Christopher Arthur St John

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.”

“And now?”

“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.”

“Yes, sir.”

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.

Up Next: Travis Richard Jones

Charlotte Destiny St John

Charlotte was playing in her room with the doll she had been given as a baby. Riley, as she had named it, was her best friend, confidante, and companion. She was busy hosting a tea party with Riley as her special guest when Rog and Bella knocked gently on the door to her room.

“Can we come in, sweetheart?” Bella asked softly.

“Yes Mama,” Charli answered. “Do you want tea?”

“You bet,” Bella said. “Pour one for Daddy, too.”

Charli made room at her play table for two more guests of honor. “We need to talk to you, munchkin,” Rog said as she poured tea for her mother.

“What about?” Charli stopped and stared at Rog, trying to read him.

“Well,” Bella began, “Daddy and Mama are going on vacation.”

“What’s that?” Her little face wrinkled with concern.

“We’re just going away for a while. Together.” Rog answered her. He pulled out a map of the world, and showed her where China was on it. “We’re going here.”

Her eyes lit up. “Can I go? Please?”

“No, not this time, sweetheart.” Bella bit her lip. She really didn’t think Charli would want to go. “When you’re a little older, and Chris can come too, we’ll all go somewhere.”

“Right now, munchkin, Mama and Daddy need to do this, together.” Rog patted her little hand. He saw tears of disappointment in her eyes, and he felt bad.

“Besides,” Bella added, “you don’t want to miss school, do you?”

Charli sniffled and thought carefully. She did love going to school and being with her new friends. “No, I don’t.” Rog kissed her head.

“Mama and I will bring back lots of goodies for you and Chris,” Rog told her. “We promise.”

It was early when Charli felt Bella gently nudging her. “Wake up, Charli.”

She blinked twice, trying to focus. “Mama?”

“Yes, sweetheart. Daddy and I are leaving for the airport,” Bella told her. “We wanted to say bye-bye.”

Rog sat down on the bed next to Charli and placed her in his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and put her head sleepily on his shoulder. Gently, he rocked her back and forth, her warm breath tickling his neck. Bella kissed her cheek, and Rog did the same. “Mama and I love you so much, princess,” Rog whispered to her, and kissed her cheek one more time.

“I love you too, Daddy.” Charli was trying so hard to stay awake, but sleep was quickly taking her. “Bye-bye.”

He stood up with her in his arms, while Bella pulled back the blankets. He gave her one last hug as he put her back into bed. She rolled onto her side and snuggled up with Riley. She vaguely heard them saying goodbye to Chris as she fell peacefully back to sleep.

Shana was the next person she saw when she woke that morning. “Where are Mama and Daddy?”

“Don’t you remember, little one? They woke you to tell you they were leaving on vacation.” Shana said sweetly, as she picked Chris up from his crib. She rubbed her eyes.

“Not really,” she answered, feeling sad.

“Aww, it’s okay honey,” Shana told her. “Come, I’ll fix you breakfast and we’ll play in the pool today.”

“Pool? Yay!” Charli jumped up and down and laughed. “I can’t wait!”

“Hey Mama, can I ask you something?” Charlotte was just home from her first day of middle school.

“Sure, sweetheart. What’s on your mind?”

“Were you really a magician when you were younger, like, before you had us?” Bella swallowed hard. She knew this would come up eventually, but she had hoped Charlotte would be older than 12 when it did.

“I was, yes. You know your Nana was Destiny Hill, right?” Bella had hoped to steer her away from what she feared was coming next, the inevitable Estevan incident. Almost 15 years later, it was still haunting her.

“Of course, Mama. Everyone knows Nana was Destiny Hill. But a boy said today in class that you used to be a magician, and your name was Bella Hill.” Charli looked concerned, and it was that look that scared Bella senseless. “Is that true?”

“Yes, sweetheart, it is true.” Rather than volunteer information, Bella thought that just answering her questions would be better.

“What does ‘tramp’ mean?”

Oh no, what do I tell her now? Bella was panicked, but desperately trying to hide her fear. “Generally, a tramp is someone who travels around a lot, and doesn’t stay put for very long.” She was hoping the context of Charli’s question would be sated with that answer. But the furrowed brow on her daughter’s face told a different story.

“Well, that doesn’t make any sense, Mama. You don’t travel very much at all.” She was trying very hard to understand, but unfortunately, Bella’s words weren’t making much sense.

“Okay,” Bella submitted. “No more beating around the bush. You asked, and you deserve the truth. But, if there is something you don’t understand, ask me questions. Are we good?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Technically, the definition I gave you of ‘tramp’ is correct, but I’m guessing it’s not in the proper context. You know what that means, sweetie?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Okay, good. How they meant it when they said ‘tramp’ means a woman who has relations with many men, recklessly and often.”

Charli blushed. “Wow, Mama. I wasn’t expecting that answer.”

“I know, honey, which is why I was trying to avoid it. But you remember we had that talk a few months ago. This shouldn’t be unfamiliar for you.”

“No, I’m following okay so far, Mama.”  Charli nodded her head, still trying to make sense of what her friends said.

“So, I’m guessing one of your friends, or someone called me a tramp. Is that correct?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Okay, good. Well, not good, but at least I understand better.” She paused and retrieved a photo album from her childhood. Inside were photos of her and Estevan when they were together. She opened the album to the page and pointed out the image. “See this boy? His name was Estevan, and he was my boyfriend when Aunt Bree was dating that Nigel guy you saw in town a few times. You remember, he was talking to himself by the lake at Verde Park, and you asked me about him.”

Charli nodded. “I didn’t like him, Mama.”

Bella laughed. “That makes all of us. Anyway, Estevan and I broke up after we dated for almost a year. Do you know what vengeance means, sweetie?”

“I think so. Is it when you try to get back at someone for something?”

“That’s exactly it! So, after a few years, when I was just starting in my career, Estevan started following me around and trying to get me in trouble with my agent, the lady before Jen. Do you remember Jen? She gave you Riley.”


“Well, not important. Anyway, Estevan and his sister, Maria, started spreading lies about me and your dad all over town. None of it was true. I thought this was well behind us, but I guess it will follow me all the way to my last day, especially since you’re asking me about this now.” Bella took a sip of water. “To make a long story short, honey, they were put in jail for lying about me and your Daddy. We were cleared, but sometimes lies are easier to believe than the truth.”

“Why would he do that, Mama? To get back at you for what? I don’t understand.”

“Estevan wasn’t a very nice person, and you know, sometimes people are just not nice. But you can’t let the not nice people push you around. Most of the time, I still don’t understand why. But it happened, and it is in the past.” She hugged Charlotte. “I won’t tell you what to believe, but what I will ask you to do is think of everything you know to be true about me, and whether the information you hear is consistent with what you know. Then make your own decisions.” Hopefully, she thought, your decisions won’t make me the bad guy. “You can apply that to everything in life, Charlotte. But never let anyone tell you what to believe, without searching your heart and the evidence for the truth. Because the truth will always set you free.”

“Well, I know you’re my Mama, and I know you love me more than I even understand, even when I don’t behave, even when I do something stupid. That doesn’t sound like the person they described to me today.” Charlotte was a brilliant and observant child, and she wasn’t easy to fool. Bella and Rog were thankful for that every day.

“You know what, princess? You’re a pretty incredible kid. Your daddy and I love you and Christopher to the moon and back.”

“Well,” she said, smiling impishly, “I can’t speak for him, but I love you more.”

“Nope, that’s impossible!” Bella hugged her tightly and tickled her belly.

“Not fair, Mama!” she giggled.

“So, are we good, honey?” Bella kissed her forehead as she let her grasp loosen.

“Yes, Mama. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, baby girl.”

Bella pulled Rog aside one sunny afternoon, before Charlotte’s 15th birthday. “Hey, baby, I was thinking,” she said, “You know that ring my Daddy gave me?”

“Yeah,” he answered. “What about it?”

“Charlotte is getting to the same age I was when he gave it to me. I’d like her to have it, with the same promise to go with it.” Bella opened the box where she kept it and showed it to Rog. “I mean, it needs to be cleaned and polished, but I’d really like you to give this to her.”

Rog picked the ring out of the box and slipped it on to his pinky finger. “Yeah, it looks a bit beat up, but I’m sure the jeweler in town can pretty it up.” He slipped it back off his finger and gave it back to Bella. “But, why don’t you give it to her yourself?”

Bella wasn’t sure how to approach it. Rog hadn’t been the example that Arthur had been for her, though it wasn’t necessarily bad. Just different. But it was something that she treasured as a gift from her own dad, and she thought Charli would cherish it, coming from Rog. “Well, I don’t want to compare you to my father,” she began, “because it’s apples and oranges, to borrow your expression. But wouldn’t it be nice to take her on a real date, you know, before she starts dating young men? So she knows how she should be treated, and how a young gentleman is supposed to act?” She looked at the ring, feeling emotional.

“You know, I never even considered that.” Rog knew how Bella obtained her ring years ago, but it never occurred to him to impart that same knowledge to his own daughter. “My dad never did that with my sisters, so I guess it didn’t occur to me.”

“I’d love it if you would, baby.” She stepped behind him and laid her head on his shoulder. “It would mean the world to me.”

“Then, consider it done!”

“You’re the best!” Bella kissed his shoulder and he turned around. “I’ll get the ring fixed up, and you can take her out when it’s done.”

“It will be my honor. She should know what to expect, and what to accept.” Rog hugged her close and kissed her.

Outside the bedroom door, Charlotte was trying to listen in. She knew they were talking about her, but she was unable to make out words, and it was frustrating. The door opened, and they caught her eavesdropping.

“How much did you hear, Charlotte?” Rog was not amused.

“Not much, nothing really.” She knew by the tone of his voice he wasn’t happy with her.

“Which is it, not much, or nothing?”

“Nothing, sir.”

“Do you know how awful it is to spy on other people? What if your mother and I did that to you while you are on the phone?” Rog was stern with her. He wanted to be able to trust her, especially since the gift was pending. He only hoped she hadn’t discovered their intentions.

“You’re right, Dad. I’m sorry.”

“Go to your room, Charlotte,” Bella told her. “I don’t want to see you until dinner, understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Charlotte kicked her door as she walked into the bedroom, and closed the door gently behind her. Good job, Charlotte, she thought. Good luck trying to get to prom next week now.

“I don’t believe she just did that,” Bella told Rog. “I never expected that from her.”

“Me neither,” Rog agreed. “Are you sure about that ring?”

Bella nodded. “Especially now. I am going to need that promise, and soon. I want to be a grandmother someday, but not while I’m still raising my own!” She slipped the ring box into her pocket. “I’ll be back in a while.”

“Drive safe!” he yelled to her.

Charlotte had a note tucked under her bedroom door, addressed to her. Thinking it strange, she opened the envelope and read the letter inside:

My sweet Charlotte, would you do me the honor of being my dinner date this evening? I am looking forward to spending time with you. I love you with all my heart.

Love, Daddy

She looked at her alarm clock. Seven in the morning. She knew it was too late to catch him before work, so she sent him a text:

Daddy, I would love to have dinner with you tonight. What should I wear? I love you, too.

Love, Charlotte

Charli ran downstairs and showed the letter to Bella. “Do you know anything about this, Mama?”

Bella’s sly smile gave her away. “I was going to say no, but you’re too smart for that.”

“I love this, but why? Wouldn’t Daddy rather take you for dinner to some fancy restaurant tonight?”

“He has his reasons, Charli. That’s all I’m going to say.” She hugged her daughter. “It’s time for school. Come right home afterward, okay?”

“Yes, Mama!” She blew a kiss to Bella and ran for the bus.

All morning long, she found it difficult to concentrate. All she could think of was her “date” with her father, but she dared not tell anyone at school about it. She had already heard new whispers of rumors that she didn’t even want to entertain, and she couldn’t afford to be ostracized from her group of friends.

During her language class, her phone chimed. Rog texted back at his morning break, writing:

Dearest Charlotte, wear your best dress. Have Mama help you fix your hair and makeup. I am eagerly awaiting our date.

Hugs and kisses,

Her smile was apparent, and the teacher knew she was not paying attention because the lesson was not much to smile about. “Miss St John, what are the major parts of a sentence?”

Charlotte didn’t have a clue, but decided not to fake it. “I’m not sure, Mr. Lawrence. I wasn’t paying attention.”

“I will give you credit for admitting it.” The teacher turned to his desk and reached down for an assignment. “Your classmates will thank you for an extra assignment tonight. I want it tomorrow, first thing in the morning, on my desk.” Charli sighed. This was not going to help her social standing in the group.

“Thanks a lot, Charli,” was the standard, sarcastic expression of gratitude she heard from her classmates.

Mr. Lawrence pulled her aside after class. “What was so important that you had to disrupt my class, Miss St. John?”

“A text from my father,” she stated. “He was answering a question I had asked him earlier.” She fumbled with her phone, trying to put it away. “I didn’t get to see him before work today, and it was important.”

“Was it an emergency? And by emergency, was someone dying at home? Sick? Severely injured?”

“No, sir.”

“I see.” He thought for a moment, then stated, “If your phone disrupts my class again, I will confiscate it and your father can pick it up after school. Have I made myself clear?”

She knew what would happen if Rog had to collect her phone because she broke the rules. “Crystal clear, sir.”

“Very well, Charlotte. You’ll be late for your next class. You know I don’t do tardy notes, so you had better hurry.”

Charlotte rushed home as quickly as she could, so she could start her extra essay assignment before her date.

“What’s that you have, Charlotte?” Bella asked her, as she spread her assignments across the dining room table.

“An extra assignment, thanks to me.” Bella already knew about the phone incident in class, and she was super impressed that she didn’t throw Rog under the bus.

“What happened?”

“My phone chimed. I got a text message that could have waited until after class, but I had to look.” She wrote a few sentences in her essay. “It was my fault.”

“Well, I’m proud of you for owning your mistake.” Bella looked at her watch. “About an hour, we’ll need to get you ready for your date.”

Charli worked for the full hour, trying to squeeze as much homework into the allotted time as she could. Then she went up to shower quickly, and Bella pulled her hair up into a tail, which fanned out on top of her head like a flower. Charli’s hair wasn’t especially long, so the style worked well for her. A few dabs of makeup, but not too much, and she wiggled into a pink gown to finish the look. Gazing upon her reflection in the mirror, she became her own worst critic.

“I look like a candy wrapper in this. Might as well write ‘Sblonked!’ across my body and call it good.” She tried to smooth the satin with her hand, but she didn’t like the way the dress hung on her small frame.

“You look stunning, Charli. Your Daddy is going to love this.” Bella readjusted the bits of hair that became disheveled when she got dressed. “Now it’s perfect!”

Bella’s phone chimed in with a message. “Your father is downstairs waiting for you.” She took Charlotte’s arm and led her down the steps, and out to a limousine. “Wow, he got you a limo. I’m officially jealous!” She kissed her daughter’s cheek, and said, “Have a great time with your dad. He has been looking so forward to this.” The driver opened and held the door for her, and she sat down, Rog beaming at her.

“You look amazing, my princess.” He took her hand and kissed it. Charli blushed.

“Why are you making a fuss over me, Dad? Wouldn’t you rather spoil Mama with this?”

“Why can’t a father spoil his only daughter once in a while?” He popped open a bottle of sparkling cider, the kind she did like, and poured a glass for her, and one for him. He offered a toast, and they talked on the way to the restaurant.

When the limo arrived, the driver opened and held the door for her again. Rog, who had already gotten out of the car, held his hand for her to take. She gently placed her hand in his and stood up. Rog gave the driver a generous tip, and asked that he stay close by.

The restaurant was an older establishment, but not one they frequented, only for special occasions. Rog had arranged for yellow roses, Charlotte’s favorite, to be on the table before their date. The Maître d’ showed them to the table, which was set out of the way. She had never seen a more elegant scene, and the experience was beginning to overwhelm her.

They sat down, and Rog ordered for both of them. Then, he took her hands in his, noticing how worn and calloused his hands looked compared to her soft, youthful ones.

“Sweetheart, I want to tell you why we are here tonight.” He rubbed her fingers, if for no other reason than to calm his own nerves. “I know you’re getting older, and soon you’ll want to date boys in your school.” Charli blushed. “Hear me out, honey,” Rog asked. “I don’t mean to embarrass you. Anyway, when that time comes, I want you to know what to expect. I want you to know how you should expect to be treated, and how you should be respected.” Rog smiled softly at her. “Remember, my love, if a boy mistreats you, or disrespects you, you won’t want him around.” He remembered Bella’s years-long struggle with Estevan Best. He did not wish that sort of torment on his beautiful daughter.

The waiter came with bread and a small Caprese salad, which they shared. “Now, I’m not implying that every date should be this extravagant because a young man won’t have much money. It’s not the restaurant, and it isn’t the flowers. A boy should want to be with you because he wants to know more about you, not because of what he thinks he will get from you.” Rog reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring box. Gently, he opened it, watching her expression. “This ring was your mama’s ring, given to her by her own father when she was just about your age. Your grandfather told her it was meant to be worn on her left hand, until it was replaced by a wedding band. Tonight, I want to give you this ring with the same promise from you, and the same understanding.” He took the ring from the box and slid it on to her left ring finger. “Sweetheart, this ring is to be worn on your left hand, until your future husband replaces it with your wedding band.” Charlotte nodded, tears in her eyes. The meaning of such a gift, having an heirloom passed down from her own mother, flooded her heart. He kissed her hand, admiring the golden band with the small solitaire diamond. The jeweler had done a great job making it like new.

Charli opened her handbag and found that Bella had put some tissues into the compartment inside. Taking one from the package, she dabbed her eyes. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me, Daddy. I love it, and I adore that it was Mama’s ring, too. I promise to wait.” Rog stood up and held his hand for her to take. She took it and stood up, and he hugged her.

“That’s my girl,” he said. “Would you like to dance?” he asked, leading her to the dance floor.

“But, I don’t know how!” she protested.

“That’s what I’m going to show you,” he answered.

They returned to the table just before dinner was served. Rog gave her more tips and advice as they enjoyed their meal and each other’s company. “I’m so happy you agreed to come for dinner with me tonight, Charlotte.” He wiped a tear from his own eyes as he spoke. “You’re almost an adult, only three more years until you graduate high school, and you’ll be on your own, ready to spread your wings.” He took a sip of water to help him swallow the growing lump in his throat. “Your Mama and I are so proud of you, Charli. You’re a sweet, smart and charming young woman.”

“I’m glad you think so. I wasn’t very popular with my language class this morning.”

Having heard from Mr. Lawrence, who had contacted Rog to corroborate her story, he already knew of the incident. In fact, he’d been waiting for it to come up. Now, he offered her one last chance to shift the blame, knowing she would tell the truth. “What happened this morning?”

“I got a text during his class, and my phone chimed.” She waited for him to ask if it was his text, but he didn’t. “I knew it could have waited until after class, but I didn’t wait, and I got caught.” She sighed, remembering the unfinished essay that waited for her. It would be a long night. “I knew the rules in his class, and I disobeyed them. It got us an extra assignment, because of my carelessness.”

Rog smiled. She answered the question exactly how he knew she would, and he couldn’t have been more delighted. “Why didn’t you say that it was my text that got you in trouble?”

“Because, Daddy, it was still my fault. I knew my phone was supposed to be off, but I disobeyed the rules.” She hung her head, ashamed of herself.

“Princess, that is the most grown-up thing you have ever done.” He took her hand again and kissed it. “I couldn’t be prouder of you. Taking responsibility for something you’ve done is hard, but you did it despite what the consequences might be.” He took his phone from his pocket and showed her the email from Mr. Lawrence. It read:

Dear Mr. St John,

I am aware your daughter was waiting on a text from you regarding an important question she asked you this morning. I informed her that the next offense would be confiscation of her phone, and it would only be released back to you.. She accepted the terms, and she and the other students were given an extra assignment as punishment for her disruption. If she is as you say she is, however, and you will provide your witness to that fact, I am willing to waive the assignment for her, under the strictest confidence. I know you are a man of your word, Mr. St John, and a respected member of society. All she needs to do is be honest and accept full responsibility for her actions. Charlotte has always been a joy to have in class and is one of my favorite students. If I am hard on her, it is because I expect more from her. Please give her my regards, and enjoy your evening with her. You have inspired me to do the same with my own girls.  


Tom Lawrence, Language Arts, Central High School.

Charli had to read it twice to make sure she understood it. “I don’t have to finish that essay?”

“No, you don’t. In fact, I’m about to text him right now and tell him that you did your mother and me proud tonight. But all you had to do was be yourself. You have a good heart, Charlotte. Remember that you are worthy of love, honor, and respect. But you have to love, honor and respect yourself, too.” Rog typed a quick message to Mr. Lawrence, and added one last thought. “You cannot tell your classmates you have been excused from that assignment, or we’re both in deep with your teacher!” He laughed, and she did, too.

“You have my word.”

“I know what your word is worth, sweetheart. That’s good enough for me.”

Charlotte was angry with her mother. After finding out that a job she was doing could have endangered her and her little brother, she really wanted nothing more to do with Bella. One morning, Charlotte was having a rough time trying to figure out what to wear to school, and her mother was really on her case about being late. Pushing her luck too far, she got herself grounded for two weeks.

Freedom, for one more day, she thought. I’m not going to school. So she went to the beach for the day and just sat around, pondering her life, and her upcoming graduation. She had fallen asleep in a lounge chair, listening to the sounds of the ocean, letting it drown out the echo of her mother’s nagging voice.

She was jarred awake by a lifeguard at 4:30. She was late getting home, and she knew that would get her into more trouble. So, she took the shortest way home she knew… right through downtown Shores.

The radio is playing some awesome music, she thought as she traveled down Los Sueños Drive toward the house. Suddenly, a car turned in front of her, and she slammed on her brakes. It wasn’t enough, and she plowed into the car, hitting it broadside. The force of the collision was enough to flip her car twice, her little white Ford coming to rest on the roof. A bystander called for police and fire/rescue while another tried to free her from the car, to no avail.

“Miss? Miss? Are you okay?”

Charlotte groaned and closed her eyes as she hung upside down, restrained by her seat belt. She reached up to touch her head, and her hand was damp. Opening her eyes, she tried to focus, but couldn’t. In the distance, sirens sounded, getting closer and closer until they stopped in front of her car, blocking it from more traffic and danger. She wiped her hand, which was sticky, on her shirt and let her arms fall limp.

A man stuck his face into her window. “Hey sweetie,” he said to her. “I’m Orrin, and I’m gonna get you out of this car, okay?” She nodded faintly. “I need a knife and a backboard!” Orrin yelled to the other medics on the scene. Gently, he cut away the seat belt and supported her as gravity let her fall onto the board. “That’s it, honey. Hang in there,” he encouraged.  Twenty minutes later, they had her out of the car and did a preliminary assessment.

“What happened?” Charlotte asked. Her head hurt, and blood was running down her cheek.

“You had a bad accident, sweetie,” Orrin told her. “But you’re going to be okay.” They continued to evaluate her and discovered no major injuries, but lots of cuts, some broken glass poked out from her skin, and lots of bruising. “Is there someone I can call for you?”

She thought about calling her dad, but thought the better of it. He would go bananas if he saw the car, sitting on its roof, smoking and busted up. “No, it’s okay.”

The policeman working the investigation blocked traffic for blocks around the site. They measured the tire marks her car left, to figure out the rate of speed at which she traveled. The other driver was critically injured, and was lifted to the hospital by helicopter. They spoke with witnesses, who all said that the other car turned in front of her, and she couldn’t have avoided the crash.

An hour later, and Charlotte was feeling better. A detective approached her to ask some questions about the crash, what she remembered about it.

“I thought I was going to die,” she told the officer. “I don’t know where he came from, I swear. I remember hitting my brakes, and then him. The sound was terrible. And then suddenly, it was over.”

“You’re a lucky girl, Charlotte,” he said. “We don’t know if the other driver will survive. He was hurt pretty badly. But, it wasn’t your fault, honey. Don’t you worry about that.” He patted her hand and left. From the corner of her eye, she saw Rog, flailing his arms around and asking questions. Oh no, she thought.

Rog ran to her, pale white, as if he’d seen a ghost. She looked so beaten up. And why wasn’t she at the hospital? So many questions to ask and so few answers. But, Rog was told she didn’t want to go, that her father was a doctor.

“Are you okay, sweetheart?” he asked when he finally got to see her. She nodded. “You don’t look okay.” He hugged her. “Your mother has been worried sick!”

“I’m sorry Daddy. I never meant… “ Charlotte never finished her sentence before she started to cry. He looked at the car and shook his head.

“How? How did you come out of that so uninjured?” Rog was gobsmacked.

“I don’t know, Daddy. I thought I was dead. It was awful.”

“I’m here now, princess,” he said. “I’ll be right back.” He went to talk with the medics to get her released to bring home for medical monitoring. He could take care of her, and bring her in if needed. When he returned, he announced, “I’m just waiting on that paperwork, sweetheart, and we are free to go.”

“Daddy, I want to go home. Can we go?” She was tired of being poked and prodded, and she just wanted to lay down.

“Let me finish that paperwork so I can take you, and we’ll go.” Rog went to sign the paperwork that released liability from the paramedics, but they knew she was in good hands. Dr. St John was well known and respected in town. He was capable of caring for his daughter.

Two hours later, after they returned home, a flatbed truck delivered what remained of Charlotte’s car. Chris went out to see it and was almost sick when he saw the blood, shattered glass and twisted metal. Bella was horrified, but at the same time grateful that Charlotte escaped serious injury. Later that night, Rog was called back to the hospital to care for the other driver, who sadly didn’t survive the night.

Charlotte had a rough time the first night after the accident. Nightmares. Reliving the crash. She woke up screaming several times, and Bella sat up with her, holding her. She told Bella she thought she might have died, because she remembered someone telling her to go back, but there had been no reports of the Reaper at the crash site.

“You might have dreamed it, sweetheart, when you were unconscious.” Bella brushed her hair back away from her face as she rocked Charlotte. And all the while she sat, holding her daughter, she sang to her.

Rog brought Charlotte to work with him the next day, to check her out completely, and to his great surprise, nothing was broken, she had no concussion, and no glass embedded anywhere that hadn’t already been removed. She slept for most of the day in a bed while he worked, and he checked on her during his downtimes.

When Rog and Charlotte returned home, he sat down with Bella. “Darling, our daughter is a walking miracle. She should not have survived that crash, but she did. She should have life-altering injuries, but she is not harmed.”

Bella cried when he told her. “Well, I guess we can call her ‘Blessed.’”

Bella was ironing Charlotte’s graduation gown, while she was trying to hide a scar on her cheek. Since the accident, Charli and Bella had repaired their bitter relationship. In many ways, it was a blessing in disguise as Charlotte realized that life was fragile, and being young didn’t protect her from the Reaper’s unrelenting grasp. She gazed at the cap which sat on her desk, decorated with glitter and written in Bella’s beautiful calligraphy. It bore the word, “Blessed.” She never believed it more than she did after her car accident.

She was just barely eighteen years old, but she still felt like a child in so many ways. Though she was attending university with her younger brother, Chris, she was still so unsure of her future. She dabbed on the last bit of concealer and smoothed it out, to make it look more natural. “Turn around, let me look at you,” Bella said as she turned around.

“I can’t see it, sweetie,” Bella reported. “You did a good job hiding it.”

After a moment’s pause, Charlotte announced, “You know what, Mama, I’ve changed my mind,” Charli announced as she went into the bathroom to wash her face. “I don’t want to hide my past.” Bella stopped in her tracks. It was probably the best advice she had ever gotten, and it came from the mouth of her 18-year-old daughter.

Rog and Bella, Chris and Charlotte rode together to City Hall for the graduation ceremony. The kids posed for pictures outside before the ceremony began, and then they went inside. Charlotte was named Valedictorian, like her mother and grandmother had been before her. Her speech was off the cuff and short, right to the point.

“My fellow graduates, I apologize for not having anything prepared for this. I thought my brother, Christopher, would be standing here instead of me.” The crowd laughed. “As you know, I was involved in a fatal accident two months ago. It changed my life, as it would for anyone, I guess. I shouldn’t be standing here, graduating with all of you. The paramedics that rescued me from my car that afternoon say I shouldn’t have lived. Even my father, Dr. St John, said I defied all odds when I survived the crash. What I will carry, as a permanent reminder, are scars. This one on my cheek had a shard of glass sticking out of it when I was pulled from the wreck. We will all accumulate scars, though yours might look different than mine, or they might come from a different place. But our scars are what make us unique, and beautiful. Never try to run from your past. Somehow, it has a way of catching you and reminding you.”

“I have learned much from that fateful day. I have learned I shouldn’t skip school.” That got a chuckle from the crowd. “I have learned that a car can be a dangerous thing, and that driving isn’t something anyone should take for granted. I have learned that just because I am young, I am not immune from the Reaper. And, I’ve learned to live life in the now, for the moment, because we are never guaranteed tomorrow.” She paused to wipe a tear from her eye. “The young man who was killed in that crash graduated from this high school 3 years ago this month. His bad decision cost him his own life, and nearly mine. He will never see another tomorrow. Let… let that not be us.” The crowd stood on their feet and gave her a standing ovation. “Thank you, to whatever force made me survive. I’ll never take that gift for granted again.  Thank you, and congratulations!”

The first teacher to congratulate Charlotte was Tom Lawrence, her language teacher from freshman year. He hugged her and patted her on the back. “You have a great future ahead of you, Miss St John. Take full advantage of the opportunities at university, and you’ll succeed.”

“Thank you, Mr. Lawrence.”

“I’m proud of you, kiddo.” She smiled at him as he walked away. It was the first time he’d ever called her anything but Miss St John.

The alarm went off early for a Monday with no school, and Charlotte considered turning it off and rolling over. But she knew that an alarm would be sounding in the room down the hall, her parent’s room, so she thought the better of it. Her family photos had been taken down and packed into a box. Her laptop was already packed in her backpack. And Riley was all set in her new spot on Charlotte’s bed and would wait eagerly for her return in the spring. She got up and showered, and by the time she was headed downstairs, Bella was already making breakfast, and the house was alive with the sounds of family. It made her a little sad. This would be the last time they had breakfast as a family together for a long time, and certainly everything would be different the next time.

The truck arrived at 9:30am, and the movers began loading the boxes she and Chris had packed, along with their bicycles. By 10am, they were ready to ship out. Charlotte was almost ready for a new adventure, but she didn’t feel like she was done living her old one yet. Friends were being left behind, family she would miss terribly. And yet, she had her brother with her, though they were three years difference in age, she thought of him as a friend, too. And right now, he would be her closest friend. She promised her mother she would watch over Chris at Sim State, for he was the tender age of 15. Not the youngest to ever attend the university, but close.

“Well, Mama, I guess this is it. The cab is waiting for us.” Charlotte hugged Bella.

“I can’t believe my baby girl is all grown up!” Bella answered. “I’m going to miss you, so much!” She and Chris got into the cab and rolled the windows down. Waving, they repeated, “Bye-bye!” as the house faded into the horizon.

Up Next: Christopher Arthur St John