Rog hung up the phone and smiled. “I’ll be right back,” he told his co-worker as he grabbed his car keys and walked toward the door. He drove to the travel agency and picked up the itinerary and plane tickets for the vacation of a lifetime. He was so excited to surprise Bella with the trip they so desperately needed together. They would be spending a week in China on a second honeymoon without the children.
He made arrangements for Shana to care for the kids and for the regular sitter to come when Shana needed a break. Charlotte could have gone with them but he didn’t want to take her from school on a trip that she would probably not even enjoy. Besides, he thought, we really need this time alone. When he returned to work a trauma had just come in and he would be home late from work. Knowing Bella would worry he asked his assistant to call her so she would know he would be late.
Several hours later Rog left work worn out and dirty. The tickets for the trip sat in his briefcase and he was itching to surprise Bella with them. They would leave in just a month which gave them plenty of time to prepare. The gate opened as he arrived home and he pulled the car into the garage. The house was busy with the bustle of homework and dinner and he stopped before he opened the door. He smoothed his hair out, slipped off his dirty coat, and casually strolled through the back door.
“Honey, I’m home!” he yelled. Inside the aroma of fresh spaghetti sauce permeated the air and the sound of happy children surrounded him. Bella, who had been putting laundry away, padded softly down the steps carrying an empty basket. She saw him, dropped the basket and ran to him.
“Hey baby,” she said as she threw her arms around his neck. “I missed you.” She gave him a peck on the cheek. “How was work? Jeff said you had an emergency come in at the end of your shift.”
“It was rough darling, I won’t lie.” He slid his shoes off and set them by the back door. He leaned close to her and whispered in her ear, “I have a big surprise for you!”
She backed away for a second to read his face. “Wait, again? We just—”
Rog laughed and stopped her. “No, it’s not that. Something bigger. Better.”
“Well, when do I get to see it?” Bella’s curiosity was piqued.
“Soon. Maybe after dinner.” He wasn’t sure he could really wait that much longer to tell her. The suspense was killing him.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Okay. Are you sure it’s not that?” She winked at him.
The family sat down for a meal together as they did every night when Rog returned home from work. Charlotte excitedly chattered about school and asked Rog for help with her homework after dinner. Chris just sat in his high chair, babbling about nothing and making a mess with his food, as he did every night. Bella couldn’t help but wonder what Rog had in mind for her but she was eagerly waiting for the surprise to come.
After dinner, Rog helped Charlotte with her homework and Bella helped Shana clean up the kitchen. Shana was more family than just an employee and often shared the evening meal with them. She took the baby upstairs for a bath and Rog tucked him in and read him a story. Bella helped Charlotte with a bath and tucked her into bed. Rog had managed to slip out of the kids’ room unnoticed and Bella felt a flutter of excitement.
“Charli, Chris, time for night-night,” Bella told them. “I love you both.” She blew them kisses and turned out the light, closing the door behind her. She tiptoed downstairs where she heard Rog and Shana talking about his trauma case. When he saw her his smile brightened.
“Shana, would you excuse us?” He asked her politely.
“Of course, Mr. Rog.” Shana bowed before him and said goodnight to Bella.
Without saying a word he got up from the sofa and went to the kitchen. He got the oldest bottle of nectar in their collection and popped it open. The fire was already roaring in the hearth and she settled down in her usual spot, almost breathless in anticipation. Rog returned with two glasses of wine, a platter of strawberries, and an envelope in his breast pocket.
“I’m sorry to tease you with this, darling. It’s been killing me all day,” Rog began. “But first I want to toast to us.” He took his glass and raised it up. Bella did the same and they clinked softly together. “To the love of my life. The woman I couldn’t imagine doing life without.” Bella smiled, her violet eyes sparkled in the firelight.
Gently, Rog pulled the envelope from his pocket. “Bella, my love, I know how difficult life has been for you since we’ve been together and we’ve had rough patches of our own.” He took a sip of wine. “I don’t want to open old hurts but to heal them once and for all time.” He handed her the envelope.
Tilting her head to one side, she glanced at him. His excitement was contagious and she giggled like a schoolgirl in love for the first time. She slid her finger under the flap of the envelope and it opened easily. Inside were two first-class airline tickets and a 7-day luxury hotel stay in China. At first, she couldn’t believe it and sat holding the papers in her hand, her mouth hanging agape.
“Rog, are we really?” She couldn’t finish the sentence. She had always wanted to travel abroad to see some of the world outside of Starlight Shores. And now she held the documents that would make her dreams come true.
“We are!” He set his wine glass down and reached for her hand. “We’re going to China! Just the two of us. It will be our second honeymoon.”
Bella hadn’t been this deliriously happy in a long time. All of the drama of the past ten years and every moment of it saw Rog at her side, supporting her. And now he surprised her with a gift so amazing, she could barely speak. Staring at the papers she began to think of all that needed to be arranged when he interrupted her thought.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “and I have it totally covered.” He caressed her cheek tenderly. “Shana will watch the kids, and Corrie is on call when she needs a break. I have more vacation days than this will use so that is covered.”
Wow, she thought. He took care of it all. Once more she stared at the papers she held in her hand and wept tears of joy. “When do we leave?”
“In a month so we have time for passports and to prepare the kids.” Rog gently wiped the tears from her face. “I want to make you as happy as you have made me.”
“Oh, baby, you have done that but I don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate you!” Suddenly she stood and took his hand. “Let’s go,” she said.
“And where are we going?” Rog teased.
“You’re taking me to China, so tonight I’m taking you to heaven.” She turned and walked, still holding his hand. He followed her closely up the stairs into their bedroom and closed the door behind him.
It was a long flight but they were on the final approach to the Chinese airport. Rog had been napping. Bella took the window seat and watched the lights in the city and the sun as it rose on a brand new day. She gently nudged him and he roused in time to watch the breach of the sun on the horizon. The plane touched down as if it had been flying on a cloud and they taxied into the terminal fairly quickly.
A limousine brought them from the airport to their hotel. Bella and Rog exited the limo and smelled the air, fresh and clean. The hotel was in a rural area about a mile or two from the bustling city. But it fit Rog’s requirements for a hotel. It had to be romantic, quiet, and luxurious. The travel agent certainly chose the right place when she made the reservations. The village was breathtakingly beautiful. The driver retrieved their bags from the trunk and brought them to the lobby.
Bella couldn’t help but gawk at the rolling hills of the countryside where green was all she could see. Off in the distance to the east was the martial arts academy, for which this area was famous. She couldn’t wait to visit and learn the basics from the master. To the south was an old tomb the locals called the Dragon’s Maw. Many tourists loved to visit and explore it and that was on Rog’s list of things to do. And all around were lakes and rivers that held an abundance of local fish and wildlife and the hills were dotted with campgrounds. In the village square was a small market with a bookstore, cafe, general store, and a small but substantial art museum.
It was nine o’clock local time when they checked into their hotel room, which was ready surprisingly early. The room was comfortable and well-appointed with expensive furniture, fixtures, and rich linens. The bathroom had a spa tub with massage jets, and a self-flushing, self-cleaning toilet. They were supplied with every toiletry they would ever need with complimentary replenishment on demand if needed. The hotel even supplied thick, soft bathrobes and in-room spa services should they desire them. It was much nicer than the resort at which they spent their short honeymoon. Bella allowed herself to fall backward onto the bed and sunk into it as though it was made of marshmallow. A memory foam mattress! She relaxed and let the bed conform to her body and nearly fell asleep.
“This is heavenly,” she remarked to Rog. “You have to try this bed!” She patted the space next to her and he gently laid down.
“Oh, wow,” he replied. “It feels like nothing underneath me at all!”
Suddenly feeling the effects of jet lag but not wanting to waste a moment of time, she stood up and shook off the sleepy feeling. “If I don’t move, I’ll sleep all day.” She thought for a moment and spoke. “Since we’ve traveled for the past day, why don’t we just spend the day at the pool? I brought your favorite bikini.” She winked at him and grinned.
Rog’s eyes widened at the thought. “Bikini, eh?” He got up and opened his suitcase. “Here’s my swim trunks. The pool is a fantastic idea.” They both changed and grabbed two fluffy towels from the room and went to the pool.
The water was maintained at a comfortable but refreshing temperature. Bella jumped in to get wet then set her towel down on the pool deck to sunbathe. Rog set his towel beside hers and pulled out a book to read that he’d borrowed from the bookcase in the room. The sun was warm and the breeze kept the air temperature just perfect for swimming and sunning. After an hour a waitress came around taking orders for drinks from the bar. Bella ordered the house special drink and Rog ordered a glass of wine.
At one o’clock, the waitress came around again to bring food, complimentary snacks, egg rolls, dumplings, and other finger foods from the on-site restaurant. They realized they hadn’t eaten since the flight and Bella was hungry. Rog took a small sample of everything they offered, as did Bella, and they grabbed a table with an umbrella. Everything they ate was amazingly delicious. Chinese food at home was never this good.
“What would you like to do tomorrow, my darling?” Rog asked her in between bites of egg roll and sips of wine.
“Well, we could do what you want to do first.” She took a bite of shrimp dumpling, which almost melted in her mouth. “How about that Dragon’s Maw tomb you want to see?”
Rog smiled. “That is on my bucket list. I’ve heard the tombs here have been abandoned for thousands of years and I know that one is popular. Let’s do it!”
The sun set quickly and the air got chilly but not cold. Bella grabbed a sweater and they sat out by the pool watching the stars. It seemed there were billions of them out in the country, something they could never see in the city with all the lights. An hour later, Bella was fighting sleep. After all, they had come several time zones and slept poorly on the flight. So she and Rog headed for their room and slept until the morning sunlight poked through the window.
Bella woke first, and she showered and got dressed. By the time she was done in the shower, Rog was awake and had ordered breakfast from room service. They sat on the patio of their room and listened to the birds chirping, and watched squirrels playing, the grass glistening with dew. She poured them both a cup of coffee, and they ate like they hadn’t eaten in a month. The flowers that arrived on the cart were placed on the patio table. Bella cleaned up dishes and left the trays back on the cart for housekeeping. Rog laid a $20 tip on the cart as they cleaned up.
“Are you ready to go exploring, baby?” Bella asked as she placed the necessary items into her day pack. She had her wallet, phone and a few personal items like bug spray, wet wipes, and some candy bars.
“You bet!” Rog took her hand and they began walking to the transportation line that would take them to the tomb.
The Dragon’s Maw was full of rooms and places to explore, but Bella found a secret door that no one had found before. Searching for a way to open it, Rog found a trigger that magically caused the door to swing open. He grabbed a torch from the ground and lit it. They both cautiously entered the room. Inside coffins stood on end against the wall. The room had obviously been closed for centuries as the dust was thick on every surface. As she held her torch to the first coffin she noticed a small pile of debris that needed to be removed. Rog found sconces on the wall and lit one near the first coffin so he could see to begin the clearing process. Bella was really unsure about actually opening it, but Rog wanted to see what was inside. Against her better judgment, she helped him clear around the coffin.
As he moved the last boulder that blocked the door, Rog sat down, obviously winded. “Whew,” he said. “Either that was hard work, or I’m getting older.”
Bella smiled impishly at him. “Yes on both counts!” she replied and stuck her tongue out at him. This was the woman he fell in love with almost 9 years ago.
“Okay, you’re right… again,” Rog laughed as he got up from the floor. “Time to see what’s inside this thing.” He approached the coffin and with his bare hands pried the door open. His shoulders slumped and he sighed, the chamber was empty. “Well, that was a waste of time and effort.”
Bella got up the nerve to look inside and waved the torch to get a better look. “What about this?” she asked as she picked up a small artifact. It looked like a carved ivory cat sculpture small enough to hold in one hand.
“How did I miss that?” Rog asked. “It’s magnificent!” He took the cat from Bella, who held it out for him, and inspected it. “I don’t think anyone will miss it if we bring it home,” he said as he slipped it into his pack.
“No, I don’t suppose they will,” Bella agreed. The coffin to the right was not blocked by any debris at all. “How about this one, Rog?”
He studied the coffin carefully. The fact that it was not blocked was unsettling, yet his curiosity was quickly winning out. “I’m not so sure about this one.”
“Do you think it’s a trap?” Bella backed away cautiously.
“Nah, I don’t think there’s anything like that here.” Rog moved closer to it. “It just makes me wonder why the other three are hindered but this one stands free.” Grabbing the door of the coffin, he gave it a tug. The door swung wide open and a mummified body fell forward. His reaction was swift as Rog closed the door, trapping the corpse inside. His heart pounding, he said, “Well, that answers that question.”
“The others must have the treasures in them. That’s why they are blocked” Bella observed.
Bella’s instinct was correct. The other coffins held treasure and small artifacts. Rog found some ancient coins in one of the coffins and slid them into his pocket. Maybe someone in town would be willing to trade them, he thought. Most of the items they found, however, were broken. Rog was satisfied with the progress he made and he was proud of Bella. When they were finished, they were both sticky and sweaty and ready to leave. A warm bath and dinner awaited them.
The next day, Bella chose the martial arts academy as their destination. The academy sat back off the beaten path in the hills and it was a hike to get there. They both signed up for the basic beginner classes and learned enough to continue studying when they returned home. Bella purchased a training dummy from the academy to be shipped back home and the books for Rog since he loved to read.
When they were tired from training, they went to the hot springs that were on the property.
“What do you think, darling?” Rog asked her.
“I don’t have my bikini with me,” she laughed. But Rog looked around.
“There is no one here but us,” he said and smiled slyly at her. “You wanna skinny dip?”
Bella giggled madly. “Oh, why not!”
After soaking for awhile, they got dressed and went back into town for a light dinner and relaxing by the pool, gazing at the skies filled to overflowing with stars.
The next morning they had planned on going to a campsite and spending the night there, giving up their fancy, posh room in favor of reconnecting with nature. Bella packed a smaller bag with a change of clothes and their bathing suits, and what they didn’t have on hand, they got at the village center before they set out for the campgrounds.
The camp was in the foothills of a long, tall mountain range, with a choice of three different lakes. The grounds themselves were basic, furnished with just a two-man tent, a fire pit, a few chairs and a small restroom that sat in the woods about 100 yards away from the tent site. Bella placed her supplies in the tent and found fishing poles stashed behind the building in a small closet. Rog carried the poles and Bella carried a small blanket. They set out for a day of fishing, and she sincerely hoped they would catch something, or it would be a hungry night!
Rog was not really a fisherman but he did find some plants with edible fruit that grew wild around the lake. He spent a good amount of time gathering what he thought they would need in case Bella couldn’t catch enough for dinner. However, she was catching more than they could probably eat in 3 days. She cleaned her catch and prepped them for dinner, and together with the vegetables Rog had found, they had a feast.
After dinner they sat around the fire, staying warm on a cool night. Bella and Rog moved to the grass and stared at the stars which seemed even more numerous with none of the village lights around them. With just the two of them and a campfire, they chatted about their dreams for both them and their children. They cuddled for a long time, pointing at stars and laughing like kids.
Rog woke up first, and went through the fruits he had gathered the day before, and prepared what he could for a quick, light breakfast. Bella emerged from the tent, her hair sticking up, sleep in her eyes, but smiling. She watched as he sliced the fruit and arranged it on skewers that she had purchased in town. “Good morning, sunshine!” she said and startled him.
“I thought you were still asleep!” he said as he bent over to retrieve a skewer he had dropped. “Good morning, darling.”
“What a lovely breakfast!” she told him. “Did you gather all that yesterday?”
He nodded. “I thought fruit would be better than fish.”
They both laughed as they sat and ate. “I miss my coffee,” Bella stated. “I don’t feel right without my morning cuppa.”
“Well, we’ll be back at the hotel in a little while,” Rog answered. “I’ll make you a cup when we get there.”
“How can I say no to that?” Bella smiled. As much as she enjoyed being in nature, she missed the comforts of civilization.
They tidied the campsite, returned everything they used back to its rightful place, and left it cleaner than they found it. Bella packed up their personal items into her day pack, and they walked to the transportation line hand in hand. The day was going to be a rest day at the pool and Bella was excited to just lounge and work on her tan. Rog had purchased a few new books in town and couldn’t wait to start them.
The day before they were due to return home, Bella was melancholy. Though she loved being on vacation, and though they were enjoying their time together, she missed the children. Rog noticed that she didn’t seem herself and decided to surprise her. She was just coming from the shower as Rog finished up a phone call.
“Who was that on the phone, love?” Bella inquired.
“Oh, just asking for a few more towels.” Rog was beaming.
“Okay, what are you up to?” She put her hands on her hips, feigning annoyance. Rog chuckled at her.
“You’ll see soon enough.”
Twenty minutes later came a knock on the door. “Are you going to get that?” he asked.
She smiled. “What did you do, Rogelio?” She seldom used his whole name, but she couldn’t help herself. She walked to the door and opened it.
“Massage service for a…” the masseur was reading the note from the order, “Miss Bella?”
Bella’s smile widened. “Oh Rog, thank you!” She hugged him and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“I’ll be down by the pool, darling. Enjoy your massage!” Rog grabbed a book and a towel and left her to be pampered.
Finally, it was departure day and they sat in a cafe having breakfast while reflecting on their vacation and their time together. Since they had some time before their flight they spent some time in the village shopping and picking up some things for the kids. To her surprise, she found a Destiny Hill CD at one of the shops. She even considered buying it to have as a souvenir of the trip but thought the better of it. Rog spent some time perusing the bookstore one last time and picked up two last novels to read, one he was sure he’d finish on the way home. They had a long, tiring flight ahead of them.
A limousine picked them up at the hotel and delivered them to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The flight back to Starlight Shores was relatively empty so they had most of the first-class section to themselves. Bella once again had the window seat and she wiped away a tear as the plane took off away from the sun that was setting. It sure was the adventure of a lifetime, she thought as she watched the lights below her getting smaller and smaller. After they were in flight she and Rog snuggled together and slept most of the way home.
Up Next: Chapter Ten, Generation Three