“Mama!” Charlotte ran upstairs, as quick as she could carry herself. “Mama! Daddy!”
Bella was getting ready for bed, and Rog was in the bathroom, showering. “What is it, princess?”
“Mama,” she cried, “Travis asked me to marry him!” She held out her engagement ring for Bella to see.
Rog came out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, drying his curly hair. “Well, let me see that, sweetheart!” She held her hand out, and he took it in his hand. “He did good, Bella,” he said, studying the ring. Behind her, the sound of soft footsteps filled the hallway.
“Congratulations, son!” Rog said to Travis, holding his hand out to shake. “You have yourself a catch here.” He winked at the boy, who was blushing. “You know, sweetie, he asked me for our permission to marry you.”
Charlotte looked at Travis, surprised. “Really? You did that, Travis?” He blushed again.
“I did, honey. For you. For us.” He walked to her and slipped his arm around her waist.
Bella, who was watching everyone else around her, finally spoke, unable to contain the excitement anymore. “Awww, Charlotte! You have yourself a good man here. Congratulations, Princess!” She walked to where she and Travis were standing and hugged them both. “Welcome to the family, Travis,” she cried, wiping happy tears from her face.
The next morning, Travis was awake early, having slept in Chris’ bed the night before. He knew he had to get back to the airport, but he didn’t want to wake Charlotte to drive him. Packing his bags, he zipped them and tiptoed downstairs. Rog was up, having his first cup of coffee and reading the newspaper.
“Good morning Travis,” he greeted, “Can I get you a cuppa?”
“Oh, no thanks Mr. St John,” he answered. Rog chuckled.
“Son, we’re as good as family. Call me Rog, or Dad if you want to. Your choice.”
“Okay, Rog,” he laughed. “I don’t want to wake Charlotte. I will need to get going soon, though.”
“If you sneak out this house without a proper send-off, you’ll be in the dog house with your fiancée real quick.” Rog laughed.
“I wasn’t going to sneak out,” he corrected. “I just didn’t want to make her drive me up and back, so I was going to call a cab.”
“You aren’t doing her any favors by letting her fear take a hold of her, Travis.” Rog shook his head. “The roads are clearing, and it’s supposed to be warmer today. She’ll be fine.”
Charlotte’s light, petite footsteps padded downstairs. Taking a deep breath, she smelled coffee. “Good morning, Daddy,” she said warmly. “I need coffee.”
Travis walked to her and slipped his arms around her waist as she poured her cup. Her hair was soft, and he kissed her neck. She giggled. “Good morning beautiful,” he said, hugging her.
“Mmm, good morning honeybear,” she cooed. She turned around, still in his embrace and kissed his nose.
Rog laughed. “Now I see why you kids always told us to get a room.” Charlotte rolled her eyes, and Travis blushed deep red.
“What time is your flight this morning, Trav?” she asked.
He looked at his watch. “Oh, in about 3 hours.” She peeked outside to see some of the previous day’s snowfall had melted.
“Okay, we should be good, then.” She sat at the island next to Rog, holding her coffee cup with both hands, breathing in the vapor.
“It’s only about 20 minutes to the airport,” Rog said. “She’s right. You’re okay on time.” Travis decided to sit with Charlotte and sip a cup of coffee with her.
The three of them sat talking for a little while, Charlotte stood up and stretched. “I’ll be back down in about 10 minutes. I’m going to shower real quick, and we can get on the road, Trav.” He continued to sip the last of his coffee and gathered his things to put into Charlotte’s car.
Bella came downstairs, looking like she had a rough night. Her hair was disheveled, her robe was on cattywampus, and her slippers were on the wrong feet. “Good morning guys,” she mumbled as she shambled toward the coffee pot. Rog gave her a knowing look and winked. “You have to go back today, don’t you Travis?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, and then cringed. “I mean, Bella.” She laughed.
“I guess Rog already gave you the ‘we’re as good as family’ shtick.” Rog belly laughed, nodding his head.
“He did,” Travis smiled. He couldn’t help but love Charlotte’s family and knew he would fit in just fine.
“Okay honeybear,” Charlotte called as she made her way down the steps. “I’m ready to go.” She noticed Bella hunched over a cup of coffee and rolled her eyes. Bella and Rog weren’t known for their discretion, and they certainly weren’t known for keeping things quiet. “Good morning, Mama,” she said, smiling.
It was a quiet ride to the airport as Charlotte concentrated on her driving. Finally, Travis spoke up. “I don’t want to go back, Charlotte.”
“What about school, though? Don’t you want to finish your degree?”
“I do, but I don’t want to leave you.” He tried to think of reasons to stay that would convince her.
“It’s only one more semester, and I’m already planning on coming for graduation. Baby, I’m not going to find someone else.”
“It’s not that, Charlotte. I just don’t want to be without you. When something is as right as we are…”
Her heart melted. “I will call you every day, I will still see you every day. The only thing missing will be touch. I will miss your kisses,” she said, blushing. She was afraid if he didn’t go back, her promise would be broken in a matter of days. Just having him in the same house, albeit different rooms, was extremely difficult.
He laughed uncomfortably, “That’s not the only thing I will miss.”
She pulled the car up outside the terminal and parked briefly while he got his bags from the trunk. “You’re going to let me go back to school, even after my pleas for clemency.” She wrapped her arms around him, and they kissed. “You’re not making this any easier either, you know.”
“Four more months and I’m yours forever, Trav.” She held four fingers up. “I don’t want to be the reason you didn’t finish your degree, honeybear.”
“Just be prepared. When we are finally together, I am not going to leave you alone for days.” He pulled her close and kissed her, as passionately as he could. She pulled away, breathless. “Something to remember me by, sweet Charlotte,” he said as he slung his backpack on his shoulder. “I love you.”
She hated goodbyes. The kiss got her flustered, and she was emotional. “I love you too, Travis.” She held her four fingers up again, and blew a kiss to him, waving madly as he disappeared into the terminal
“Charlotte,” Bella called. “Honey, I need to talk to you a minute.”
“Sure, Mama. I’ll be right there,” Charlotte replied as she put her medical journal back in her briefcase.
Bella paced back and forth. “Charlotte, I am so sorry I don’t have an heirloom to give you like I did for Chris and Cady.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Charlotte said, admiring her engagement ring. The diamond was small, it was true, but she knew the love with which it was given. “This is all the ring I need.”
Bella smiled. She sure was a different person since her accident. “I love you, sweetheart,” she said, hugging Charlotte.
“I love you too, Mama.”
“Your Daddy and I,” she continued, “we just want you to be happy. Travis sure does seem to adore you.”
Charlotte blushed. They had no idea. “He does, Mama. Very much.” They had been friends for almost two years before they admitted they had feelings for each other. But, she suspected that he had been with other girls, and she worried about how she might compare to them.
Seeing the pensive look on her face, Bella asked, “Is there something wrong, honey?”
Charlotte nodded, feeling queasy. “I need to ask you something. Personal.”
Bella was an open book, and the kids knew, much to their great chagrin, that she and Rog were still very active. “Anything, love.”
“I think, though I don’t know for sure, that Travis has been with other girls.” She got the distinct impression that he dated quite a bit in high school, and she knew how he was with her.
“You mean physically?”
“Yes, Mama.” Charlotte sighed. “I don’t know how I can compete with that… experience.”
“Have you been…” Bella began to ask, but Charlotte stopped her.
“No, Mama. We haven’t.” She spun her ring on her finger. “I made a promise. To Daddy and you. I don’t want to break it.”
Bella hugged her. “Sweetie, it’s going to be difficult, I won’t lie to you. Your Daddy and I waited, and it was a long two years from the time we started dating to our wedding night.” She lifted Charlotte’s face to hers. “I promise you, the wait is worth it, and if he loves you, he will give you this chance.” Bella noticed tears in Charlotte’s eyes, and she wiped them away. “You have a special gift for him. Don’t let him talk you into giving it away.”
Charlotte nodded. “Can I come talk to you any time about this, Mama?”
“Of course you can, sweetheart,” Bella replied. “Any time at all.”
Charlotte sat on the airplane as it roared down the runway, destination Sim State University. Travis’ graduation was on Saturday, and she got a day off to go early to surprise him. She plugged her earbuds into her music player and sat back as the plane climbed to cruising altitude.
Gently, the flight attendant woke her just before landing. She gathered her things, and taking the last sip of her drink, threw the cup away. She was so excited to see Travis but nervous at the same time. She was staying with him at the dorm, in his room, and it would be the first time they were sharing a bed. She worried about staying strong.
She made her way down to car rental, and drove to campus, about 30 minutes from the airport. The surroundings were starting to look familiar as she exited the freeway and winded her way through the town to the campus. She parked her car and carried just her purse upstairs to his dorm room. She knew he would be studying, as his last final was tomorrow.
Knocking on his door, she shifted uncomfortably. “Come in,” came his familiar voice. She opened the door and peeked her head in, seeing the top of his head, his nose obviously buried into his textbooks.
“Hi honeybear,” she said, stepping into the room quietly. His ears perked, and he looked straight at her, smiling.
“You’re here!” He exclaimed as he literally jumped to his feet. She ran to him, and they embraced. “It’s so good to see you, sweet Charlotte. You don’t know how I’ve missed you.”
She covered his face in kisses. “Oh, yes I do,” she replied. He kissed her neck, and she about melted into the floor.
“Okay, I have to stop that right now, or I’ll never finish cramming for this exam,” he said, pulling away from her.
“Can I help?” she offered, sitting next to him on the floor.
“I’d love that,” he said, handing her a notebook. She sat and quizzed him until darkness began to settle, and she realized she needed her overnight bag from the car.
“I’ll go get it,” Travis said. “I need to stretch anyway.” She walked around his dorm room, noticing most of it had been packed up and ready to move. A photo of his family still sat on his nightstand and a photo of a young woman next to it. A sick feeling in her stomach settled in when she heard the door open, Travis appearing with her bag over his shoulder.
“Who is this?” she asked, pointing to the photo in question.
“That is, was, my sister’s best friend,” he said. “She was killed by a drunk driver six years ago.” He blushed a little. “We were in a relationship when she died. It nearly broke me,” he confessed.
“I’m sorry, Travis.” She felt bad that she had brought it up.
“We were high school sweethearts…” his voice trailed off, lost in a memory. Shaking his head, he remembered where he was, and handed Charlotte’s bag to her. “Sorry, sweet Charlotte,” he said. “I hadn’t thought about her in a while. That photo was in the box I never opened, but for some reason, I had it out.”
“She was very beautiful,” Charlotte said softly, noticing her blonde hair and crystal blue eyes. Suddenly, she felt very inadequate.
“Hey, it isn’t like that anymore.” He pulled her close and kissed her passionately. “It’s you and me now.”
She smiled, but still felt uneasy. “I’m tired, but I know you probably still have some studying to do, right?”
He shook his head. “Nah, if I don’t know it by now, I’m not going to.” He caressed her cheek, and her heart fluttered. “Why don’t we go to bed?”
She nodded. “I need to use the restroom, I’ll be back,” she said as she grabbed her overnight case. She walked to the bathroom and opened her bag. Brushing her teeth, she felt almost sick. She splashed some cool water on her face, and bit her lip. Keep it together, she thought, wishing Bella was closeby for a pep talk. She got changed into her pajamas and walked back to his room.
She knocked gently on the door before she opened it. “I’m decent, silly. Come in,” he called from inside the room.
“Travis, I need to talk to you,” she said, playing with the hem of her shirt nervously.
“What about, love?” he asked, patting the bed next to him.
“Us. Honeybear, I love you so much, and this is going to be so tough for me, to be here with you.” He looked at her and cocked his head, not understanding.
“What’s going to be so rough? I thought you wanted to be here with me.”
“I do,” she said. “That’s the problem. I want to be ‘with you’ and I know you’re ready for that. But…”
He cut her off. “Wait a sec,” he said. “You think I can’t control myself around you?” He laughed. “I mean, I want to be with you, too, but I also know what that ring you’re wearing is about, and I know that promise was made seriously.”
She breathed a sigh of great relief. “Really Travis?”
“Yes really.” He kissed her. “I respect you enough to honor that. But in the spirit of honesty, I will confess, I haven’t been… abstinent.” He sighed. “I have been with one girl,” he said.
“The girl in the photo,” Charlotte surmised.
“Yes,” he said. “Everyone knew we’d be married someday. She never made a promise, and I hadn’t either.” Charlotte nodded.
“It’s okay, Travis. I kinda figured you had been. You kiss way too well to be a prude like me.”
“Hey, you’re not a prude!” He caressed her cheek again. “You’re talking about my fiancée, you know!”
She smiled and laid her head on his shoulder. “I love you, Travis. Thank you for understanding my mess.”
He put his hands on her shoulders. “It’s not a mess. I admire you. I wish I had waited.” I wouldn’t be the father of a dead baby if I had, he thought.
“Travis Jones, Bachelor of Science,” the emcee read, as Travis walked across the stage to receive his degree. Charlotte sat in the bleachers of the Annex, cheering for him and beaming with pride. His graduation cap had a heart on it, with Charlotte’s name in gold paint. She was having fun being back on campus, seeing friends, even Cade’s brothers came and talked to her, though Scot was less than happy to see Charlotte. Hank Macklamoor was always pleasant, however, and was happy to hear that Cade was thriving in the big city.
“Are we expecting a niece or nephew yet?” Hank asked as they listened to the rest of the ceremony.
“Not yet, but I’ll make sure Cade calls you when they are.”
“Tell her I miss her,” he said, getting a little misty-eyed. He totally understood why she left. There was really nothing for a young girl in the small town, and the surrounding city was a mess.
“I will, Hank.” She hugged him.
After the ceremony, Travis found Charlotte outside the Annex, where they agreed to meet. She congratulated him with a kiss and a hug, and he removed his cap and gave it to her. “I made this for you, sweet Charlotte.”
They headed back to the dorm immediately after the ceremony. The movers were scheduled for a 3pm pick up, and they were cutting it close on time. The truck was just pulling up as Charlotte parked her car in the lot. Travis helped the movers get the boxes loaded, as she wiped down the furniture and did a last-minute inspection to make sure all of their personal effects were out of the room. After the movers left, Charlotte and Travis made their way to the airport, but their flight was canceled due to bad weather over the flight route. For the inconvenience, and because they had to stay at the airport until their morning flight, their tickets were upgraded to first class.
The flight announcement over the loudspeaker the next morning woke Travis. “Sweetie, wake up,” he said to Charlotte as he gently shook her shoulder and knelt before her.
Without even opening her eyes, she muttered, “Coffee.”
“Already taken care of, my love,” he said, handing her the paper cup fixed exactly how she liked it.
“Thank you, honeybear,” she said, taking the cup from him. “How much longer until we board?”
“About 40 minutes,” he answered. “You have some time to freshen up if you want to, love.”
She took out her brush and tried to fix her hair, but it was sticking up too much to salvage. “I’ll be right back.”
Five minutes later, and she looked and felt much better. “Hurry, sweetie, they’re getting ready to pre-board,” he said, helping her gather their belongings.
As first-class ticket holders, they were boarded first. Travis had never flown first class before, and he loved every little thing about it. The wide seats, extra attention, better food. “This is the way to go!” he said, kicking his feet out in front of him. Charlotte snickered at him and snuggled up close.
The flight was relatively short, two and a half hours, and they were landing in Starlight Shores county. They made their way to baggage and picked up Travis’ one large suitcase, containing most of his clothing and a few other personal items, and Charlotte led him to long term parking, where she had left her car.
About a half-hour later, Charlotte was opening the gate to the driveway and pulling in. Bella and Rog were both waiting for them. Travis got out from the passenger door, and opened Charlotte’s door, with his proper manners. As he helped her out from the car, Bella was running toward them.”
“Welcome home!” she beamed at them.
Travis held out his hand for her to shake, “Thank you, Bella.”
Laughing, she pulled him into a hug. “We’re all family here, Travis.” He smiled, feeling like he belonged.
Travis was unpacking some of his clothes into the dresser in the bedroom when Charlotte knocked on his door. “Mama said you wanted to see me?”
“Yes, I do, Charlotte.” He stopped what he was doing and sat on the twin bed, patting the seat next to him. “I have something I need to tell you, and hopefully this won’t change your mind about marrying me.”
She felt lightheaded and a little dizzy. No! She thought. “Okay, I’ll be as open-minded as I can be.” He smiled.
“My sweet Charlotte, your mom told me today you were upset with Amy’s picture. I totally get why you would be. There is something I need to tell you about her, though.”
“She isn’t really dead, and you’re leaving me for her?” She prayed that wasn’t the correct answer.
“No, it isn’t anything like that. She was really killed when she was 16 years old. You already know the other part,” he said as he blushed. He wasn’t comfortable talking about his previous sex life with his fiancée. “What you don’t know is, when Amy was killed, she was carrying my son.”
Charlotte’s face turned white with shock, and then she cried for him. “Oh Travis,” she said, heartbroken. “I am so sorry you had to go through that. I mean, it was sad when you said she had died, and you were supposed to get married, but this…” she sniffled, “this is so tragic. No wonder you had her picture out.”
“It was only because this month our son would have five years old.” He broke down crying. “I miss him more than I miss her. Is that terrible?”
“Oh honeybear,” she said, holding him. “No, you’re not terrible.” Bella heard the crying from outside the hallway, and her heart broke for Travis all over again.
“I also want you to know, Charlotte, that you saved me in so many ways.” He sniffled, and pulled away from her embrace, looking her in the eyes. “Your friendship meant so much to me at school. It reminded me that life goes on, and it’s still worth living. I never thought I could love again, but you gave me a second chance. How does one guy get lucky enough to have a second chance at 18 years old?”
Charlotte didn’t think she could love him more than she did already, but that he was so open and honest with her when he could have hidden the secret from her instead, it touched her deeply. She held his face in her hands and kissed him. “I love you so much, Travis.”
“I love you more than you’ll ever understand, Charlotte. I mean it. It was part of the reason I didn’t want to go back to school. I don’t do goodbyes well, but I’m glad you insisted. Someday, it will mean a good job here, even if not this very moment.”
“You’re a good man, Travis Jones. I am so very blessed to have you.”
“You are an amazing woman, Charlotte. I couldn’t love you more right now if I tried.”
They fell asleep in his tiny little twin bed, wrapped around each other.
The snow was flying that cold Saturday morning. Rog was up early to get the newspaper, and Bella was making breakfast at her usual Saturday morning post. Charlotte’s wedding day had finally arrived, and Bella was beyond excited.
Travis was awake and pacing the floor upstairs. His phone, held to his ear, was bringing news that was not welcome. His family wasn’t coming to the wedding after all.
“Dad, why not?”
“Don’t you know how far Starlight Shores is from home, son?”
“Yes, I do Dad. You had the invitation months ago! You could have planned better.”
“Well, your wedding should have been here, with your family, with someone we knew…”
“Don’t do that to me, Dad. It’s my wedding day. You will not ruin it with Amy’s memory.”
“Sorry son, that’s just how I feel.”
“I’m hanging up now, Dad.” Travis threw his phone toward the bed and let out a yell in frustration. Charlotte was on her way by the room.
“Honey?” she said, peeking her head in. “Are you okay?”
“No, but I’ll get over it,” Travis said. “Let’s have breakfast. Your mama is a great cook, and those crepes smell amazing.”
They walked down the stairs together, just as Bella was topping the plate with some powdered sugar. “They’re up!” she said gleefully.
Charlotte poured herself a cup of coffee and asked Travis if he wanted one.
“No, but thank you, love. My father got my blood rushing early.” He brewed himself a cup of tea instead.
“Uh oh,” Bella replied. “Is everything okay?”
“No, they’re still in Dragon Valley. They’re not coming.”
Charlotte was tired of the parental drama from his side. “It’s okay, honeybear,” she said. “There is more than enough love on my side to go around.”
Bella, Rog, and Travis all raised their drink and said, “Here here!”
Bella, Charlotte, and Cade all went to the chapel early. Cade would be her matron of honor, and though she didn’t say so, she thought Cade looked a little chubbier than usual. Bella hoped a pregnancy announcement was coming along soon! Bella helped Charlotte into her gown inside the bride room, where almost 30 years ago she was preparing to marry Rog. Bella had taken Cade and Charlotte to get their hair done at the salon the day before and paid a stylist to come touch everyone up before the ceremony. Bella even had her hair colored to her natural color, and the grey hair was hidden for another few months.
Back at home, Chris, Travis, and Rog got ready, and Rog drove them to the chapel when they were ready. Travis and Chris mingled with the guests, who were just members of the immediate Atwood/St John family, and Jen Crawford, who wouldn’t have missed the event for anything. Rog waited at the back of the chapel for Charlotte. Bella realized, as she saw Rog waiting for his little princess, that they were the first parents in a long line to see their children married. The music started in the front of the chapel, and Pastor Mark stood at the front under the arch, waiting for the bride and her party. Cade came out first, and Chris escorted his mother on one arm, and Cade on the other, and then stood with Travis under the arch. Charlotte emerged from the bride’s room, and Rog lost his crackers. She stood so elegantly, the veil pulled over her face, so beautiful and refined, he couldn’t contain his tears. He held his arm to her, and she took it as they slowly walked down the aisle together. Rog saw Bella holding back tears, and when she saw him crying, she lost it, too. Travis was so overwhelmed and so excited, and Chris stood in stunned silence, wondering when his sister became such a knock-out beauty.
Pastor Mark stepped forward and asked, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
“Her mother and I do,” said Rog, wiping tears from his eyes. Gently, he lifted her veil and kissed her cheek. “Go, be with your husband,” he whispered to her as she left his side. He sat next to Bella, weeping.
Pastor Mark gave a quick speech, and then it was time to exchange rings and say vows. Charlotte went first.
“Travis, when we met, I thought you were a great friend. We had so much in common, we laughed, studied and had so much fun together. But it wasn’t until we were separated that I realized I needed something more from you. I needed to be by your side, and I knew that once we got together, we’d never be apart. I will love you forever.”
“Charlotte Destiny St John, do you take Travis to be your lawfully wedded husband, to love and cherish him, honor and keep him, and to forsake all others, in sickness and in health, until you are parted in death?” Pastor Mark asked.
“I do,” Charlotte said, swooning at Travis.
Travis spoke next. “Charlotte, when I met you, I had such emotional pain, and it was raw, and it was real. But you.. You pulled me away from myself to see what real love could be, and you gave me a second chance at life and love. You have saved me in every way, and every day that I wake up with you will be the best day of my life. I will love you forever.”
Travis Richard Jones, do you take Charlotte to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love and cherish her, honor and keep her, and to forsake all others, in sickness and in health, until you are parted in death?” Pastor Mark asked.
“I do,” said Travis, smiling at her.
“By the power vested in me by the county of Starlight Shores, and in front of these witnesses this day, I pronounce you husband and wife. Travis, you may kiss your bride.”
He kissed her tenderly, his hands gently caressing her neck. Guests were throwing rice at them as they walked back down the aisle, laughing and crying a little.
Jen was the first in line to congratulate them. “I remember her when she was just a little baby,” Jen told Travis. “She and Chris are my favorite two kiddos in the whole universe. Welcome to the family, Travis,” she said hugging them both.
Bella came to them, holding an envelope. “Your aunts Bree and Bianca wanted to be here so badly, but they sent me this to give you.” Bella gave it to them and hugged them both. “I love you two so much!”
After they greeted their guests, they went to cut the cake. Travis couldn’t help himself and smooshed it all over Charlotte’s face. Laughing, she did the same thing to him, and they kissed the sweetness from each other’s face, until Chris yelled, “GET A ROOM!” Everyone laughed, and they went to clean up so they could do their first dance together. Bella and Rog were already on the dance floor, but everyone made room for the newlywed couple. Bella and Rog rejoined them, and then Chris and Cade did, too.
The party was winding down when Charlotte and Travis escaped to their resort for their wedding night. They were due to leave for Isla Paradiso the next afternoon for a few days on their honeymoon, but for the night, they stayed at a bed and breakfast on the beach.
“Did I tell you how totally amazing you looked today, my love?” Travis asked her.
“A few times, yes,” she said, blushing. “You look pretty good, too.”
“Just pretty good?” he pouted. She giggled and nodded.
At the door to the room, he opened it with a key card, and swung the door open. He picked her up and carried her across the threshold, and set her down on the bed.
“I couldn’t wait to see you in this dress,” he said as he undid his tie. “And now, I can’t wait to see you out of it.”
She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close. “You’ll have your wish,” she purred.
Up Next: Chapter Four, Generation Four