Bella put the finishing touch on the cake and swirled it around on the pedestal. “Perfect!” she congratulated herself dabbing on one last decoration. They were having a huge birthday party for Charlotte’s thirteenth birthday and for Christopher’s tenth. Carefully she covered the cake with a dome and set it on the counter. Her phone rang.
“Mrs. St John? This is Lauren from the balloon shop. You ordered some balloons for a party?”
“Yes, I did. Are they ready?”
“Yes ma’am, they are. Danny will be by later to deliver them.” Lauren confirmed the St John residence address and delivery time and they hung up the phone.
Meanwhile, at the park, Rog was entertaining the children at the Fall Festival. They both picked a pumpkin from the patch to carve for Spooky Day. Rog wanted to bring the kids into the haunted house. Charlotte was excited to go in. Chris, on the other hand, needed a little more convincing. Rog assured him that nothing in the house was real. So with Charlotte leading the way, Chris in the middle and Rog bringing up the rear, the three of them braved the haunted house. Chris loved it and wanted to go in again and again. Rog sat out while Charlotte went with him trying to scare him.
By five o’clock, the balloons had arrived and the house was decorated for a birthday party. Chris and Charlotte’s friends were waiting for the guests of honor to arrive and all of them were excited to jump out and yell “Surprise” for them. Bella unveiled the cake and set it on the island to display. She heard the gate open and knew that Rog was home. Bella had everyone hide behind furniture as she dimmed the lights. In the distance, she heard Chris talking about the haunted house, and Charlotte discussing the art of carving pumpkins, their voices grew louder as they approached the door. Rog saw that the lights were out in the house, so he stuck his key in the door pretending to unlock it and flipped the light switch. Bella and a room full of kids yelled “Surprise!” She loved to see the kids’ faces as they noticed all their friends, but the kids loved to see the stack of birthday presents waiting for them.
The party went on into the evening hours until parents arrived to bring their partygoers home for the night. The favorite gifts, however, were bicycles Rog and Bella bought for them. Full of cake, ice cream, and punch, neither of the two kids was ready to settle down for the night. All four of them sat and watched a movie on their large-screen television. Charlotte snuggled up with her father and Christopher with Bella. By the time the movie was over, the kids were sound asleep. Not wanting to disturb either of them, they covered the kids with a blanket and kissed them good night.
The next morning, the big gift was revealed. Rog and Bella sat them down after breakfast and told them the good news. “We have a surprise for you two,” Bella said, beaming with excitement.
Rog took an envelope from his briefcase and handed it to Charlotte. “What’s this?” she asked.
“Open it, silly!” Chris said, eager to find out what was contained in the envelope.
She stuck her tongue out at her brother and gingerly opened the gift. Inside were four first-class round trip tickets to France, and a hotel suite for 7 days. “Oh, Daddy!” Charlotte exclaimed. “Thank you guys so much!”
“What is it?” Chris asked. Charlotte handed him the envelope. As he read, his face lit up. “France?” he exclaimed. “How awesome is this?” He hugged Bella. “When are we going?”
“We’re leaving tomorrow morning,” she told them. “So we need to pack one bag each, okay Charli?”
“Yes, Mama!” Charlotte was so excited. “I can’t believe we get to go with you!”
Bella followed the kids upstairs to help them choose clothing for the trip. Passports had been completed months prior, so everything was ready. Rog was rather pleased with himself. He wanted to make sure they made good memories with their children.
The next morning they woke the kids early for the hour-long drive to the airport. Chris had his doll Buster with him, and Charlotte brought her laptop computer for the plane ride. Rog had given Bella a new camera and she couldn’t wait to take pictures of the family having fun together. Ironically, the in-flight movie was the one they had all seen together the evening of their birthday party so the kids slept through it. Rog and Bella talked through the seven-hour flight making plans and deciding the itinerary based upon the region they would be visiting. To Bella’s surprise, they would be in the city where the family had visited when she was Charlotte’s age and she was looking forward to seeing how everything had changed over the past 25 years.
The flight attendant woke Rog and Bella as the plane began its final approach and Bella woke the kids. Chris and Charlotte watched out the window of the airplane as it touched down and taxied into the terminal. A shuttle was waiting to bring the family to the hotel and they piled in. It was already late when they arrived and they were tired so they settled into bed and slept, wanting to start fresh the next morning.
Bella stirred, feeling Rog behind her. His light breath was on her neck and she felt his arm around her waist. She was about to snuggle up closer when Christopher came bounding into their room. “Wake up! Wake up!” he yelled loudly, bouncing on the bed.
“Okay, Chris,” Bella said. “We’re up.”
Sleepily, Rog peered through half-open eyes and observed a little light peeking through the window. “What time is it, darling?” he asked Bella, and then yawned.
She looked at her watch. “It’s 6:30, baby.”
Rog sighed. “Go back to sleep, Chris. It’s too early.”
“But Daddy!” he protested.
“I said no, Chris. Not yet.” Rog scooted his other arm around Bella and pulled her close. Her hair smelled like green apples.
“Ohhh-kayyy.” Chris turned around and closed the bedroom door padding softly back to the kids’ room. The suite was a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom with a small kitchenette area and a balcony with a small bistro table with 4 chairs. Rog chuckled when he heard Chris waking his sister in a similar fashion in the next bedroom.
“Now, where were we?” Rog cooed as he kissed Bella’s neck.
“Oooh, right there,” Bella purred.
Two hours later, Rog and Bella appeared in the kitchen. Charlotte helped Chris get breakfast and had more than enough leftovers. Chris had spotted a chess table in the lobby of the hotel, and he challenged Charlotte to a game. So with Bella’s permission, the two young ones headed downstairs to play.
“What do you want to do today, darling?” Rog walked up behind Bella and wrapped his arms around her.
“Don’t you think we should have breakfast first, love?” She teased.
“Mmm,” he replied. “I’ve already had dessert.” She turned around and swatted him.
“Be good, Rog! The kids are with us this time.” She finished fixing plates of croissants and preserves with two steaming cups of coffee and brought them outside to the balcony. “I think this is prettier than the last time I was here.” She breathed in the vapors of steam from her mug and exhaled. The land was flat with just a few small rolling hills way off in the distance. The area was rural with vineyards as far as the eye could see. On the top of a small mesa to the west sat a mansion that had been converted to an art museum. Behind that, tucked into a sea of unending grapevines was the nectary. She and Bree hadn’t gotten the chance to visit it last time and it was definitely a place of interest for her on this trip.
“So, back to my first question,” Rog said, smiling at her. “What would you like to do today?”
“I think Charli expressed an interest in exploring a couple of old catacombs. I know you love that sort of thing.” Rog nodded, taking a bite of croissant.
“Sounds good, but I’m not sure Chris has the spine for the catacombs,” Rog remembered the mummy that nearly fell out of its coffin on the trip to China. Chris was a smart young man, but what he had in smarts he lacked in courage. An event like that would likely scare Chris badly.
“How about I stay behind and be with Chris today. Take Charlotte and have some time with her, just the two of you.”
“Are you sure? This is supposed to be a family vacation.” Rog looked disappointed.
“Yes, I’m sure. Chris and I will have fun at the pool.”
Rog bit his lip. “Bikini?”
“You know it.”
“Aww, man!” Rog picked up his breakfast dishes and set them in the kitchen sink. “Shower time, make mine cold.” Bella chuckled and rolled her eyes. After all this time together, he was still insatiable.
Rog dressed and met up with Charlotte. Bella packed some granola bars, wet wipes, bug spray and water for them in his day pack. “Come on, kiddo,” he told Charlotte. “It’s just you and me today.”
Her blue eyes widened. “Where are we going?”
“To the catacombs, if that’s okay with you.” Rog clipped his day pack around his waist and handed Charlotte a bottle of water.
She beamed with excitement. “Oh Daddy!” she cried. “I can’t wait!”
Rog and Charlotte had a lot of fun exploring the catacombs but didn’t find anything remarkable on that trip. A few old coins here and there but nothing like the ivory cat Bella had found in China. Bella and Chris spent most of the day at the pool and by the time Rog and Charlotte returned to the hotel Chris was shriveled like a raisin. Everyone got cleaned up and went to the hotel restaurant for dinner that night.
“What’s on the agenda for tomorrow, my loves?” asked Bella during dessert.
“How about the nectary?” Rog suggested. “I know you’ve been wanting to go and get some good nectar right from the source.”
Chris wrinkled his nose. “Boring,” he stated and went back to coloring his placemat.
“What would you like to do, then?” Rog asked him.
“I wanted to go to the catacombs today with you and Charli.” Rog felt bad immediately.
“We didn’t think you’d like that, honey,” Bella replied. “It can get scary in those dark hallways.”
“Mama, I’m not a coward,” he said. “Can I still go, Daddy? Please?”
“Okay, Chris,” Rog answered. “If we have time for another day of exploring you and your Mama can come with us.” That made the young boy smile. Bella, on the other hand, not so much.
The next morning, they awoke to a rooster crowing on the neighboring farm. Chris had never heard such a thing, and Charlotte had only seen pictures of roosters in books. So the children had to go check out the odd-looking bird with the built-in alarm clock.
Bella made crepes for breakfast and dished out two servings, one for her, and one for Rog. He made a fresh pot of coffee and poured them each a mug and together they retreated to the balcony. The air was refreshing and cool and dew covered the grass.
“I don’t know why these taste better than usual,” Bella remarked. “I made them the same way I do at home.”
“It’s France, darling,” Rog replied. “Everything tastes better here.” He winked at her and blew a kiss.
Bella blushed. The kids came through the door seconds later putting the halt on their suggestive exchange.
“Smells great, Mama!” quipped Chris, who grabbed a plate and joined them on the balcony.
“Wait until you taste them,” Rog said winking once more at Bella. Looking around he asked Chris, “Where is Charli?”
“In the shower,” Chris answered, stuffing his face with crepes. “You’re right Dad, these are awesome!”
Charlotte appeared in the kitchen, her hair wrapped in a towel. She grabbed breakfast and joined Bella, Chris, and Rog at the table. “What are we doing today?”
“Your Mama wants to see the nectary today, but tomorrow we will visit a different catacomb since your brother wants to go.” Rog finished the last sip of coffee and gathered dirty dishes.
Charlotte nodded. Chris took a break from eating and gave Rog two thumbs up. Bella and Rog both cleaned the kitchenette, not wanting to leave their mess for housekeeping to do, then got dressed. Chris cleaned his own dishes and played with Buster, the doll Jen had given him as an infant.
The family walked together to the transportation hub where they would catch a bus to the nectary. Bella couldn’t wait as she had developed a taste for fine French nectar. This would be the one place on their trip she wouldn’t forget. Nestled into a small hilly parcel of land surrounded by green pastureland and grapevines, the nectary sat well off the beaten path. Upon exiting the bus, the sounds of nature filled the air. Frogs croaked from the creek that ran behind the property. Native birds chirped happily as they fluttered around looking for their morning meal.
The first thing Bella did was head to the cellar where they had nectar samples. Rog, on the other hand, was more interested in the process and brought the children through a guided tour of the vineyard and production center of the nectary. Chris was fascinated with the grape stomping part of the demonstration and wanted to volunteer. Even though she was 13, Charlotte got to sample a bit of nectar but wrinkled her nose in disgust and spat it out. After the tour, the family joined Bella in the cellar.
That evening, the family dined at a five-star restaurant just on the outskirts of the village where they stayed. They made plans to visit the catacombs the next day as a family. On their way back to the hotel Bella stopped in and restocked her exploring supplies, grabbing granola bars, water, and bandages just in case. Chris, while a brilliant child, tended to be a bit clumsy. He was a walking, talking accident waiting to happen.
Much to their surprise, Chris loved exploring the catacombs and actually was brave enough to stick his hand into a hole to look for a trigger, despite the bugs and creepy crawlies in the tunnels. His bravery was rewarded with the discovery of a statue hiding in the hole. Though the statue was small, it was intricately detailed and in decent condition. Bella stashed it into her pack and kept it safe. The statue was the only significant find in the tunnels, and Chris was especially proud of himself.
The next day was rainy and the weather sidelined their plans to fish and camp, so they spent the day inside playing games and telling stories by the fireplace. The rain made the temperature a bit chilly, so the fireplace was kept stocked and burning for most of the day into the evening. After dinner, Rog and Bella opened up a bottle of nectar she had purchased at the nectary and curled up by the fire. The children were sleepy and went to bed early.
“Are you having fun, darling?” Rog asked, sipping his glass of nectar. They were sitting on the floor on a plush rug, her feet on his lap.
“I am, baby.” She moved her feet and shifted position so that her head was in his lap. Rog stroked her hair and they sat like that for a long time just enjoying each other.
“Hey, you still have that bikini?” Rog asked as he rubbed her back.
“You know I do, silly man.” Bella snickered. “Want to go swimming?”
“It’s too cold for that,” he replied.
“Oh, but I know how to warm you up,” she said, flirting wildly with him.
“How about we just skip the cold and go right to the warm?” He suggested.
“Do I still have to wear the bikini?”
“Nope!” She stood up and he got behind her. Gently offering his arm for her, she took it, and he led her up to their suite.
The last day of vacation was quickly upon them and they had planned to spend the day at the hotel’s pool. Bella woke early and decided to go for a jog. She hadn’t been out running in a long time so she didn’t expect to be out for long. But she covered some distance and watched the sunrise to the east. Taking a sip from her water bottle, she stretched and headed back to the hotel.
No one was awake when she came back into the room so she slipped into the shower and freshened up. She never felt more alive than she did after a run and she was surprised at how long she was able to jog. The shower only helped her to feel more invigorated and she was exceedingly joyful as she prepared their last breakfast in France. The aroma of coffee woke Rog and when he reached for Bella, her spot was bare. Sleepily, he donned his robe and stumbled out into the kitchen. He gazed at Bella, puttering in the kitchen, and smiled at her. The love he felt for the woman making breakfast was immeasurable.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” Bella said, spotting Rog standing in the doorway.
“How is the most beautiful woman alive?” Rog walked to her and kissed her.
“I don’t know, you’d have to find her and ask!” Bella teased. She ran her fingers through his hair and kissed his nose. “You’re no slouch yourself, you know.”
“Nah,” he replied. “I’m just me.” He kissed her hand. “And just me loves all of you.”
She melted at the sweet compliments, and her heart was full. “I love you too, so very much.” She hugged him. “Thank you, baby, for this wonderful trip. I only wish we didn’t have to leave tomorrow morning.”
“Me too.” The door creaked and Chris walked through the bedroom door and into the kitchen.
“Really?” he said, catching them in a hug. Making a gagging noise, he added, “It’s too early Dad, have some decency!” Bella burst out laughing.
“It’s never too early to tell your mother how much I love her.” He shuffled off to where Chris was standing and picked him up. “It’s never too early to hang you upside down, either!” Chris began to giggle. Bella decided to get in on the fun and tickled his belly while he was helpless.
“Uncle! Uncle!” Chris squealed, laughing.
“Oh, okay,” Rog pouted. “It was just getting fun!”
The bedroom door opened again and this time a very sleepy Charlotte walked through it. “What are you DOING out here?” she asked, clearly annoyed.
“Oh, we were just tickle torturing your brother,” Bella replied. “Do you want to be next?”
“Oh no, no no no no!” Charlotte answered, backing away as she tried to escape Rog’s grasp. But he was too quick for her. He held her hands behind her back and offered the young girl for Bella to tickle.
“Nah, I think I’ll spare this one,” Bella said, carefully perusing the situation. “You can let her go… for now!” She winked at Rog, who released his grasp on Charlotte’s hands. By this time, she was giggling, and fully awake.
“It works better than coffee every time it’s tried,” Rog mused. Bella nodded, both children were laughing and happy.
“Who is ready for breakfast?” Bella asked, and all three hands shot up in the air. She served homemade crepes again as she had done on their second morning and once again they tasted better than they had at home.
After breakfast, they all got into their swimsuits, grabbed towels from the room and headed to the pool. It was their last chance to relax before their long flight the following day. Though the morning air was chilly it took no time at all to warm up to a comfortable swimming temperature. Bella jumped in first with Chris and Charlotte right behind her. They splashed around, did hold-your-breath contests, and goofed around in the pool together. Rog, who had picked up a few more books at the store in town sat in a lounge chair reading. It was the first chance he’d had to read in days, and he was loving the downtime.
When everyone was done at the pool, they walked to the village center which turned out to be just a few blocks from the hotel and got dinner at the little café. Chris and Charlotte were each allowed to pick out one item from the shops to bring home as a souvenir and Rog got a book to read on the plane. With their goodies in hand, they strolled back to the hotel, discussing the trip, reliving memories, but looking forward to returning home and sleeping in their own beds.
The next morning, Bella woke the children early and helped them pack the rest of their bags. Each of them showered and gathered their belongings to bring home. After the kids were settled and having croissants, she woke Rog.
“I know it’s early, baby, but we have a flight to catch.” She kissed his cheek and set a cup of coffee on the nightstand.
“You know, you are way too perky for this hour of the morning.” He reached up, grabbed her wrist and gently pulled her on top of him.
“You have time for a shower,” she mused. “Lucky for you, the kids used all the hot water.”
Rog chuckled, “That’s not a bad thing.”
“It’s a long flight, baby. There will be time for us when we get home.”
“But there’s something about the atmosphere here, though. You just look crazy beautiful, and you know I can’t—”
She laughed. “Oh, I know, believe me!” She blew a kiss and left the room.
Rog finished his shower, pulled their suitcase from the bedroom and set it outside their door for the bellhop to retrieve. Charlotte and Chris did the same and Bella called for the bags to be picked up. They had 15 minutes before the shuttle arrived to bring them to the airport, so Bella gathered everyone on the balcony, set up her camera on a timer and took a family picture of them with the green countryside in the background. The phone rang in the room and it was the front desk.
“Your shuttle has arrived, Mr. St John,” the voice on the other end announced.
“Thank you, we will be right down,” Rog answered and hung up the phone.
Everyone got into the shuttle and settled down for the ride to the airport. The mood was somber and though they were looking forward to going home, none of them wished to actually leave.
“Mama, Daddy, thank you so much for this,” Charlotte said. “I’ll never forget this week. Ever.”
“Me too,” Chris chimed in. “This was the most awesome week of my life!”
Rog, who was sitting in the middle of the two kids hugged them both close. “You are most welcome. We both love you so much.”
Not much more was said on the rest of the ride to the airport, or on the plane. The kids entertained themselves with their phones and Bella and Rog sat together, holding hands and just being in love. Although they had the children with them, it was a fabulous vacation for them.
Hours later, the plane was on its final descent into the airport in Starlight Shores. The city looked so small from the air and Bella could hardly believe they were home so quickly. As the plane taxied into the terminal Rog and Bella gathered items from the kids and put them away. In the baggage claim area, a driver had already retrieved their bags and waited to take them back home.
“Thank you, baby,” Bella whispered to Rog as the limo pulled up in front of their home.
“No, thank you,” Rog answered. “For everything.”
Up Next: Chapter Twelve, Generation Three
Pose Credit (Featured Image)
Poses By Bee – Family Pose Set Six