Early on Monday morning, Bella’s alarm clock sounded. Five o’clock. She groaned and pulled herself from bed. First on the agenda was making a fresh, hot breakfast for her children. Rog had the day off, but he had been on call the previous night and spent most of his night working on a trauma case and eight hours in emergency surgery. She would let him sleep.
“Coffee,” she muttered under her breath. She ground fresh beans and made a pot, extra strong. Cracked eggs, flour, sugar. Her special ingredient that made her crepes special. “Everything is ready to go, time to wake the children,” she said to herself, grabbing a mug of coffee on the way up.
Charlotte was already awake, playing on the computer. “Charli, shower time, honey,” Bella told her. The young girl put Riley down and got up from her chair at the desk.
Bella went to Chris’s bed and watched him sleep for one more minute. This was such a big day for him; his first day of kindergarten. She knelt down beside his bed and watched his breathing. Slow and steady. She hated to wake him. “Chris, sweetie, wake up.” She gently kissed his cheek and smoothed his hair.
The boy stirred momentarily and rolled over. She knew it would be hard to get him up for school. Again, she touched his cheek and pulled his covers back slightly. “Chris, time to get up, honey.”
“Go away,” was his sleepy answer. Bella chuckled. “I mean it Charli. Go away.”
“It’s your mama, honey. Time to get up for school.” Bella stood. Her watch chimed. Six o’clock.
Chris rolled back over and sat up. “I don’t wanna get up,” he protested.
“I know, baby boy, but I know you want to go to school.” She smoothed his hair. He went to bed with it wet the night before, and it stuck up every which way. It was hilarious, and she smiled. “You don’t have to get dressed yet, just come down for breakfast, okay?”
“Yes, Mama.” He grabbed Buster by the hand, and dragged the poor doll all the way down the steps, yawning as he walked. She sat him at the counter and poured a glass of milk for him.
“It’s almost ready, I just need to cook the crepes.” She sang her favorite song as she cooked. The coffee was doing its job.
Charlotte’s gentle footsteps made their way downstairs. “Smells good, Mama.”
“Cherry or banana filling, Charlotte?” Bella was finishing up the crepes and had both fillings prepped and warm.
“Banana, please.” Charli sat next to Chris at the counter. Bella gave her a glass of orange juice.
“Cherry,” said Chris, preoccupied with Buster.
Bella served breakfast to the kids and grabbed a plate for herself. Together, they ate and talked about the upcoming day. Charli would be starting 3rd grade.
After breakfast, she allowed Chris to play for a few minutes while she cleaned up breakfast dishes. Charlotte was playing with Riley, singing softly to her. Bella loved hearing her daughter sing, for she had inherited Destiny’s angelic voice.
“Okay, Chris,” Bella said. “Time to get dressed, baby boy.” She took his hand and brought him upstairs. Together, they picked out clothes for him, and she helped him pack the little backpack that Rog had bought for him.
“Can I bring Buster, Mama?” Chris was trying to stuff the doll into the backpack. “He wants to learn, too.”
“Not today, sweetie. Let Buster stay home and keep Mama company, okay?”
Chris nodded. “That’s a good idea!” Happy with her answer, he put his shoes on and showed his mother he knew how to tie them. It was chilly, but the temperature was expected to warm up a little, so she put a tiny jean jacket on him.
“You can take this off if you get warm, but don’t leave it at school, okay?” She tugged on the hem, and saw that it was starting to get snug already. “You’re growing like a weed,” she said. “Come here and hug your mama.”
He walked to her as she knelt down to his level. Arms wide open, she enveloped him and covered him in kisses. “Yuck, Mama,” he proclaimed, wiping her kisses off his cheeks.
“Sorry,” she answered. “It’s not every day my baby goes to school for the first time.” Her watch chimed. Eight o’clock. “Come on, the bus will be here any minute.” She took his hand and his backpack and walked him downstairs. “Come, Charli, let’s go wait for the bus outside.”
The three of them walked together to the gate at the end of the driveway. Even though she and Rog had been out of the spotlight for years, the Paparazzi was still relentless. The gated property was essential to protect her children, and she didn’t want them outside the fence unsupervised. Two minutes later, the bus arrived, and the doors opened. Bella hugged Charlotte and kissed her forehead. “Have a great day, honey.” She handed her the backpack that Charli had packed the night before with new pencils, crayons, and notebooks. Then she turned to Christopher, who looked at the bus with great trepidation. “It’s okay, Chris, this will take you to school, with Charli.” Charlotte stood at the top of the steps, waving to him.
Chris began to cry. “I don’t want to!” She hugged him and dried his tears.
“You’ll be okay, and I’m going to be right here waiting for you to come home.” She gave him the backpack, while Charlotte held her hand out to him inside the bus. He cautiously climbed the steps and took her hand. Looking back with tears in his eyes, he waved. Bella wiped tears from her own and waved as the door closed.
“Come on, Chris,” Charlotte nudged her brother. “Don’t be a scaredy-cat.” Rog watched with interest, to see if he could be persuaded.
“Dad,” he whined. “I don’t want to go.” The haunted house looked creepy, and Chris wanted no part of it.
“It’s okay, Chris,” Rog said, attempting to comfort the young boy. “Nothing in that house is real, and it can’t hurt you.”
“Really?” He sidled up to Rog and tucked himself under his arm.
“Would your Daddy lie to you, Chris?”
“No, sir.” Chris looked at Charli. “No funny business if I go in, you promise?”
“Yes, you big baby,” Charli answered. Rog frowned at her.
The three of them held hands, and Chris tucked safely in the middle of Charli and Rog, they entered the house.
“Nothing is real, nothing is real,” Chris repeated to himself as they walked through the house. Rog held his hand tightly, reassuring him that he was safe. A mummy jumped out and tried to scare Charlotte, and Chris squeezed Rog’s hand.
“Nice try, big guy,” Charli told the mummy. He shrugged and hid for the next person to walk through. “See Chris? It’s just a boy dressed in a costume.”
Feeling relieved, the boy released the death grip on Rog’s hand. Through the rest of the house, he laughed at every person who tried to frighten them, much to their great chagrin.
“That was AWESOME!” Chris squealed when they finally exited the house. “I wanna go again!” Charli smiled. “Take me again!”
“Charlotte, would you go with him? Your Daddy needs to sit this one out.”
“Sure!” she said enthusiastically. “Is funny business allowed this time, squirt?”
“Yeah!” Chris answered, jumping up and down. He grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the entrance. “Let’s go, slowpoke!”
Charli rolled her eyes. “Kids!” she said in fake exasperation. Rog belly laughed. She completely missed the irony in her statement.
After the fourth time through, Rog rounded them up. “Come on, guys. Pick out a pumpkin to carve, and we need to get home. Your Mama is expecting us home for dinner at 6.” Chris picked out a tall, skinny pumpkin, while Charli picked out a perfectly round, squat pumpkin. Rog hauled them to the car, and they got in for the drive home.
“Did you have fun at the fair?” he asked Chris.
“Oh yeah, I can’t wait to go back!”
“How about you, Charli?”
“Yeah, it was fun.” She seemed less impressed than her younger brother.
They arrived home and the electric gate opened. Rog pulled the car into the driveway, counting on the noise to alert Bella they were home. He noticed the lights dim on the bottom floor, hoping the kids weren’t as observant. The pumpkins were left in the car, and they walked toward the house, the kids chattering about the fair. Rog turned his key in an unlocked door, and opened it, turning the light on inside the door. He held the door for the kids, and as soon as Chris’s footsteps hit the threshold, a room full of kids and Bella yelled.
Streamers and balloons filled the normally tidy kitchen and dining area, with banners wishing both children a happy birthday. Chris’s best friend, Paul, was the first to approach him and gave him a soft punch in the arm.
“Happy birthday, dude!” Paul smiled, and Chris punched him back.
“Thanks, Paul!” Chris was very excited to see his school friends, and his mother in the back of the noisy swarm of kids, taking pictures.
Bella had moved Destiny’s old karaoke machine to the main floor, and let the kids sing to their heart’s content. Charlotte and Chris both blew the candles on the cake out at once, as the crowd sang to them. Rog had gone to the garage and brought in two bicycles, one for each of them. Chris’s bike was metallic blue, and Charli’s a light purple. Those were the favorite presents of the night.
After filling the guests with enough sugar to operate a chocolate factory, parents began arriving to bring their kids home. But neither Chris nor Charlotte were ready to settle down, being on a massive sugar high themselves.
“I know,” Rog suggested. “Why don’t we watch a movie?”
Bella nodded. “Great idea, baby.” She grabbed pillows from the couch and set them on the floor in front of their giant-screen television. Chris snuggled up with her, while Charli sat propped up against Rog. Halfway through the movie, the kids were sound asleep.
“Let’s not wake them,” Bella suggested, as she covered each with a blanket. They both kissed them goodnight and went to bed.
The next morning, Bella woke them both with the smells of breakfast. Chris, who never usually indulged in sugar, felt awful. His stomach hurt, and he felt tired, but the smell of crepes cooking in the kitchen woke him. Charli woke up disoriented and didn’t realize she had spent the night on the floor in the living room.
“Why did you let me sleep on the floor?” she whined, shambling to the kitchen like she was mostly dead…
“Are you too good for that?” Bella asked.
Charli sighed. “No, but—”
“But nothing. I wasn’t going to move you. You don’t look any worse for the wear.” Bella was finishing the fruit filling for the crepes and rolling them.
Chris dragged himself to the island and pulled up a stool. Bella handed him a plate of crepes and a glass of milk. “Too much sugar, little man?”
“Yeah, Mama. I don’t feel so good.” Bella smiled.
“That’s why we don’t let you eat candy and cakes all day.” He nodded, taking a drink of milk. He looked adorable with his milk mustache. Sometimes, when she looked at him just right, he reminded her of her dad, but with red hair like hers.
With the keys in the ignition of Arthur’s old, red speedster, Chris shifted the car into reverse and lifted his foot from the brake. “That’s it,” Rog encouraged. “Nice and slow, down the driveway.”
“Like this, Dad?” He was afraid to tap the accelerator because he knew the power the old car still had.
“Yes, son. Just let the engine move the car.” Rog opened the gate with the remote on the visor of the car. “You’re doing great!”
Chris stopped at the end of the driveway and looked for oncoming traffic. Seeing none, he gently backed out and pulled into the street. Cautiously, he shifted the car into gear. “What now?”
“Well, you’ve done the hard part. Just let up off the brake and step on the accelerator.” Rog patted Chris on the shoulder. “You’ve got this.”
Chris followed his father’s gentle instruction, and the car lurched forward. Immediately, Chris stepped on the brake. “Ooops!” he said in frustration.
“You’ve got it, Chris,” Rog encouraged. “Just ease into it.”
Once again, he lifted his foot from the brake and let the car roll. “Just give it some gas,” Rog said. Chris tapped the accelerator and the car moved forward. “That’s it, now just keep the pedal steady, and steer the car.”
Slowly, his confidence grew as the car came under Chris’ control. They took the curve down the street from the house and hit the long stretch between home and the intersection that took them into downtown. In theory, Chris knew how to drive. His computer simulator prepared him for situations that might happen behind the wheel. Actually driving the car was a totally different experience.
“Now, hear how the engine is whining? Depress the clutch, and shift to second gear.” Chris followed the instruction and the engine lurched forward again. But this time, Chris knew to expect it. Approaching the stop sign on the corner, he braked and downshifted.
“You’re doing great, son.” Rog beamed. “How does it feel to have this machine beneath you, and you are driving it?”
“I never thought I’d ever drive it, Dad.” Chris had helped his dad to wash and wax it, always dreaming of someday being in the driver’s seat. “This is awesome!”
“Remember this, Chris. You always know what you are going to do. But the other guy? You have to anticipate what he might do. You can never be sure until they do it.” A horn sounded behind them, and Chris jumped.
He waved the other driver around them, as he sat and listened to Rog’s advice. As the other driver passed them, he shouted obscenities to Chris and spun his tires in a show of idiocy. “Why do people do that on the road, Dad?”
“If you ever find the answer to that, Chris, you’ll be a rich man,” Rog said. “Don’t pay attention to them, and for goodness sake, don’t ever do that to try to impress someone. It’s dangerous and reckless.” Chris nodded. “Why don’t we pull over for a minute, so you don’t block traffic behind you.” Letting his foot off the brake, the car gently pulled forward, and Chris steered it onto the shoulder.
“Can I tell you a secret, Dad?” Chris gripped the wheel and put the car in neutral.
“Of course, son.”
“I was afraid of this car. I know it has a lot of power. It is intimidating.”
“Now, I can’t wait to drive it all the time.”
“Well you know,” Rog smiled, “you won’t learn by sitting on the side of the road.”
“Then let’s drive,” Chris answered.
The cashier announced the total, and Bella handed him the cash for her purchase. She opened the box, which revealed a simple gold band, with a row of small diamond chips embedded. It was nothing fancy, but it was just what she wanted. She thanked the cashier as he handed her the receipt, and she left the shop.
Rog was taking Charli for one of their last dinner dates before her graduation. It was the perfect opportunity for a similar date with Christopher and Bella. She stashed her treasure into her purse, excited for the moment she would present it to her son.
There would be no fanfare, no luxury limousines, no flowers on a table in a fancy restaurant. Chris was interested in none of that. So, she made a reservation at her and Rog’s old hangout, the hole-in-the-wall just off the strip that they had gone to for so many years.
Bella arrived home and parked in the driveway, driving Arthur’s old speedster. She quickly sent Chris a message that she was home, and got out of the car, grabbing the keys. Moments later, he walked out of the house, shaking his head.
“Hey handsome,” Bella said to him. “What’s going on inside that has you flustered?”
“Oh nothing important,” he answered. “Just Charlotte and her tendency to change clothes like a chameleon changes its color.”
Bella laughed. “Girls are funny creatures, Chris.” She tossed him the keys to the car. “You’re driving.”
Having recently gotten his permit, he was excited for some road time. He did a fist pump and hopped into the driver’s seat. Bella cleared her throat. “Aren’t you forgetting something, son?”
At first, he was oblivious to the fact that Bella was standing outside the car. “No?” he stammered.
“Chris, you should open and hold the door for your date,” Bella explained. “Treat her like the gentleman I know you are.”
“Right,” he said, hopping out of the car. He walked around to the passenger side, opened it for Bella and helped her in. “Sorry, Mama. I was so excited about driving the car, I forgot my manners.”
She laughed. “It’s okay.” Seeing she was safely in the seat, he gently closed her door and walked around to his side. Settling into the driver’s seat once again, he started the car as Bella opened the gate. “Let’s see how you drive, son.”
Fearlessly, he backed out of the driveway and turned toward town. “I’m going to take a back road to the restaurant. I want to learn my way around, and I’ll never do that sticking to the strip.”
Bella nodded her approval, and they were off. Chris handled the car with ease, navigating effortlessly through the neighborhood. He only got lost once, but was able to find his way back. “Your dad is a great teacher,” she said. “You’re a good driver.”
Twenty minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot at the restaurant. Chris got out of the car and walked around to the passenger door, and opened it. Holding his hand out for Bella to take, she gracefully placed her hand in his, and he helped her out of the car. She smiled at him and took the arm he offered her to escort her inside.
The host recognized Bella immediately. “Hello, Mrs. St John,” he greeted. “Is this your brother?” He winked at Chris and smiled.
“Now, you know this is my son, Jacob,” Bella teased. “But thank you for that beautiful compliment!” He led them to their seat, and Chris pulled the chair out and held it for Bella to be seated. “Thank you, Christopher.”
“My pleasure,” he answered as he seated himself across from her. They perused the menu, even though Bella knew every item on it from memory. “What would you like tonight, Mama?”
“I think I’ll have the shrimp scampi,” she answered. With the Caesar salad, no bread.”
“That sounds good,” he quipped. “Maybe I’ll have to do that, too.”
When the waiter came around, Chris ordered for both of them. Bella beamed with pride. All of her hard work was paying off. She stared at him, smiling. Chris tilted his head, looking at her quizzically. “A penny for your thoughts?”
“I was just thinking about what a great young man you are, Christopher.” She shifted and took his hand. “The reason I brought you to dinner tonight, well, it’s more complicated than just a dinner.”
Chris rolled his eyes. “Why does everything have to be complicated?”
“It’s not that bad, sweetie. Just listen for a minute, okay?”
He sighed. “Alright.”
“A couple of years ago, Daddy took Charlotte for a dinner. I’m sure you remember it.” He nodded, and she continued. “The reasons for that dinner and this one are the same. I wanted to teach you some practical things, some skills that you will need going forward in your life.” She reached into her purse, found the ring box and retrieved it. She set the box on the table. “Christopher, you will want to date young ladies soon, if you haven’t already got a girlfriend we don’t know about. And you will need to know what is acceptable behavior, and what is not.” She opened the box, revealing its contents. “Chris, this is a purity ring, and when you accept it from me, you agree to keep yourself chaste and pure until marriage. If you allow me to give you this ring, it is intended to be worn on your left ring finger, until your wife places your wedding ring on it.” She removed the ring from the box and held it out to him. “Will you accept this gift, Christopher?”
He studied the ring, and was impressed by the design of it. He also knew what the implications were, and he wasn’t sure about it. “Can I have some time to think, Mama?” Her smile faded somewhat, but it wasn’t totally surprising. He was a handsome boy, and any young lady would be blessed to have his affections.
“Of course, but I would like a decision before we leave the restaurant tonight.” She prepared herself for the next round of advice. “The night really isn’t about the ring, Chris. It’s what I want you to know, to prepare you. You’re off to a great start, and I expect that kind of courtesy and manners with any young lady you date. But I know that you will, because that is who you are.”
He nodded, and she continued. “When you are with a girl, Chris, you need to treat her with the same respect you give to me. And, you should expect the same amount of respect and honor from her. If she wants to be with you, it should be because she wants to learn about you, not because she expects something from you.” She took a sip of water. He blushed, not believing he was listening to his mom give him “the talk” in public. He wanted to hide under the table.
“Isn’t there another place we can go to discuss this, Mom?” He began looking around for an escape route, and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“No, Christopher, there isn’t. No one can hear us anyway. Sweetheart, I wanted this to be a special evening.” Bella was disappointed. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“But I know all this stuff, Mama. You think I don’t watch you and Dad together? You guys,” he said, and paused, “you really need to get a room. Because gross.”
“Okay, now we are getting somewhere!” Bella laughed at his suggestion. “Seriously, though. Chris, I want to let you in on a secret, and it’s something your dad and I have never discussed sharing with you and your sister. But, in many ways, I think it might help your discomfort with this conversation.” She picked up the ring and twirled it in her fingers. “Your dad, Chris,” she was suddenly uncomfortable, “when we got married, he had never been with anyone before me.”
“Did he have a ring like that one?” Chris now watched as Bella played with it.
“No, but that is how he was raised. We never talked much about his family. I get the feeling his childhood was less than perfect.” Bella realized with that statement how little she did know about the St. John family. She knew Rog had three sisters, but that was it. “Chris, sweetie, you’re going to have peer pressure from your guy friends, and they’re going to probably brag about their conquests. But that doesn’t make them real men,” Bella stopped herself. “True love, when you find it, waits.”
Chris blushed. He had already heard some stories at school, and secretly he was jealous. But, his mother was more convincing than his friends, and knowing about his father helped his decision. “I will accept the ring, Mama.” He took her hands in his. “I want to be like dad.”
“It’s a start, but it’s more than that, Chris.” She patted his hand and released her grip. “This is a very serious thing. You know I want grandchildren someday, but I want to finish raising you two before we begin down that road. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do Mama.” He sat back in his chair. “I don’t have a girlfriend, by the way. I’ve never had one. I just wanted you to know that.”
“Well, your time will come, Chris. You’re a handsome, polite and honorable young man. Don’t rush into anything just because your friends have.” The waiter returned and asked if they wanted dessert.
“No thank you,” Chris politely told the waiter. “Check, please?”
“Certainly, sir!” The waiter spun on his heel and walked toward the hostess station.
Bella placed the ring on the table. “Are you sure this is what you want, Christopher?”
“I’m sure, Mama.” He was confident in his answer.
She picked the ring up and placed it on his left ring finger. “Chris, this ring is meant to be worn on your ring finger, until it is replaced by your wedding ring.” She squeezed his hand, and he smiled.
“Thank you, Mama. I promise I won’t let you down.” The waiter returned with the check, which was handed to Bella.
“I know you won’t, but I want you to know something, too.” She looked at him, a serious look on her face. “If you make a mistake, we will still love you. Our love for you and Charlotte is unconditional, and there is nothing you can do to make that love go away.” Chris nodded, and he got misty-eyed.
“I love you too, Mama.” Bella paid the check, and Chris stood up. He walked to her seat and held his hand out for her, gently guiding her chair. She stood up, and instead of taking his hand, she hugged him close.
“Remember what I said, sweetheart. Dad and I will always love you,” she whispered in his ear.
“I know,” he whispered back. Pulling away from her, he spoke. “Thank you for dinner, and my gift.”
“It was my pleasure.” They walked together to the car and drove home.
Chris sat in the principal’s office, unsure of why he was there. No, he hadn’t gotten into trouble, or gotten a failing grade. He emerged from his office and extended a hand to Chris to shake. Hmm, he thought. Mr Scott wouldn’t be shaking my hand if I was in trouble, right?
“Have a seat, Chris, please,” Mr Scott said as he motioned for Chris to sit. “The guidance counselors tell me that you are nearly finished with your school curriculum.” Chris nodded. “For the full four years.” Chris nodded again.
“Is there a problem, Mr. Scott?”
“Only to the extent that we can’t challenge you anymore, Chris. We would like to nominate you for graduation this spring with the graduating class. You would have our recommendation to attend Sim State in the fall. Isn’t that where your sister is planning on attending?”
“Yes, sir. But, I’m only fifteen years old, Mr. Scott.”
“Indeed you are, Christopher. That makes you a bit of an anomaly. We have never graduated anyone from this high school younger than seventeen. Sim State has, however, had students your age before. It just isn’t very common.”
“Well, it’s something to think about. Can I get back with you tomorrow, sir?” Chris sure was a polite young man, something rarely seen these days. But Mr. Scott remembered the Atwood children fondly and knew that Charlotte and Chris had good parents.
“Absolutely, Christopher. I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
When he returned home from school that day, he asked Bella if he could speak with them after dinner that night. “Of course, son.” She looked at him, perplexed. “Is something wrong?”
“Not really, just something at school.”
“Should I be worried?” she joked, knowing Chris never got into trouble. Ever.
“Maybe.” He winked at her and said, “I’ll be doing my homework in my room.”
That little stinker, she thought. And then she laughed.
After dinner, Bella and Rog sat down with Chris, per his request. “What’s on your mind, son?” asked Rog.
“I met with Principal Scott today,” Chris began. Bella smiled. She remembered him, and Bree was not his favorite student back in the day. “He says my guidance counselor told him I’ve completed almost all of my curriculum.” Rog nodded, and was about to speak when Chris finished his thought, “for all four years.” Bella and Rog looked at each other, then at Chris.
“Did I hear you right, honey?” she finally asked him.
“Yes Mom, you did.”
“Well, what do they plan to do about that?” Rog had never heard of such a thing.
“Well, they want to recommend me to graduate with Charlotte in the spring, and attend Sim State in the fall.”
“But, you’re only fifteen years old, Chris.” Bella was incredulous.
“Yeah, I know Mom.” He rolled his eyes. “They have never graduated someone my age before, but Sim State has had other students in the past that were my age. Just none currently.”
“Ooh, I don’t know Christopher,” Bella began, “you’re too young to be so far from home.”
“And besides, your mother spent your college fund on my bling,” Rog joked as he held out his finger.
“Dad, don’t try to be cool. That’s just gross.” Chris said, totally serious, but to Rog and Bella, it was the most hilarious thing they’d ever heard.
“How about this… your mom and I will discuss it tonight, and we’ll tell you in the morning. How’s that?” Rog suggested.
“Okay, I guess that’s good. I have to talk to Mr. Scott in the morning again about it, so that will work.”
He sat outside their bedroom door, listening to the conversation. “I don’t know Rog. He’s not a mature 15 years old.”
“Shoot,” Rog laughed. “I’m not a very mature 45, either!” His face got serious. “He will be with Charlotte. We could request they be in the same dorm, or better yet, just lease a house and furnish it for them.”
“Do you think Charli is mature enough to parent her 15-year-old brother?”
“If she had to, I think she could rise to the occasion.” Rog smiled slyly. “Like someone else I know.”
Bella hit him with a pillow. “Not funny, little Rog.” Chris made a face and got up from the door. Okay, I’m done, he thought.
“Goodnight Mom and Dad!” he called from the next room. Bella and Rog looked at each other and laughed.
Rog had gotten a midnight call into the hospital and was home just before the kids got up for school. Bella had been up most of the night worrying about him like she did when it was a late call. After the death threat, she was never sure who was lurking in the shadows. So, Bella left a note for Chris to bring to Mr. Scott.
Dear Mr Scott,
Christopher has informed us that you would like to recommend him for graduation with this spring’s class. We would be delighted for him to take this opportunity, and we look forward to commencement when we watch both of our children graduate in the same class.
Bella Atwood St John & Rogelio St John
Chris found the note by his backpack and tucked it away. On his way out the door, he whispered a quiet, ‘thank you’ to Bella and Rog. He was going to be graduating nearly 3 years early.
Rog sat down with Chris and covered every little detail he thought he’d have three more years to impart. “Your mama has already given you ‘the talk’,” Rog said, and Chris interrupted.
“Yes, in a very public place!” He blushed. “I’d have rather heard about that stuff from you, Dad.”
“Yeah, well, your mom wanted to show you what a proper date looked like. Now that you know, I expect you to be on your best behavior around the ladies at college.” Rog told him sternly. “Your mama says if you make mistakes, we’ll still love you, and that’s true. But I’m telling you if you make me a granddaddy before you graduate college, we’re going to have some problems.” Chris laughed, but Rog was dead serious. “I mean it, son. You promised your mama and I’m going to hold you to it. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Maybe, Chris thought, Mom did have a better way of handling the sensitive stuff after all.
“Besides,” Rog continued, “I’ll let you in on a secret. Your mama was my first, ever. And she will be my only. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on a single thing, Chris. She is all I can handle.”
“Okay,” Chris blushed a deep red. “I’m done here, and you really need to get a room, Dad. That’s all I’m saying.” Rog laughed, taking a weird sense of pride in embarrassing his son.
“Okay, let’s get you ready for grad, shall we?” Rog finally said, coaxing Chris back into the bedroom. “No more woohoo talk, agreed?” Chris nodded emphatically.
“I feel too young for this, Dad,” Chris stated as he gazed upon his reflection in the mirror, dressed in his cap and gown.
“You’ve earned it son,” Rog replied. “You’re much too smart to be held back in high school here.”
He stood and readjusted his hat, which had gone askew. “Thanks, Dad. I’m gonna miss you and Mom while we’re at school.”
“We are so proud of you, Christopher,” Rog stated as he wiped away a tear. “We will miss you, too.”
Chris was awarded a special certificate that noted him as the youngest graduate of Central High School, and though he would have been eligible to be Valedictorian, it was awarded to a graduating senior instead, his sister, Charlotte. That was okay with him, though. She’d had a rough year, and she deserved it. His friends voted him Most Likely To Be A Team Mascot. He laughed. There wasn’t an athletic bone in his body.
He and Charlotte had fun with the friends Bella had invited to the house for their graduation party, though most of his friends teased him mercilessly about fraternizing with the older ladies on campus. His best friend, Paul, asked him to give detailed reports about his dates. Chris hid his purity ring from Paul. He was a good kid, but not a very good influence when it came to matters of love. In short, Paul was a typical 16-year-old boy. Surprise, surprise.
Their last weekend at home was over way too quickly, and Monday rolled around with its usual dose of ruthlessness. Bella was making breakfast, their last as a family until they would be together again. Rog sat, reading his newspaper like he did every morning. And Charlotte was busy citing useless statistics about the weather, or whatever she and Bella gabbed about every morning. This is it, he thought. The last official day of my childhood.
The van arrived at 9:30, and the movers helped Charlotte and him load the boxes they had packed into it, along with some furniture and of course, his video game system. She grabbed their bicycles from the garage and put them on the truck, and by 10am, they were ready to roll out of town.
Bella stood, her arms wide open, beckoning Chris to come. “Come here, Chris and hug your Mama.” She whispered in his ear, “Remember, even if you make mistakes, we will love you. I’m going to miss you, little man.” Rog overheard Bella, and shook his head at Chris and smiled.
Rog pulled both children into a hug, and said, “You two be good, remember your promises, and call if you need us. We are always here for you.” And to Chris, he whispered, “Be good for your sister. If she asks you to do something, then do it. If she gets out of line, then call me, son.”
The two, brother and sister, got into the waiting cab and rolled down the windows, waving and repeating “Bye Bye!” as their home faded into the horizon.
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