Destiny dressed in the only black gown she owned, with her hair pulled back and sunglasses on so nobody would see how dark and sunken her eyes looked. With a grip of death, she hung onto her cane in one hand and Bella’s arm with the other. Bree and Bianca surrounded her as the pastor began to speak. A white casket with 18 long-stemmed red roses sat on the table near the gravesite where Arthur Atwood would be laid to rest. Bree was required by the company to wear her uniform during the funeral since the station would be doing a full honorary burial for him. Bianca and Bella sat on either side of Destiny as Bree stood at attention during the salute.
Arthur was well known around Starlight Shores, not just because of Destiny, but a celebrity in his own right. A proprietor. A musician. A member of Starlight Shores society for the best part of 80 years. The mayor would have it no other way and ordered the fire station to do the honors. Bree’s boss Tom, and the supervisor at the fire station, Edwin, folded the flag of Starlight Shores that had been draped across his coffin and presented it to Destiny. She was barely able to look up to receive it, her shoulders heaving in grief. Bella spoke at the funeral.
“My father,” she began, “Arthur Atwood was the most generous, least selfish person I have ever known. Before I was born, he made the difficult decision to walk away from a promising career and a life of devotion to the city to raise the family he started with my mother, Destiny Hill.” She touched Destiny’s arm and gave her a gentle squeeze. “The ultimate family man, he did many years of dirty diapers, potty training, homework, and teenage drama and he did it without a complaint. He was always there with a firm correction when it was needed, a hug and an ear when we needed him, and with unconditional and unending love for all four of us.” Bella stopped to wipe tears from her eyes. “He never faltered. He never wavered. He never once did anything that wasn’t for our ultimate good.”
She continued. “Arthur Atwood and Destiny Farmer-Atwood also demonstrated what a healthy marriage should look like. When I was thirteen years old, we started our ‘Daddy-Daughter dates,’ and he would take each of us separately. He did this with each of us for years, until he taught us everything he felt we needed to know as his daughters. He gave each of us a diamond solitaire ring when he felt the time was right,” Bella paused to show her ring to the crowd. “It wasn’t big, but it didn’t need to be. I remember him telling me when he placed it on my finger, ‘Bella, this is meant to be worn on your left hand, until it is replaced by your wedding ring.’ He showed us, by his example, how young men should be treating us. He showed us what it means to love without condition. And he and Mama both taught us what romantic love is supposed to be. They were the best teachers, and my sisters and I have been incredibly blessed to have Arthur as our father.”
Bella wiped her eyes again and finished. “Arthur Atwood was a loving husband, a doting father, and a friend to the entire city of Starlight Shores. He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Destiny Farmer-Atwood, three daughters, Bree and Bianca Atwood, and yours truly. By the friends and colleagues too numerous to mention. You will be sorely missed, Daddy. We all love you beyond words. Our lives will never be the same without you in them.”
The family watched as his casket was lowered into the ground. Bella gave the flowers to her mother, who was now sitting and watching every second of the ceremony. She was expressionless, having worn out most of her emotion already. When he was finally laid to rest, the family arose and headed to City Hall where the mayor had planned a gathering for the family, friends and the community at large in celebration of Arthur’s life.
“Mama, do you need anything? I’m going to the store.” Bella called out to her mother, who was housebound and not doing very well.
“No, sweetheart, I’m okay.” Destiny rocked in Arthur’s chair watching out the window as it snowed heavily.
“I’ll be home soon!” Bella answered and grabbed her car keys. She really hated leaving Destiny alone these days. She was getting frail and weak.
There was a SimFest at the Rodeo-Go-Go as evidenced by the crowd that was outside the building. That place is never packed, Bella thought to herself. As much as she wanted to stop and watch she needed to be quick about her business in town.
The garden, which was transplanted inside a small but effective greenhouse, was producing enough veggies and fruits to provide a good portion of their meals. Bella just needed to grab a few things for recipes she was making later that week. Lobster, roast, and hot dogs. Checking the items off her list as she went, she stepped to the counter to pay for the few items she had chosen. The clerk recognized her immediately and gave her a hefty discount. “Thank you, Cin,” she said to the clerk.
“Tell your mother I was asking about her,” Cindy replied. “And you’re welcome!”
When Bella arrived home Destiny was in the exact same place she was when Bella left. She walked up to Destiny and touched her arm. “Mama, I’m home.”
She reached up to pat Bella’s hand and smiled. “I’m sorry, honey,” Destiny said. “I’m just not myself these days.”
“It’s okay, Mama.” Bella kissed her head and went to the kitchen to put her groceries away.
Not long after Bella’s phone rang. “Hello?”
“Hey Bella, it’s your agent, Maria.”
“I know who you are, Maria. You don’t have to introduce yourself every time you call me.” Bella chuckled. She only had one agent and knew only one Maria.
“Well, let’s forget about that, shall we? I have some bad news,” Maria said. “Phil Trice, the proprietor of Verde Park, well, he passed away this morning.” She paused before continuing. “I remember you were very fond of Mr. Trice.”
“Oh no!” cried Bella. “Thank you for calling, Maria. Any word on who will replace him yet?”
“Not yet, but I expect to hear by the end of the week. You might do well to get over there and audition as soon as the new proprietor is hired, yes?”
“Of course. Thanks for the heads up.” Bella hung up the phone and sighed. Many of Destiny’s peers were meeting the Reaper in abundance these days. She shuddered to think of when Destiny would, too.
“Who was on the phone, dear?” Destiny called from the sitting room.
“Maria Best, Mama. She said Mr. Trice passed away this morning.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, Bella. I know you liked him.” Destiny said distantly, almost as if she was deep in thought.
Maria’s advice to Bella had been sound. The audition with the new proprietor at Verde Park went very well and she was invited to perform her show the following night. His name was Rogelio St John, but he asked Bella to call him Rog. She stayed at the park for about an hour after her audition was done talking with Rog and getting a feel for his view on different acts. Afterward, she had no better feel for him than she did when she first met him.
“Mama, I have some good news!” Bella called, shaking the snow off her boots at the kitchen door.
“What is it, love?” Destiny answered. She was still sitting in Arthur’s rocking chair watching the snowfall.
“I got a new show gig at the park tomorrow afternoon!” Bella blew into her hands and rubbed them together. “Woo boy, it’s cold out there!”
“You’re going to be wonderful, Bella.” Destiny tried to get up but fell back into the rocker. “Oh, my old legs don’t work well anymore. Your mama is getting old, Bella.”
“What do you mean ‘getting?’” Bella teased and stuck her tongue out at Destiny. In response Destiny gave her a raspberry, laughing like a young girl.
The show was scheduled to begin at 4pm. Bella had pulled the old easel from the garage and set it up in Destiny’s bedroom with a chair so she could sit and paint. She made some crepes for lunch and helped Destiny upstairs and settled her so she could do something besides sit and stare out of the window. Bella made sure she had everything she needed, kissed her goodbye and set the phone near her chair. “If you need me, Mama, I’m just a phone call away. I’m coming home right after my show. I’ll see you tonight!”
“Break a leg, sweet pea!” Destiny smiled and waved.
“I love you, Mama.” Bella blew her a kiss, walked downstairs to her car and drove to the park.
Rog was at his post waiting for Bella to arrive. He greeted her heartily and gave her a sturdy handshake. “I’ve heard good things about you, Miss Hill.”
“I won’t disappoint you, I promise!” Bella set her bag down and started to think about how she would set up the stage.
The lights came up, and Bella walked on from the side stage. She always had a plan should something go wrong during a trick, and it seemed that night every single trick failed. She smiled and kept going but thought to herself, I’m running out of jokes! Even more disappointing was the audience size. Granted, it was snowing like crazy but she never had a gig that was so poorly attended. Probably for the best, she thought. I’m not having my best night.
After successfully performing the last big illusion of the night, the show was over. Bella walked off stage disappointed in herself. Even so, Rog told her it was one of the best-performed acts he had seen in a while.
“Were you even watching the show, Rog?” Bella asked, totally humiliated with her performance.
“Yes, and you were brilliant! I noticed that not everything went off as planned but your recovery and continuity were spot on!” Rog was beaming at her. “In fact, I’d love for you to come back every week if your schedule is open?”
“Wow, really? I mean, I would be honored!” Bella couldn’t stop herself from smiling.
“So I take it you’re available, Miss Hill?”
“As a matter of fact, I am!” The contract had already been drafted in anticipation of her show. She was eager to sign, as it was a simple contract that outlined compensation and the terms of performance. “I need to get home,” she told Rog after the paperwork was done. “My mother is not well and she needs me.”
She waved and thanked him again and danced to her car. She pulled into the garage and skipped into the house, happier than she had been in a long time. “Mama, I’m home!” she called to Destiny. But there was no answer. “Mama?” Bella’s smile quickly faded into panic as she quickly climbed the steps to Destiny’s bedroom. And in a glance, she discovered why Destiny had not answered her. In the spot where she had been painting alongside a brush on the carpet sat a golden urn and tracks that looked like burn marks and smelled like death.
“Oh no!” Bella started to cry. “Mama, you can’t leave me now!” She fumbled for her phone and dialed it. “Bree?”
“Bella, what’s wrong?” Bree’s voice started to quiver.
“Bree, she’s… Mama’s gone.”
Not able to say more, she hung up the phone. Bella fell backward against the bedroom wall, slid down to a controlled fall and cried. After about an hour she stood, picked up the urn, hugged it to her chest and heaved. “At least you’re with Daddy now.” She set the urn back down and curled up on the floor, totally exhausted.
Up Next: Chapter Two, Generation Three