Bianca “Bee” Atwood

Bianca, or “Bee” as both of her parents called her, sat in the doorway of the laundry room in the garage, banging on the toy xylophone that was once Destiny’s toy. She was a little more than 4 years old, but she already had a decent talent for anything that was even remotely creative.

“Sounds great, Bee,” Desi said to her youngest as she sat on the floor, folding clothes fresh from the laundry. “Just a little more practice, and you’ll be as good as your Daddy.”

“Thanks you!” Bianca chirped. “I gonna be inna ban, like Daddy!”

Destiny sighed. Not you, too, she thought. “Technically, Daddy wasn’t in a band, love.”

“But he pays good!” The look on Bianca’s face was so serious, Desi had to chuckle.

“I know he does…” Desi began, then Arthur appeared in the garage, keys in hand.

“I know he does, what?” Arthur asked, winking at his wife.

“Pay panno good!” Bianca answered excitedly. “I go wiff you, Daddy? Where you going?”

“Not now, Angel,” Arthur replied. “I’m going to pick up Bree from school. I got a call from Mr. Scott.”

“Uh oh,” Destiny said. “What’s wrong?”

“I won’t know until I get there, love. It doesn’t sound good, though.” Arthur hopped into the sports car that Desi bought for him for his 50th birthday. He blew a kiss to Desi and left.

“Uh oh,” Bianca repeated. “Bree in trubba.”

Destiny laughed. “You may be right. Come on, sweet pea. Let’s get you some lunch!”

“Gilled chee, pease!” Bianca babbled as Destiny carried the girl to the house.

“Yes, love,” Destiny sang. “Grilled cheese it is.” She kissed the baby’s forehead and sat her in the high chair. Bianca sang in baby babble as Destiny started lunch. She loved hearing Bianca’s songs and listened while she cooked lunch for her baby girl.

“Do you got my puhmission slip, Daddy?” Bianca was putting her books and one doll into her backpack for school. Her class was going to the theater that day for a field trip, and Bee wanted to make sure she wasn’t left out.

“Yes, little love. Check your pencil box.” Arthur was sweeping up crumbs from breakfast, wishing Destiny would call home. She was on tour and had been gone for a few days. He was nearing burnout and needed a break.

Checking the small plastic box and finding the paper she wanted inside, she turned and gave Art two thumbs up. “Thanks you, Daddy! Did you sign one for Patti, too?” The girl referred to her imaginary friend, Patricia, or Patti.

“Yes, Patti can go, too.” He laughed and handed her a lunch bag and a small amount of money. “This is for you to spend at the theater. Give it to the teacher when you get to school, okay Bee?”

“Okay, Daddy!” She grabbed the $10 bill from Arthur and stuffed it into her pocket. She picked up her backpack as Arthur draped a sweater over her arm.

“It’s going to be chilly today, sweetie. Don’t forget your sweater.” She put the sweater on and hauled the pack over her shoulder. “Have fun, baby girl!” Arthur called to her as she ran to the bus.

At the theater, she got to see all of the backstage places that Destiny had described to her. She knew what every piece of stage equipment was called, and what it did. The manager of the theater was quite impressed with her. “How do you know all this, little girl?”

“Well,” she started, “My Mama is Destiny Hill, an’ she tells me all this stuff!” Immediately, Bianca became the class pet for the duration of the trip and even got a free snow cone from the concession area and a poster, which she paid for, from the souvenir shop.

On the bus on the way back from the theater, one of the boys in her class started teasing her. Soon, all the kids on the bus were joining in teasing her, until the teacher finally stopped it. She just sat in her seat, now by herself, and endured the teasing. Even her best friend, who she sat with on the way to the theater, and who she played with every day after school, shunned her and joined in on the teasing. Determined not to cry, she sat in silence, arms crossed in front of her, talking to Patti. Of course, that made things much worse, but she kept talking to Patti anyway, as though she didn’t hear them.

Once the bus dropped her off at home, she could no longer hold her tears. Dragging her backpack behind her, the sweater dusting the ground as she walked, she burst through the front door and started to cry. Arthur took one look at her face and knew something had gone horribly wrong.

“What’s wrong, Bee?” He stooped down and opened his arms to hug her. She stepped into his waiting hug and wrapped herself around his neck.

“I hate school.” Her ragged sobs echoed through his ears and her hot tears dripped onto his shirt.

“What? Why? You were looking forward to the trip all week.” He got down on his knees and sat back on his heels. With one hand, he patted his leg, motioning for her to sit, which she did. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief, and gave it to Bianca.

“The kids were mean to me on the bus. All I did was tell them that Mama is Destiny Hill.” Arthur frowned. “They said that Mama can’t sing and that she shlepp her way up.” Bee blew her tiny nose. “What does that even mean, Daddy?”

“Never mind that, sweetheart. I’ll have a chat with the principal tomorrow.” He gave her another hug and fixed her a glass of milk and some fresh cookies. “Do you have homework tonight?”

“No, just an essay.” Bianca plopped herself in front of the television with her snack.

“Well, you can watch a little television, but then I need you to write that essay, okay love?”

“Okay Daddy,” Bianca replied, munching on her cookies.

“Bee!” Arthur called from the kitchen. “Time for breakfast, young lady!” Bianca was busy painting on Destiny’s old easel.

“Just a minute, Daddy!” She called back. “Just one last thing!”

“Bianca, NOW!” Arthur shouted back. “The bus will be here in thirty.”

Bianca huffed and threw the paintbrush onto the floor, which left a big paint smudge on the hardwood. She didn’t like to be interrupted when she was in her creative zone. She rushed to her bedroom and threw on the first things that she put her hands on; a pair of plaid pants and a polka-dotted shirt. She grabbed her horn-rimmed glasses and put her long, curly hair into a messy tail and stomped down the stairs.

Arthur scowled at her, his head pounding, not appreciating her attitude this particular morning. “Lose the attitude, little missy.” Handing her a plate of French toast, he asked, “Is there something wrong, Bee?”

“Naw, Daddy. I just wanted to work on my paintin’.” She tore into her breakfast as though she hadn’t eaten in days.

“Sorry, little love,” Arthur replied. “You have to go to school. End of story.”

She huffed again and finished her meal just as the bus arrived. “Bye-bye Daddy!” Bianca said and blew her father a kiss.

Arthur finished up the dishes and collapsed into his rocking chair, sick with flu. I’m glad she is the last one, he thought to himself. I’m about done!

Destiny had been upstairs in the loft doing some dusting when she spotted the drying paintbrush on the floor. This wasn’t the first time Bianca had made a mess and failed to even acknowledge she did it. But as Desi set the brush onto the easel, she caught a glimpse of the girl’s painting. It was a scene that was strangely familiar, though she was certain Bianca had never seen such a place. Snow lightly falling, street lights shown on some icicles that dangled from the roof of an old farmhouse. A beige horse in the background galloped into the storm. Destiny realized that Bianca had painted a house that was eerily similar to the old Farmer house in Appaloosa Plains. She had long since given Penny’s old photos to Bree, and she was certain that Bianca had never seen the house she had painted in the idyllic scene. She must have imagined what that old house would look like, Destiny thought. She sat staring at the unfinished masterpiece for a long time,  marveling at her daughter’s talent and vision.

Bianca swung the door open and made the most dramatic entrance of her life, as though she was auditioning for an acting role in the next big movie. “Guess what?” she posed, her hand on her forehead, pretending to faint.

Destiny started to laugh. Bianca was always her own person, even as a little girl. Her style was eclectic, maybe even a little BoHo, her command of the language sometimes shady at best, but Bianca’s creativity and imagination was even beyond Destiny’s own ability at her age. “Okay, I’ll bite.” Destiny thought for a moment and finally came up with, “You painted my portrait on the school sidewalk!”

“Very funny, Mama. No, I’m going to Junior prom on Sunday night.” Bianca was already planning in her head what she would wear, but she was certain she already had the perfect outfit.

Arthur’s ears perked up when he heard the word ‘prom.’ “Oh? And who will be taking you, and why haven’t your mama and I met him yet?”

“Relax Daddy,” Bianca retorted. “I’m going with a bunch of friends. No boys like me at school, anyways. They call me the ‘weird girl’.”

“Don’t you worry about the boys, Bee,” Destiny said with great relief in her voice. “If they don’t like you, it’s because they don’t understand you. But someday, you will have every boy in this town wanting to date you.”

Bianca made a funny face and turned to go upstairs. “I hope not!” She yelled from halfway up the steps. Destiny and Arthur looked at each other and laughed.

“It’s a good thing she wasn’t our first,” Arthur quipped.

“Yep,” answered Destiny. “She’d have been our only one.”

Destiny followed the girl upstairs and whispered to Art on her way by, “I’ve got this one.” Art blew her a kiss and whispered back, “Thank you!”

“Bee?” Destiny called through a closed door.

“What Mama?” Bianca answered.

“Do you need help with your dress, honey?”

“No, Mama,” Bianca laughed. “It’s not until Sunday!”

Destiny heard Bella laughing with Bianca. Oh, she already has help. Hmm. “Okay, Bee. If you change your mind…”

“I won’t,” Bianca answered, Bella laughed in the background.

By the time Bianca was in high school, she had a beautiful portfolio of artwork she had done since her childhood. She never felt more alive than when she was painting, and her passion showed in every aspect of her life. But what she had in talent, she lacked in personal style. Very seldom did anything the girl wear actually coordinate. She never looked out of sorts, however, because she somehow had the perfect accessory that made the whole outfit work. But when she was painting, a good, comfortable pair of Desi’s old jeans and Arthur’s old, holey tee shirt was exactly her style. Like her oldest sister, Bree, she tended to be shy and withdrawn, but around the right people, Bianca was the life of the party. Funny and smart, though not very refined, she reminded Destiny of a much younger self who looked much more like Arthur than her.

“Mama, can I ask you a question?” Bianca asked Destiny one night as she finished her homework.

“Sure sweet pea, what is it?” Destiny dried the last dinner dishes and sat down with her youngest.

“Would you be mad if I moved to where you’re from?” Bianca never worried about how her words would affect others. She just said what was on her mind, whether it was for the better or not.

“Well, of course, I wouldn’t be mad, sweetheart.” Desi bit her lip. She was hoping that the girls would stay in town until the Reaper came to visit Arthur and her. “I don’t know what family is still there, princess.”

“That’s okay, Mama,” Bianca stated. “You always talk about it like you miss it, so it must be a pretty cool place.”

“That it is, Bee,” Desi replied, smiling. “That it is.”

Bianca strolled around the art gallery, hands folded in front of her as the class roamed aimlessly. She walked to a corner display and stared at it. The vision and ability of the artist struck her, and she made mental notes of possible techniques to try on her own paintings. Next to the painting stood a sculpture she had seen before. It was on loan from the gallery in France, where she first saw it when she was just a child. Admiring the lines and curves of the sculpture, she reached to touch it when she heard the teacher yelling for her.

“Bianca!  It’s time to move, dear. We’re leaving.” Mrs. Avila called to her.

Reluctantly, she walked away from the display and toward the class, who was now laughing at her. At this point, ridicule and laughter didn’t bother her anymore, so she just shrugged her shoulders and stood in line to get counted in the class. On the bus home, she sat alone, daydreaming of the gallery. It was her favorite field trip yet, and she couldn’t wait to tell Destiny and Arthur.

“I’m home!” Bianca yelled when she walked through the front door. When no one answered her, she added, “If anyone cares.”

Destiny, who had been doing laundry in the garage, walked through the back door carrying a basket full of clothes. “Hi, Bee! How was your trip?”

“It was awesome, Mom.” Bianca smiled from ear to ear and told Destiny every minute detail of her trip.

When she was done, Destiny said, “Don’t forget your homework, Bee.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Bianca pulled her assignments from her backpack and began to do her homework.

On the television was a news report of an especially bad fire, and it involved Bree’s company.  A three-alarm fire was almost unheard of in Starlight Shores. Destiny sat glued to the television for any news that Bree might be okay.

A few hours later, Bree returned home safely, smelling strongly of smoke and burnt fabric. “Mama, I’m home!” she yelled to Destiny.

“I was so worried!” Destiny yelled back. “I’ve been watching the news all day!”

“What’s been goin’ on, Mom?” Bianca asked, looking up briefly from her homework.

“Big fire down the street, Bee. Your sister was a hero today.” Destiny smiled and then sighed a full breath of relief.

Bianca was working on an art project when she heard the commotion upstairs. Frantic footsteps climbed the flights of stairs, then Bree called for her. Bianca dropped her pen and made her way up to the top floor of the house, nearly crashing with Bree on the way up. She continued to ascend the steps to arrive at the top and rounded the corner to see her mother on her knees and Bree looking distraught. Destiny looked at Bianca, and from the look on her face and glancing to see Arthur’s golden urn, she understood what had happened. Turning from the scene, she began running back downstairs, as she heard Bree yell at her phone, “NOW!” Hitting the bottom landing on the steps, Bianca ran straight for her bed, dove under the covers and cried herself to sleep.

Bianca’s graduation gown sparkled in the sunlight as she walked to the steps of the City Hall. In glitter paint, she painted a big, sparkly bee with the word “Bee” in fancy script below it. Her cap had a similar, sparkly design that she painted freehand. Hers was the only gown adorned with extra embellishment, and for a moment, Mr. Scott contemplated telling Bianca she couldn’t wear it on stage. But, he knew the family well, and he also knew that Bianca would have been deeply disappointed if he had not allowed her to wear the cap and gown. It was bad enough she lost her father this past year.

Behind Bianca, Bella held steadily onto Destiny as they made their way to the auditorium.  Desi could barely walk on her own without assistance, but she made it clear to Bella that she needed to be at the ceremony. Bree was the ‘caboose’ to the train, bringing up the rear, camera strap around her neck. Inside the foyer, she snapped a picture of Bianca’s cap and gown, then the three women went to sit down.

Bianca was recognized for her exceptional artistic talent during graduation and was awarded a special achievement for being the youngest artist to be featured at the city museum. And like her sisters before her, Bianca graduated nearly first. Before Arthur’s death, she was in a position to earn the valedictorian honor, but her grades suffered as she grieved the loss of her father. After the last name was called, the group of graduates tossed their caps into a cloud of motion, except for one. When the last cap fell to the floor, Bianca was still wearing hers. After the ceremony, Bianca was not interested in dinner at a fancy restaurant, nor did she want a party in her honor. Instead, the family went home and quietly enjoyed a dinner that Bella cooked on the grill.

Five days after Bianca’s graduation, she and Bree were packing up the car with belongings for the long journey to Appaloosa Plains. Just when they both thought nothing else would fit, Bianca found her satchel of paints and pastels and a small sketch pad to stuff in behind her seat. Destiny, unable to stand for very long, leaned up against the fender of Bree’s car as they talked together. Bianca couldn’t wait to get to Appaloosa Plains, although she hated to leave her mother and sister behind. Finally, after what seemed like an uncomfortable eternity, Bree spoke up.

“Well, kiddo,” she told Bianca, “I think it’s time.”

Bee felt as though she would burst at the seams with excitement, but at the same time felt extremely saddened to leave her home and her childhood memories behind. She gave her mother a last hug and an “I love you,” as they both piled into the car. Bree rolled the windows down as they pulled away from the house, waving like mad and openly crying, for Bianca knew she would likely never see her sister Bella, or her mother again.

Up Next: Bella Atwood

Bella Atwood

Dressed in a pink gown, Bella held her cardboard scepter and with Destiny’s homecoming crown atop her head, she declared the royal court in session. Boinky, her “jester,” sat next to her, a small paper hat that Arthur had fashioned from the morning newspaper sitting askew on his head. The doll was a gift from Destiny’s comeback tour, straight from her hometown of Appaloosa Plains. Bella loved the doll sometimes more than her own sister, Bree, and he certainly seemed more alive and less like a doll to her. On the “queen’s” other side sat King Arthur, or “Daddy” as she called him. She poured a cup of imaginary tea, and set his cup on a placemat she drew herself.

“One sugar or two, Daddy?” Bella asked, giggling as if she had heard the funniest joke.

“Just one, my queen,” he replied. He lifted the cup, pretended to drink it, then made a funny face. “I guess I should have asked for two!” Bella giggled even harder.

“Oh Daddy, you’re silly!” Bella popped up and served Boinky a similar plastic cup of pretend tea, stirred in two sugars, on her Daddy’s advice, and sat down to fix her own. Arthur marveled at her vivid and incredibly active imagination.

Just then Arthur’s phone rang, and Desi’s voice chimed on the other end. Hearing her mother’s voice, Bella immediately began jumping up and down.  “Mama! Mama!” She chanted, “Wanna talk to Mama!”

Knowing he was fighting a losing battle, he handed the phone to Bella, and whispered, “I’m going to check on dinner. You be good!”

Taking the phone from Arthur, Bella began filling Destiny in about the royal tea party. “Daddy was my king! He made me laugh, silly Daddy!” She paused to take a breath. “Mama, Boinky wants a friend, he told me so last night!”

“Oh, is that so?” Destiny laughed. “Well, tell Boinky he might get his wish!” Bella chattered aimlessly for the next 10 minutes when Arthur returned and retrieved the phone. “Go play now, little one, and let Daddy talk to Mama, okay?”

“Okay, Daddy! Come on, Boinky! I have some great news!” Bella was still gibbering as her little feet descended the stairs.

Bella sat in her seat, her undivided attention turned to the shadowy figure that stood on stage. Destiny explained that what she would see wasn’t what it looked like, and to not be afraid. But Bella watched the magician perform what looked like the impossible, and she was hooked. She watched in eager anticipation every move the magician made, and she clapped first and she clapped the loudest. When the show was over, Destiny asked her how she enjoyed the show.

“Oh Mama, I loved it! How did he do those things? I wanna know everything!” Bella rambled non-stop for at least an hour, asking questions that Desi didn’t know how to answer. “When I grow up, I want to be just like him!” Destiny sighed. I was hoping none of my girls would follow me into show business, she thought to herself. However, she was more than a little hurt that singing wasn’t in the girl’s heart. Can’t win them all, Destiny. Take what you can get.  She chuckled to herself, and Bella noticed. “What’s so funny, Mama?”

“Oh, nothing that should concern you. You’re going to be a great magician!” Desi hugged her, and Bella just beamed with excitement.

“I know, right?” Bella took Desi’s hand and pulled her to the lobby of the Binder Clips Center. “Can I have this magic set?  Please?”

“Okay, but don’t tell Bree! It’s a secret, just you and me, okay?” Desi giggled as they approached the merchandise vendor.

“Cross my heart and hope to die!” Bella exclaimed. “Can we get ice cream on the way home?”

“Not tonight, my sweetheart.” Desi was tired, and she had to be on the road early in the morning. “But I’ll make it up to you when I get home on Tuesday night, okay?”

Even the thwarted effort for sweets did not dampen Bella’s spirit. The excitement began to die down on the way home, and by the time Destiny pulled into the driveway, Bella was sound asleep. She carried Bella into the house and up the stairs, doing her best not to wake her. Tucking her in, she kissed Bella goodnight and told her that she would be home soon.

Destiny was busy getting ready for Bree’s big sleepover party, the first one of the school year, and all her friends were invited. Bella was not happy about having a bunch of older kids in the house, but when they began to arrive, she found that she actually fit into the crowd better than she imagined. One boy, Estevan Best, was among the invited, and he and Bella got along rather well. They spent the night and into the wee hours of the morning talking, getting to know one another. The next morning during a breakfast of Destiny’s famous banana pancakes, Estevan, or Este as his friends called him, asked her to his junior prom. He was one year younger than Bree, and two older than Bella. Bree had already been dating Nigel Martin for a year or so, and they were going together to Bree’s senior prom, so they decided to double date. Rather than have two different formal dances, because the classes were so small, the junior and senior classes had a combined formal dance. Both of Destiny’s girls had dates, so she took them shopping and for primping at the salon before the dance.

Though Bree had won prom queen, Bella and Este had won honorable mention for the dance’s cutest couple.  They spent the entire evening on the dance floor, and most of the time were the only ones because the whole party had their eyes on them.  It was at the prom that Bella had her very first kiss with Este, during the photo that was taken for the yearbook and their own keepsakes. By the end of the evening, Bella was certain she was in love with the boy.

Bella didn’t go to prom again until her senior year, but it was different because Este did not go with her.  During her junior year, Bella and Este had a huge fight when he dared to treat her as poorly as Nigel treated Bree. Nigel and Estevan were close friends and had been hanging around together, maybe a little too much. Perhaps Bree would put up with it, but there was no way that Bella would do the same. The fight was heated, and she stormed out of math class, right in the middle of a lesson. Bella spent the rest of the afternoon in the principal’s office, trying to calm down and waiting for Arthur to pick her up.

“I’m disappointed in you, young lady. Causing a disruption in class? Being combative? Bella, this is not like you,” Arthur lectured on the way home.

“Daddy, it isn’t like you think.” Bella cried, her heart completely broken, and consumed with anger for Este.

“So, if it isn’t what I think, then tell me your side of the story.” Arthur tapped on the steering wheel, waiting for Bella to speak.

“Este! H-he called me a tramp.” Bella tried to calm herself down, but reliving the ordeal was just making things worse. “And, he told me I dress like a streetwalker!” She tried to keep calm, but she shook from anger and emotion.

Arthur’s temples twitched as he clamped his teeth together. “He said WHAT?”

Bella sobbed. “I can’t, Daddy. I can’t say it again…” her heart was breaking in two right before his eyes.

He pulled the car over to the side of the road, shaking with rage. Then he noticed his daughter, completely broken, sobbing in the seat next to him. Taking a deep breath, he collected himself and took Bella’s hand. “My love,” Arthur began, “You don’t need that…blockhead… in your life.” As he spoke, the thought of Estevan mistreating his daughter drove him near mad. “That boy must be out of his mind because he never realized the treasure you are.” Art unclenched his jaw, reached out and lifted his little girl’s tear-stained face to his, and his expression softened. “I am so proud of you, Bella.” He took his handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her.

“You… you are?” Bella said, trying to speak between the sobs.

“Yes, I am. You stood your ground. I can’t be angry with that.” It was evident that she was listening to him on their daddy-daughter dates. Arthur put his arm around her and pulled her close. He noticed the small diamond purity ring she wore on her finger, a gift from Arthur on one such date, and smiled. “I wish you could teach that to Bree. That boy Nigel is no good for her. But I can’t get through her thick head.”

“I know, Daddy, and she knows he is toxic. But she loves him, so…” Bella sobbed again.

Arthur sighed. This was the part of having girls he wished that Destiny could handle. Teenage drama was way over his pay grade. “Are you okay, sweetheart?”

“I will be Daddy. I just want to go home.”

“As you wish, my princess.”

Thud… thud… thud…. Arthur and Destiny looked at the ceiling and wondered if Bella would suddenly appear in front of them, crashed through the floor of her bedroom. “Settle down up there!” Arthur called to Bella.

“But I’m so excited about graduation!” Bella was always so excited about every good little thing that happened, and overly emotional about the rough patches. But on this day, the day before she received her high school diploma, she was especially passionate.

“And, I’m excited about my new J!”





thud.   Bella thought she would burst at the seams.

Destiny looked at Arthur, who briefly looked up from his morning paper. “She’s a handful,” he finally observed. “She always has been.”

“But she’s also always been a good girl, Art.” Desi sipped on her morning coffee, wincing with every new “thud” emanating from the girls’ room upstairs.

“I’m not going to tell you again, Bella! Settle down!” Arthur called to her. He rolled his eyes and laughed. “Tell me again why we had another after her?”

“It was your fault, Arthur.” Destiny teased.

“Me? It takes two to tango, Mrs. Atwood.” Arthur rolled up his newspaper and swatted Desi on the bottom, to which she stuck out her tongue. He reached for his wife and hugged her close.

“I like the sound of that.” Desi repeated, “Mrs. Atwood.”

The next morning was graduation for Bella. Destiny was upstairs helping the graduate with her hair and gown, while Arthur held the fort downstairs, preparing breakfast and putting Bianca’s hair into a ponytail, much to the girl’s chagrin.

“Mama, can I get a different color cap?” Bella adjusted and readjusted the cap. “Blue doesn’t go with my hair.”

“No, sweet pea, I think you’re stuck with blue.” Destiny chuckled at the face Bella made. “What’s wrong with blue?”

Bella shrugged her shoulders. “Nothing, I guess.” Bianca appeared in the doorway of the room. “What do you want, squirt?”

“Daddy says it’s time to go,” Bianca stated, very matter-of-factly. “Bella don’t want to be late for graduation.”

“Bella doesn’t want to be late, Bianca.” Destiny corrected her.

“That’s what I said, Ma.” Bianca huffed and ran down the steps.

Bella shook her head. “You know she doesn’t get that, Mama.”

Destiny shrugged. “She sounds like me when I was her age, Bella,” Desi remembered the country accent that she struggled for years to diminish, but when she heard Bianca speak, it was as if that part of her was still alive, a part she missed.

The family piled into the car for the ceremony. Like Bree, Bella was among the first in her class to receive her diploma and was easily named class Valedictorian. She also received an award for “Most Likely to Join A Sports Team.” After Bree’s award for the exact same thing, Bella wondered if they gave that award to just anyone. But she did have to admit that she and Bree were in very good physical condition. After the ceremony, Bella was treated to the same restaurant that Destiny and Arthur had brought Bree to after her graduation. But Bella stood at the head of the table and gave a speech. Bree wanted to sink under the table, but Bella was relishing the spotlight. Arthur nudged Desi’s arm and pointed to Bella. “That’s your child,” he whispered to Desi, to which she burst out laughing. Bella was not amused but kept going, not skipping a beat.

Bella signed up with the talent agency that managed her mother for so many years, only to find Desi’s agent had recently passed away. But Maria Best, Este’s sister, was the new agent and eagerly got to work helping Bella with the paperwork. Her registered stage name, though Bella wanted to use her real name, ended up being a compromise: Bella Hill. She wasted no time getting her name in the public arena, using every opportunity to network and distribute her business card. It wasn’t long before she was being booked for children’s birthday parties, but her real goal was to be on stage, like the magician she saw so many years before. That was the end game.

Bella was quickly becoming noticed in the performance circles and earned promotions with ease. The proprietor of Verde Park, Phil Trice, auditioned her for her own show after a year on the job doing kids’ parties and odd jobs at the park.  He had seen her work some private parties and was impressed with her command of the audience, no matter how young or old they were.

“You were great, Bella,” Phil told her after the audition. “We’d be honored to have someone with your pedigree on our stage tomorrow night.”

“What do you mean by ‘pedigree,’ Mr. Trice?” Bella did not want to ride anyone’s coattails, especially her mother’s.  If she was going to make it in show business, it would be a result of her own hard work and commitment.

“Well, you have the Hill name, Bella. Around here, that means excellence.” Phil explained to her. “You are plenty good enough on your own. There’s no need to feel threatened.”

“I’m not, it’s just that I want to step outside of my Mama’s shadow and be who I am.” Bella kicked at the grass, sorry she had asked the question.

“You’re okay, Miss Hill. You are in a whole different class than she was, trust me.” Bella nodded and thanked him, but wasn’t sure if he meant his comment as a compliment.

All of the doubt was short-lived, and when she arrived home, she could not wait to tell Destiny and Arthur about her show. Destiny vaguely remembered Phil Trice, but had not dealt with him specifically. But she did know from Arthur that he was very fair, and was not easily impressed. This made Bella feel better. Even though Arthur had been out of the scene for nearly 20 years, he was still on top of who and what was going on in town. Like it or not, he had been a proprietor for years before Destiny came singing into his life. It was in his blood.

Bella tapped her ring nervously on the edge of the chair. Not happy with the sound, Arthur rose and spoke.

“You’re going to bend your ring, Bell. Stop banging it.”

“Sorry Daddy,” she replied. She popped up and started to pace. “I’m just really nervous about tonight’s show.”

“You’re going to be great, you know that, right?” He smiled at her, beaming with pride. “You are your mother’s daughter. Born for the spotlight.”

“But what if I mess up? People will laugh at me!” Bella wrung her hands as the scenario played out in her head.

“So? If something doesn’t work out just right, then act like the result was intentional,  and laugh it off!”

Bella’s face showed relief as she pondered her father’s advice. “Daddy, you’re a genius! I have to run through my tricks one more time!” She ran up the stairs to her bedroom and closed the door.

That evening, the family was in the crowd at Verde Park when the lights came up and Bella made her stage debut. Almost every trick went off without a hitch, and the one that failed miserably, Bella recovered with a joke. The show went just a bit longer than three hours, and the immediate reviews from Mr. Trice were very positive. Destiny was waiting for her side stage with a hug and a bouquet of pink roses.

“You were incredible, Bella!” Desi kissed her cheek.

“Thank you, Mama!” Bella’s face glowed with excitement and satisfaction, and she knew at that moment that she wanted to do stage performance for the rest of her career.

Bella was still doing bit work, parties, and private events through the talent agency when the gigs were sparse and work wasn’t as plentiful as she would have hoped. Even when she didn’t have work on her schedule, she was performing for tips at Verde Park or the coffeehouse. It was one such event that got her a lucrative party booking for one of the richest families in Starlight Shores. The gentleman was so impressed with her tricks and sleight of hand that he hired her on the spot to work his son’s tenth birthday party. She gave him her business card and asked that he call to arrange the party details.

“How’s the magic business, Bella?” Arthur asked her when she got home that night. He could tell she had some news by the smile on her face. She wore her emotions on her sleeve, and he was especially good at reading them.

“It is awesome, Daddy!” Bella beamed. He was rocking in his chair in the living room, watching the fireplace flicker, even though it was not a chilly evening. “I got a show booked for the Gooder family next week!”

“Wow!” exclaimed Destiny, who was sitting next to Art in her recliner. “The Gooders.  They’re an impressive family.”

“I know!” Bella exclaimed. “I can’t wait for this show!  It’s going to be off the chain!”

Arthur looked at her, confused. Just as he was about to ask her, Destiny piped up, “It means ‘fantastic,’ my love.” He smiled at Desi.

A week later, Bella was rushing around the house gathering her small props and show items that she let Bianca play with. “Have you seen my cards, Mama?”

“Check the box in the family room. I think I saw some cards there,” Destiny called back.

“Thanks!” Bella scurried to the family room and located the missing props. Her bag of magic stuff was ready to go, and she set it by the back door, and her keys on top of it.

The party was set to start at 4pm at the Park, so she had some time to go for a jog. She returned home and showered, had a small snack and kissed Arthur on the cheek. “I’m leaving for my show, Dad. I’ll see you when I get home tonight!”

“Knock ‘em dead, princess!” Arthur called to her as she turned and waved.

“I will!  Bye Mama!” She barely heard Destiny wish her well as the door closed behind her.

The party was a roaring success, and the birthday boy couldn’t have been happier with the whole scene. He was amazed and laughed every time Bella pulled a coin from his ear, which to her best estimate was at least 12 times. Even the adults at the party seemed to enjoy the show, as Bella strived to make each trick and every illusion relevant to the whole audience, regardless of age.  It reminded her so much of the magician she saw as a child, and she hoped that tonight, she had inspired someone to follow in her own footsteps.

Just as she was finishing up her last set of tricks and illusions for the party, her phone rang. Her client, Mr. Gooder, gave her a disapproving look as the phone chirped happily from her bag. Holding up one finger, she checked the caller ID. Bree Atwood. She excused herself for a moment and took the call.

“What is it, Bree? I’m in the middle of a job!”

“It’s Daddy, Bella. Come home. NOW!” Bree frantically shouted into the phone.

With a panicked look on her face, she explained there was a family emergency at home, grabbed her bag and ran for her car. She raced home as fast as she could, crying all the way. She didn’t even bother to park the car in the garage, just leaving it outside the gate. She could hear the commotion from the street, so she guessed everyone was either in the yard by the pool, or on the deck upstairs. Running through the house, she saw no one at the pool, so she climbed the stairs quickly, taking two at a time until she reached the deck. She opened the door to the roof and saw Destiny and Bree, locked in an embrace, sobbing, and Bianca nowhere to be found. Before them sat a golden urn, the only thing that remained of her father, Arthur Atwood. Stumbling to their side, she fell to her knees beside her mother, weeping with bitter regret. She never got to say goodbye to the first man she ever truly loved.

…To Be Continued

Up Next: Chapter One, Generation Three

Bree-Ann Atwood

Bree sat in front of the fireplace, enthralled by yet another story about her grandparents, and great grandparents, though Destiny was only relaying stories she was told about her own grandparents. Jake and Penny Hutchins had passed away before Destiny was born, but she told the stories her mother, Fran, told her about them. She remembered hearing about her grandfather, and how he died in a fire when her own mother was young. Desi wanted to make sure that her family was never forgotten. Flipping through Penny’s old photo albums, Desi pointed out photos of the people she spoke about.

“This is your great Papa, Jake. You know, the firefighter.” Destiny pointed at a man she only knew in pictures. “And this was your Nana, Penny.” She carefully turned the page as she pointed out Penny’s photo.

“What were your mom and dad like, Mama?” Bree was so interested in the family that Desi left behind to pursue her dreams.

“Oh Bree,” Destiny spoke. “Your Grammy and Grampa were…” her voice trailed in thought, and then continued, “Amazing. They made everything you have, everything you see around you, even you, possible. They sacrificed everything for me.” Desi’s bottom lip began to quiver, but she bit it instead. “I know they would have given anything in the world to have known you and your sister, Bree. They would have adored you.”

Bree smiled, her brunette hair shone in the firelight. “Someday, Mama, I want to be like great Papa. I want to save people from danger, just like he did.”

Desi looked at Arthur, who was rocking Bella in his chair. Arthur smiled at his older daughter and said, “Well, we’ll see about that, little love. But now, it’s time for bed. You have school in the morning!”

Desi collected Bree’s favorite book to read before going to sleep, with Arthur and Bella right behind them. Bree drifted to sleep that night, dreaming of the family she never met but loved immensely.

“Come on, honey, you’ll be late for school. Again!” Arthur yelled to Bree from the living room. Bree had her own bedroom since Bianca arrived, but Art was wondering if the girl would ever want to leave it.

“On my way, Daddy.” Bree countered from the top of the stairs. “I just need to fix my hair, and…” Just then, she heard the school bus outside, blowing the horn. Knowing Art’s annoyed voice was soon to follow, she grabbed her backpack and ran down the steps as fast as she could safely navigate them. Bella was already on her way out the door.

Arthur stepped in front of Bree and gave a stern warning. “We will not have a repeat of yesterday, am I clear?”

“Yes sir,” Bree answered, blushing. She had been having a terrible mood swing, and in her lack of judgment, she and a boy she liked pulled some pranks on the principal of the school. Needless to say, Mr. Scott was not pleased, and neither was Arthur when he received the phone call. “Bye Daddy,” she said, almost under her breath as she left the house.

“I don’t want another phone call today,” Arthur reaffirmed, yelling to Bree as she walked away. “You will not leave this house for a week if I do!” Bree waved and picked up the pace to run to the bus. Upstairs, the baby was crying for a bottle.

When she got to school her hopeful boyfriend and accomplice, Nigel Martin was waiting for her. She ran to him and hugged him. “Did you get busted last night?”

“Nah, my folks don’t care much,” Nigel responded, his rebellious attitude was making him all the more appealing to Bree. “Besides, what are they going to do, expel me? It was just a little fun.”

“Well, my father didn’t think it was so funny when Mr. Scott called him. If we do that again, I can’t afford to get caught, Nigel.”

“Are you afraid of your old man, Bree?” Nigel half teased and half picked on her. She wasn’t sure which it was, but she was indignant.

“No, Nigel, I’m not afraid of him. It’s my mother I’m afraid of, and if he tells her…” Nigel stopped her rant with a kiss, Bree’s first. “Why did you do that?” She asked, very surprised.

“Because you wanted me to,” Nigel answered. “So, you wanna go out sometime?  Homecoming is coming.”

Bree was ecstatic about the idea of homecoming, but she was also admittedly a little creeped out by the sudden kiss. That didn’t go as she had envisioned, and she was a little disappointed. Nevertheless, she had a date to the homecoming dance, and now she couldn’t wait. “Of course, I want to go to the dance with you! But, let’s pretend that kiss never happened, okay?”

“Was it a little weird?” Nigel kicked a small pebble that was on the ground and watched it bounce away, seemingly not interested in her answer.

“Just a bit, ya.” He took her hand and they walked to class together.

Bree’s eighteenth birthday came with little celebration, at her request. She was never one for the spotlight, or even much attention. The only one she wished to spend her birthday with was Nigel, but he was working that night. So with her family around the table, she blew out the candles and served up her birthday cake. Arthur gave her the keys to a new car, and Destiny gave her a keepsake from Appaloosa Plains. High school graduation was just two months away.

Arthur was cleaning up after the family birthday party, wiping the last of the dishes. “So, have you gone to the firehouse to see about a position yet, Bree?”

“I’m going tomorrow, Daddy.” Bree was finishing up her history homework. “The chief was very interested when I spoke to him at the job fair last month.”

“Are you sure about this, Bree? Firefighting is so… dangerous.” Art finished the last of the dishwasher and walked to where she sat, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Yes, Daddy, I’m positive.” Bree looked up at Art and smiled. “I’ll be okay.”

The next day, Bree drove her new car to the fire station. She was in awe over the size of the truck sitting in the engine bay, and the poles that led from the top floors to the ground. Oh, how she couldn’t wait to take a slide down a fire pole someday! The chief, who recognized her immediately, rose from his desk and shook her hand.

“Miss Atwood, welcome to Station 12. May I show you around?” Edwin Ernst took Bree by the arm and gave her a formal tour of the station. The kitchen, complete with a chef, the man who would be her immediate supervisor, Tom, and yes, the poles. “Go ahead, Miss Atwood. Give them a try!”

Bree didn’t waste any time, and she certainly didn’t need to be asked twice. She took a leap onto the pole and slid down effortlessly to the next floor. “That was AWESOME!” She yelled through the hole in the ceiling. After her slide, Mr. Ernst finished up the tour and then sat with her to discuss the terms and conditions of her employment with the company. She would start directly after her graduation, and be a probationary firefighter for the first year while she trained. She would report directly to Tom, who would oversee her training. She was expected to keep training with her personal trainer to build stamina and strength over the next two months, so she would be in top shape. Her contract signed, and her future secured, she left the station happy.

The alarm on her clock went off at the same time it did every morning, but she had nowhere to be until 10am. She sleepily turned off the chirping clock and considered going back to sleep for another hour, but instead, Bree pulled herself from her bed and put her running shoes on. On her way down the stairs, Bella called to her. “Are you going for a run, Bree?”

“Yeah, Bell,” Bree answered. “Care to join me?”

“I’m on my way!” Bella finished tying her shoes and met with Bree at the front door.

When the girls returned home, Destiny was cooking breakfast for Bianca. Arthur was reading the morning paper, and when he saw Bree’s face peeking through the door, he motioned her inside. “Time’s wasting, Bree. Go shower up.”

“I’m going, Dad. Just waiting for Bella to close the gate.” A Paparazzi was waiting for the girls at the driveway nearly every morning. They were not harmful, but their never-ending presence at the property was starting to get very annoying, especially since Bianca was still so young. The older girls seldom went outside without using the “buddy system,” which Arthur encouraged.

“Come on, Bree. I’ll help you get ready.” Destiny set a plate of steamy hot banana pancakes in front of Bianca, and Arthur helped her with the butter and syrup.

Destiny and Bree fussed with the graduation gown. Instead of wearing a dress under it, Bree had put a comfortable shirt and a pair of her favorite leggings. But the finishing touch was her ratty old sneakers, complete with holes. She combed her short, brown hair and plopped the cap on her head. “Does this look okay?”

“You look beautiful, Bree.” Destiny couldn’t believe her oldest daughter was set to graduate in just a few hours. “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Bree replied. “All this time, all I ever wanted was to be grown. Now that school is over, I think I’ll miss it.”

“You will, sweet pea.” Destiny swallowed hard. Taking Bree’s hand in hers, they walked down the stairs together.

Bree was named top athlete in her class, and was given the award, “Most Likely To Join a Sports Team.” She graduated nearly first, due to her name being close to the beginning alphabetically. Her whole family, even her baby sister, sat in the auditorium at City Hall watching the ceremony, and they cheered as the graduating class disappeared into a flurry of caps and tassels at the end. Afterward, Arthur and Destiny took the family to the new restaurant in town to celebrate. The following Monday would be Bree’s first day on the job at the fire station.

When they returned home from the restaurant, Bree called Nigel. She knew his family wasn’t into celebration. In fact, they didn’t pay that much attention to their only son. So she was surprised when she heard Nigel’s voicemail on the other end of the line. “Daddy, I’m going out for a little while,” Bree yelled to Arthur, who was sitting by the pool watching Bianca swim.

“Don’t be too late, now!” He called back to her.

Bree drove the few miles distance between their and Nigel’s home. Funny, she thought. His car is in the driveway. She walked to the front door and rang the doorbell. Nigel’s mother, Corinne, answered the door.

“Oh, hello Bree.” She greeted. “Nigel is in his room.” Bree walked through the door and wound her way to his room on the second floor of their spacious home. She knocked on his door three times and turned the knob to open it.

“Go away!” He yelled. Bree’s head popped through the doorway, looking surprised. “Oh, it’s YOU.” The tone of his voice was almost venomous.

“Hi sweet—” Bree began to speak. Nigel’s demeanor did not soften, nor did he seem very happy to see her.

“I said, go away!” Nigel spat, interrupting Bree’s greeting. Ignoring his angry request, Bree entered his room anyway and sat on his bed next to him.

“What’s wrong, Nigel?” He looked at her as though he didn’t recognize her. Then she saw him do something she had never witnessed before: he raised his hand to her, as if he meant to strike her. Bree jumped up from the bed before he could swing and started to cry.

Suddenly, Nigel snapped back from wherever it was his mind had gone when he heard Bree weeping. “Bree?”

“What are you doing, Nigel?” Bree’s sadness suddenly turned to anger. “Were you going to hit me?” His hand still raised, he became more aware of where he was and who he was with.

“Um, no?  I would never hurt you.” Nigel seemed to be incredulous at the suggestion.

“I know what I saw, Nigel.” Bree sat back down on his bed, and he joined her. “Why would you do that?”

“I don’t remember,” he replied. This was the worst episode she had seen from him, and it worried her.

“Well, you’re better now.” She reached for him and kissed his cheek. “I guess it’s okay.”

They spent the next hour talking about the future, her new job, and their future together. Nigel had a job for a while at the festival, and he would continue working until he could figure out what it was he wanted to do. What they did know, was that they wanted a future with the two of them together. She noticed her watch at 11pm, and knew she had to make her way back home. She kissed Nigel goodnight and let herself out the front door.

The next morning, Destiny was gathering laundry when Bree came downstairs to run. “How was your visit with Nigel?”

Bree didn’t want to lie to her mother, but she didn’t want to answer a bunch of questions either. “It was fun, Mama. We had a lot to talk about.” She pulled the collar of her shirt up around her neck, to hide an enormous hickey he had given her. She wasn’t fast enough, though, because Desi caught a glimpse of it.

“What is that on your neck?” Desi had already seen it, and it wasn’t something she was accustomed to seeing. Destiny already knew from talking with Nigel something wasn’t quite right with him, and now this.

“Oh.” Bree knew she couldn’t lie about it. “Nigel got a little too romantic last night and gave me a hickey.” She hung her head, extremely uncomfortable with the conversation.

“I hope that’s all he gave you. You have your whole life ahead of you, Bree. Don’t waste it on that boy.” Destiny’s stark disapproval of Nigel irritated Bree.

“You don’t even know him, Mama.”

“I know enough.” Destiny tossed Bree a set of headphones. “Enjoy your run.”

On the morning of her first day of work, Bree got up early and went for a jog. She wasn’t afraid, but she was nervous about starting her new job. She would be the youngest woman to join the company, and the only one currently at the station. But she was more than confident in the skills she was bringing to the job and was eager to learn from her superiors. After her jog, she took a quick shower and fixed breakfast. Bacon and eggs, and some toast. She took what she wanted and left the rest for her sisters, who would be awake and coming downstairs soon for school.

The carpool picked her up right on time and brought her to the station. Her first thought was about Nigel, her longtime high school sweetheart. He would have loved to see her sweating it out as she learned the procedures and policies of the station. Her first task was to do some quick but simple maintenance on the fire alarm bell. When she was done with that, it was lunchtime.

“What would you like for lunch?” asked the station chef. He handed her a menu with about 20 different items on it, ranging in complexity from a PB&J sandwich to lobster thermidor. Feeling overwhelmed, she chose hummus and crudités and sat down at the kitchen table to eat.

Three bites into a cucumber with a glob of hummus, the alarm rang for a fire across town. Every man was on deck, and she quickly got into her safety gear and jumped onto the screaming engine as it raced to the fire. As the rookie, she only helped with the hoses and hydrant, but every little thing was brand new, and a learning experience. Luckily, the fire took mere moments to extinguish, and they returned to the station in time to fill out the report and clock out.

“Hey Nigel, it’s Bree. What are you doing tonight?” Bree held the phone to her ear to hear music blaring in the background.

“Hey, Bree Cheese.” She hated it when he called her that, but telling him only made him say it more. “What’s shakin?”

“I was wondering if you want to get a bite to eat. I spent all day at the station, and I’m hungry.” Bree was ravenous, and even though there were no emergencies that day, she still didn’t get a chance to eat the soup the chef had made that morning.

“Nah, not tonight. I’m…” Nigel paused on the other end of the phone, as if he was searching for an excuse. “I’m washing the dog.”

“But, you don’t have a dog, Nigel.” Bree was irritated, knowing he was lying. She heard Nigel’s roommate shouting at him, “If you don’t want to see her, tell her. Don’t lie to her, you idiot.”

“It’s my friend’s dog. And he’s the idiot, not me.” Nigel had a bad habit of being rude and acting a little crazy. Sometimes, it made Bree wonder why she still loved him. She was certainly tired of the excuses and abuses.

“Sure, it’s okay Nigel. Maybe next time?” Bree was choking back tears. She didn’t like being lied to, especially when it was so blatantly obvious.

“Yeah, whatever,” Nigel answered. “I gotta scoot. Laters.”

Bella, who had been listening to the whole exchange, hugged her sister. “You really need to dump that loser, Bree.” Handing her a tissue, she added, “You deserve so much better.”

“I didn’t think his illness was this bad, Bell. But he’s really been awful to me lately.” Bree cried openly but quietly, not wanting Desi or Art to hear her upset.

“I’m surprised you stayed with him when Mama told you he was insane. He’s not right in the head.” Bella sat with Bree’s hands in hers. “You really need to move on and cut your losses, before there are any children involved.”

Bree recoiled at the thought. “Eww, no! We aren’t… intimate, Bella. I’d never have a child with him, not now.” Bree remembered their harmless fun in high school, pranking the principal and just being with him. But since graduation 3 years ago, he was so much different. “I just want the old Nigel back.”

“I know, sis. Este and Nigel were cut from the same cloth. Losers, the both of them. And they don’t deserve the Atwood sisters!” Bella hugged Bree one last time. “Call him back and do it. I bet he won’t even care.”

As it turned out, Bella was right. When Bree called him to break up, it was as though Nigel didn’t even acknowledge she was on the phone with him, let alone care. He gave her his signature, “Whatever,” and that was that. Bree was single, but instead of sad, she felt a cloud lift from her, and for the first time in months, she smiled again.

Bree was trapped in a room alone and couldn’t escape. There were flames all around her, and there was no way out. The fire was hot and licking at her clothing. She screamed for help, but nobody came. And out of seemingly nowhere, a man in his late 40s showed up. The man was strangely familiar, but she had never met him. He came rushing in, fire extinguisher in hand, and doused the flames enough to get them both out. In one sweeping motion, he swept Bree off her feet and carried her to safety.

She sat up in bed, sweating, her heart pounding in her chest. Bree had been having recurring dreams about being in a fire, and a man saving her life. The man in her dreams was her great grandfather, Jake Hutchins, a man she never met but admired greatly her whole childhood. She knew the story of how he died in a fire rescuing a young boy, but in her dreams, he was very alive and very real. Somehow, he was always able to save her.

Bree got up and went to the bathroom, got back into bed and read the journals her grandmother, Fran, kept about her father. I really need to get back to sleep, she thought. This isn’t going to help. But she couldn’t tear herself away from the journal, the stories she had heard since she was a young girl. Somehow, she had to figure out a way to cope with the danger of her chosen profession. And a way to deal with the death of a baby girl she couldn’t rescue.

For months after the fire, Bree had lost all of her confidence, even though she was long past her training period. She turned to the wisdom of her grandmother and great grandmother, whose words were immortalized in journals passed down through three generations. Sometimes, when she closed her eyes, she could still hear the baby crying, and then not. Bree could still see the pain in the mother’s face as she realized her baby didn’t make it out. And she felt extremely guilty that she couldn’t save her.

Luckily, it was Saturday, and Bree could sleep in after such a rough night’s rest. Bianca’s chattering outside her bedroom door, though it usually annoyed her, was a welcome sound on this day. It reminded her she was still alive, though sometimes she wondered if she wanted to be at all.

Destiny looked at Bree and noticed how tired her oldest daughter looked. “Are you okay, Bree?”

“I had another nightmare,” Bree answered.

Destiny looked troubled. “Maybe you should stop reading those journals for a while.”

“They’re the only peace I have right now, Mama.” Bree shrugged. “I think I’m going as crazy as Nigel was.”

“Oh please!” Destiny chuckled. “You’ll never be as loony as that man, trust me.” Destiny walked to her daughter and hugged her. “I’m always here if you need me.”

“I know, Mama. Thanks.” Bree cleaned up her breakfast dishes and grabbed her car keys. “I’ll be home later.”

Tink…. Tink… .Tink….  Bree’s hammer was finishing up the last few hits on a new gadget she was making. “There!” She set the item down on the table and admired her handiwork.

“Thatsh a nishe plumbob you have there, Bree,” her boss said to her as she set her hammer down on the bench. Though he wasn’t drinking, Tom sounded like he was perpetually drunk due to a speech impediment.

“Thanks, Tom!” Bree’s therapist suggested that she take up a hobby, creating things with her hands. “I think it will look really nice on your desk, what do you think?”

“Well, I’d be honored to have sussha thing!” Tom beamed. He took the trinket from Bree and plopped it on his desk.  “What ish it, exshactly?”

Before Bree could answer, the alarm sounded for an emergency. Quickly, the whole company piled into the truck and headed for a fire. The house was very familiar, and not that far from her own home. Hers and two other stations were called in to control the blaze. Without hesitation, she grabbed the hose from the truck and began extinguishing the flames poking from the windows, so that the others could begin breaking down doors. Within minutes, the smaller fire was out, and she and two other men broke down the front door to the house. She called out to people who might be trapped, going from door to door and checking for victims, hoping the roar from the fire was not too overpowering.

“In here, in here!” Bree heard coming from a bedroom. The door was easy to open, but inside the room stood a woman paralyzed with terror.

“Come with me, quickly!” Bree encouraged her. She removed her breathing equipment and placed the mask over the woman’s face. With her arm around the homeowner, she quickly exited the building. As paramedics were checking her out, Bree retrieved her mask and reentered the building, searching for other victims. As she ascended the stairs, she heard another voice, this time a man, yelling for help. The door to that room was somehow jammed, and she needed to use her ax to open it. Inside, the man was nearly unconscious from smoke, but she once again removed her own mask and placed it over the man’s face. “I can’t carry you,” she told him. “Can you walk with me?” He nodded, and together they hurried down the front steps and outside the house.

By this time, nearly the entire house was engulfed in fire, and another rescue attempt seemed almost unlikely. But the man she rescued said his daughter was still inside. Thinking quickly, Bree ran for the back door and chopped through the kitchen door, the only room that seemingly didn’t have many flames. She found a young girl of about 10 laying on the floor of the kitchen. Shoot! Bree thought. I forgot my mask! She quickly picked up the girl and started for the back door. Bree had just cleared the kitchen door and made it to safety, with the girl over her shoulder, before the gas stove in the kitchen exploded. The blast knocked Bree backward but did not injure her. She continued to make her way toward the street, where paramedics and the news station were waiting. Her face, blackened with soot and smoke, hurt from the heat of the fire, as though she’d had a bad sunburn.

Hours later, the fire was finally extinguished. Bree had saved three souls that day, without a single thought of her own safety. Tom was extremely proud of her, especially considering that just a week prior she had refused to enter a building with just a tiny fire. She sat out the majority of the work, but at the insistence of her boss, who thought her achievements that day were more than sufficient. The family that occupied the house knew Bree as Destiny’s daughter but respected her as the hero who saved them.

Back at the station, she started making dinner for the company when Tom stopped her. “Leave the cooking to the ssshef tonight, Bree. You go home to your family.”

“Are you sure? My shift isn’t over yet.” Bree objected.

“It ish now.” Tom turned her around and sent for a ride to take her home. “We’ll sheee you in the morning!”

Reluctantly, Bree accepted the ride home. It would feel good to sleep in her own bed tonight.

“Mama, I’m home!” Bree yelled from the front door upon her arrival.

“I was so worried!” Desi yelled back. “I’ve been watching the news all day!”

Observing her reflection in the hallway mirror, Bree wrinkled her nose. “I’m going to take a shower, I’ll be right out,” she yelled.

Bree was just wiping down the counter after her shower when she heard Arthur call for Destiny, but there was a frightening urgency in his voice. Bree called to Bianca, who dropped her artwork and ran for the stairs. The two girls nearly collided, but Bree easily overtook her on the ascent. Bree made it to the top just in time to see the Reaper swing his scythe with a swooping noise that she would never forget, and in front of him knelt Destiny, pleading with the Reaper to leave Arthur. Bree’s footsteps quickened as she ran to Destiny’s side. Bianca, who missed the entire event, walked to the roof, winded, where Destiny and Bree knelt, crying.

“Your sister,” choked Destiny. “Call Bella.”

Bella was working downtown, but Bree knew she always had her cell phone with her. Shaking, she dialed Bella’s number and waited for her to answer.

“What is it, Bree?” Bella snapped, sounded annoyed.

“It’s Daddy,” Bree spat back. “Come home. NOW!”

Bree fell back on her heels and buried her head in her hands, her heart shattered into millions of pieces. She was always her daddy’s girl, and now he was gone.

In the same familiar building, with the same familiar fire, Bree stood in the middle of the house that was burning around her, waiting for the man in her dreams to come save her. The heat was intense, yet she didn’t get burned. She waited and waited for him, but to no avail. Finally, the flames caught up around her and started to burn her alive. She tried to scream, but the roar of the fire was too loud. In one last whisper of breath, she collapsed into a heap on the floor. But this time, it was not her great grandfather who would save her. It was Arthur who appeared in the dream. “Go back, baby girl.” He told her, the light around him shining like a halo. “You have more to do here.”

A scream followed by sobs woke her from a restless sleep. “Daddy,” she repeated over and over. Destiny heard the scream and hurried towards Bree’s bedroom, where she sat on her bed, holding her knees and rocking back and forth. “Daddy… Daddy…”

Destiny rushed to the girl’s side, and gently shook her. “Bree, it’s okay honey. I’m here. You’re okay.” Once Bree realized Destiny was there, she burst into tears and hugged her mother tightly. Desi just held her until the sobbing subsided. Finally, she pulled away from Bree and brushed wet hair away from her sweaty, puffy face. “This must have been a bad one.”

Bree nodded. “I kept waiting for Papa Jake to come rescue me, but he never did. Then the fire got to me, and I fell.” She took a breath before continuing. “Then Daddy was there. He told me to come back, that I have more to do here.” Destiny just held onto Bree, comforting her.

“It’s okay now, honey,” Destiny told her. Bella popped her head into Bree’s room, and Destiny made a hand signal that meant ‘phone.’ Bella understood and called Bree’s therapist.

Dr. Ramirez was there in under an hour. Bella greeted her at the door. “Wow, that was fast!”

“I don’t usually make house calls, but in Bree’s case, I will be here anytime she needs me.” The doctor made her way to the second floor. Destiny was still with Bree. “I have this now, Mrs. Atwood” the doctor told Desi. She nodded and gave Bree one last hug.

After the visit, the doctor asked to speak with Destiny privately. “I don’t think it is in Bree’s best interest for her to continue at the station, Mrs. Atwood.” She set her briefcase down on the table and opened it. “But, she needs to make that decision for herself. In the meantime, here is some medicine for her. Twice a day for 4 days. Then I want to see her at my office.” Destiny took the bottle of pills from the doctor.

“Thank you again, for coming so quickly.” Destiny shook the doctor’s hand. “I’ll make sure she is cared for.”

A few hours later, Bree emerged from her room, showered and dressed, her hair brushed and makeup on, as though she had a date. “Mama, can I talk to you?”

“Sure, sweet pea.” Destiny sat on the sofa and patted the seat next to hers.

“Mama, I… I’m going to move back to Appaloosa Plains. Bianca is going to be graduating in two months, and we’re going to go back together.” Bree hung her head, the announcement hung like a thick cloud in the room, the admission of defeat.

“I see,” Destiny answered. “Well, I think it is a great idea, Bree. I know you’ve been wanting to move, and I know you’re not getting any younger.”

“Neither are you, Mama.” Bree sighed deeply. “But there are just too many memories here. I need a fresh start.”

Destiny hugged her oldest daughter. “I understand, sweetheart.” She knew that once Bree and Bianca left, she wouldn’t see either of them again, and she doubted that Bella would as well.

Bree’s car was packed with all she could stuff into it, and Bianca’s bags of art supplies and a laptop computer. The moving van had already been at the house collecting furniture and keepsakes that Bree didn’t want to leave behind. All that was left to do was say goodbye and drive to their new home. Bella and Destiny stood outside the house, watching Bianca trying to stuff one last bag of paints and pastels into the car. Bree had already tied up every loose end she had, and Bianca was more than ready to start her career, one she could pursue from any city or town, for she was going to be an artist.

All four women stood in front of the house, Destiny propped up against Bree’s car, talking but not about anything, trying to avoid the inevitable goodbyes. Finally, Bree looked at her watch and looked at Bianca. “Well, kiddo. I think it’s time.”

Destiny’s eyes immediately welled up with tears. “Call me when you get into town, okay?” She held her arms open to each of them, waiting for the last hug.

“I will, Mama.” Bree was struggling against tears, her voice cracking with emotion. “We’ll take it easy, but it will be a few days before we’re home.”

“I know, my loves. Your daddy would be so proud of you both.” She kissed Bianca and Bree on the forehead, just like Arthur used to. “I love you to the moon and back.”

In unison, the girls replied, “I love you too Mama.” Then both sisters hugged Bella, and Bree spoke. “I’m so thankful you’re going to be caring for Mama, Bell. Please take good care of her, and call me when… you know.” Bree swallowed the growing lump in her throat.

“You have my word,” Bella promised. “I’m going to miss you both so much! I’m just a phone call away.”

With one last round of hugs and tears, Bree and Bianca piled into the car, rolled the windows down and waved as they drove away, Starlight Shores, their family and all of their childhood memories faded into the distance as Bree merged onto the highway.

Up Next: Bianca Atwood