitement and satisfaction, and she knew at that moment that she wanted to do stage performance for the rest of her career.
Bella was still doing bit work, parties, and private events through the talent agency when the gigs were sparse and work wasn’t as plentiful as she would have hoped. Even when she didn’t have work on her schedule, she was performing for tips at Verde Park or the coffeehouse. It was one such event that got her a lucrative party booking for one of the richest families in Starlight Shores. The gentleman was so impressed with her tricks and sleight of hand that he hired her on the spot to work his son’s tenth birthday party. She gave him her business card and asked that he call to arrange the party details.
“How’s the magic business, Bella?” Arthur asked her when she got home that night. He could tell she had some news by the smile on her face. She wore her emotions on her sleeve, and he was especially good at reading them.
“It is awesome, Daddy!” Bella beamed. He was rocking in his chair in the living room, watching the fireplace flicker, even though it was not a chilly evening. “I got a show booked for the Gooder family next week!”
“Wow!” exclaimed Destiny, who was sitting next to Art in her recliner. “The Gooders. They’re an impressive family.”
“I know!” Bella exclaimed. “I can’t wait for this show! It’s going to be off the chain!”
Arthur looked at her, confused. Just as he was about to ask her, Destiny piped up, “It means ‘fantastic,’ my love.” He smiled at Desi.
A week later, Bella was rushing around the house gathering her small props and show items that she let Bianca play with. “Have you seen my cards, Mama?”
“Check the box in the family room. I think I saw some cards there,” Destiny called back.
“Thanks!” Bella scurried to the family room and located the missing props. Her bag of magic stuff was ready to go, and she set it by the back door, and her keys on top of it.
The party was set to start at 4pm at the Park, so she had some time to go for a jog. She returned home and showered, had a small snack and kissed Arthur on the cheek. “I’m leaving for my show, Dad. I’ll see you when I get home tonight!”
“Knock ‘em dead, princess!” Arthur called to her as she turned and waved.
“I will! Bye Mama!” She barely heard Destiny wish her well as the door closed behind her.
The party was a roaring success, and the birthday boy couldn’t have been happier with the whole scene. He was amazed and laughed every time Bella pulled a coin from his ear, which to her best estimate was at least 12 times. Even the adults at the party seemed to enjoy the show, as Bella strived to make each trick and every illusion relevant to the whole audience, regardless of age. It reminded her so much of the magician she saw as a child, and she hoped that tonight, she had inspired someone to follow in her own footsteps.
Just as she was finishing up her last set of tricks and illusions for the party, her phone rang. Her client, Mr. Gooder, gave her a disapproving look as the phone chirped happily from her bag. Holding up one finger, she checked the caller ID. Bree Atwood. She excused herself for a moment and took the call.
“What is it, Bree? I’m in the middle of a job!”
“It’s Daddy, Bella. Come home. NOW!” Bree frantically shouted into the phone.
With a panicked look on her face, she explained there was a family emergency at home, grabbed her bag and ran for her car. She raced home as fast as she could, crying all the way. She didn’t even bother to park the car in the garage, just leaving it outside the gate. She could hear the commotion from the street, so she guessed everyone was either in the yard by the pool, or on the deck upstairs. Running through the house, she saw no one at the pool, so she climbed the stairs quickly, taking two at a time until she reached the deck. She opened the door to the roof and saw Destiny and Bree, locked in an embrace, sobbing, and Bianca nowhere to be found. Before them sat a golden urn, the only thing that remained of her father, Arthur Atwood. Stumbling to their side, she fell to her knees beside her mother, weeping with bitter regret. She never got to say goodbye to the first man she ever truly loved.
…To Be Continued
Up Next: Chapter One, Generation Three