"Happy birthday dear Tori! Happy birthday to you!" The entire family sang happily to my now five year old daughter. It had only been a few months since Dad's death, but even though the family was still in mourning, it didn't stop us from letting everyone's favorite little girl have a birthday party.
Victoria Shea is beyond spoiled. She's the little, tiny apple of her daddy's eye, and to say that this kid is a daddy's girl is a complete understatement. For her birthday, Clifford completely renovated the old tree house in the back yard and turned it into something that slightly resembled a castle, and on top of that he got her the most intricate little dollhouse I'd ever seen. My mother wasn't any better, though. Mom got her favorite-and so far only-granddaughter the newest, top of the line toy oven. Her uncles and aunts gave her various other things, dolls, dress up clothes, and things of that nature. I was going to re-do her room for her, but, Tori insisted that she wanted a pet instead. While walking in the pet store a few weeks ago to pick up some more cat food for Felix, we passed the chinchillas. She'd been begging me for one since, and it just oh so happened that Felix brought me one a few days after that incident. I took the poor little critter to the vet after Felix left it shivering at my feet. The little guy was okay, and the vet told me that he was probably at one point someones pet, and that I should keep him. So keep him I did, and Victoria got her first pet. So, essentially, Tori got everything she wanted for her birthday, except for a later bedtime.
At the end of that day, I realized something. I wasn't getting any younger, as a matter of fact, I was getting older. Much older. The years flew by before my eyes and I realized that if I wanted Tori to be able to have a choice if she wanted to be the Stephens Family heiress rather than just giving it to her, I had to start thinking about having another baby, and I had to do it soon.
The following spring, Layton turned 13. The fact that my oldest boy was now in highschool absolutely terrified me. I didn't want to have my first born in highschool, not yet! I'm was way too young for that! Soon he'd end up bringing home girls, and wanting to drive and go on dates and it seems like only yesterday when I was in the same place, excited and ready to go to highschool, and giving my mom the same face he gives me when I now try and talk to him about something he doesn't think is important. My mother was right, life goes by way too fast.
Tori was now six years old and entering first grade, and that meant that Clifford and I have been trying to have another baby for over a year. It obviously hasn't been a success. I still only had one daughter, and I was still getting older and I still knew that I had to have another baby. I tried doing everything I could think of to make sure I conceived, but after numerous amounts of failed pregnancy tests, I could feel myself wearing thin.
Since dad's death, my mom has been keeping very quiet, but always doing something. Always. She cleans, gardens, does the laundry, runs to the store and cooks at least one meal a day, every day. She doesn't say very much to anyone anymore, really, especially since Scott moved out. Everyone knew that he and I were her two favorite of the kids she had, but Scott was also the youngest, and therefore had a very special place in my moms heart.
After six or so months of doing this, I knew it was taking a toll on her. She was old, and as tough as she may be, all that work at her age does really take a lot out of her, so I began to help her out with the things that she would let me do. She insisted that she continue to clean everything,but she did tell me that it was alright if I helped her in the garden and helped her to cook, both were things I was more than happy to help her with.
I loved working in the garden with my mother. Sometimes we'd talk the entire time we were out there, other times we would never say a word. It was nice to have something to spend my day doing while the kids were in school, and it was even nicer to spend so much time with my wonderful mother.
We rarely, if ever talked about my lack of pregnancy. If I brought it up my mom would just give me a sad smile and tell me that it'd be alright, and if I was meant to have another baby, I'd have another baby.
"Just let fate handle it dearie," she'd always say with a soft, comforting smile. A smile I always returned, but never wanted to, and never meant.
Years pass and before you know it, one year turns into two, which turns into three and steadily becomes four and by the time you realize it, you've been trying for four years and still don't have a pregnancy or a baby. I saw a number of different doctors, as did Clifford, and there was nothing wrong with either of us, technically, we were both able to have more children, we just weren't.
"Do you really think we'll ever have another baby, Clifford?" I asked one night as I was snuggled up against him, a million different things running through my mind.
"I don't know, Natalie. I mean, I hope we do, but there's really no way to say so for sure," he whispered.
"I just hope Victoria wont hate me," I said mournfully after a long silence, tears beginning to prick at my eyes.
"Why on Earth would Victoria ever end up hating you?" Clifford asked, dumbfounded.
"For making her take the Legacy, Cliff. This isn't something simple. The Stephen's Family Heiresses have a reputation, a name, something to uphold. We have to be incredibly successful. My grandmother set an incredibly high standard for us. The entire town knew and loved her, and the mayor even attended her funeral. The mayor! My mother is only one of the most talented and respected artists in the country, and her art is displayed all over the damn world. I'm a respected photographer and my photos are displayed in numerous places and in news articles, as you know. That's a lot to live up to, Cliff. The Stephens, we're a famous family. My grandfather wasn't that great of a man, as he was Riverview's own man ho, but my father was the top athlete in the world in his day, and you're the CEO of Llama Inc, which essentially controls everything. All of us in this household, at one point or another, is in the spotlight. Tori may not want that. She may not want to have all this responsibility. If I force it on her, she may end up hating me."
"It's not your fault if we simply can't have another baby, love," Clifford said sternly, "I'm sure that when the time comes, Victoria will understand that. Plus, have you met our daughter? I don't think little Hollywood would have any problem at all being in the spotlight, actually, I think that's her favorite place to be."
I laughed a little, but Clifford's support really didn't help.
"I don't know, Cliff. Let's try for one more year, if I'm not pregnant by the end of one more year, we can stop trying for a baby." I sighed, looking down at my stomach and touching it gingerly.
He slid his hand over on top of mine and squeezed softly, "Okay darling," he whispered, "one more year."
As it turns out, we didn't need another year.
As soon as the morning sickness started, I made an appointment with my doctor, and by the time Todd's 13th birthday came around, it was confirmed, I was pregnant. It was going to be interesting having a baby now. My oldest was 16, only two years away from graduating, Todd was entering highschool and Tori was only a few years away from entering it herself. By the time the baby would be a toddler, Layton would be graduating. The thought made me gasp a little, and I really couldn't believe I'd have my kids be so far apart in age.
It was easier for me to watch Todd go into highschool, maybe it was because his older brother promised to watch out for him, or maybe it was because I knew that Todd was a smart kid and could handle highschool easily, either way, I was actually very proud as I watched him get on the bus.
About five months in to my pregnancy, something awful happened.
Clifford was at work and I had a doctors appointment. Today, they were going to give me an ultrasound and confirm the gender of the baby. I was excited beyond words but as I made my way down the stairs, a sudden, brutal wave of nausea came over me and I tumbled over the spiral staircase's railing and fell hard on the floor, right on my stomach. I seemed to fall in slow motion, but I couldn't move quickly enough. I couldn't spin myself onto my back and I couldn't move my arms in time to cover my stomach. I was helpless, and before I even hit the ground, I began sobbing.
My mom, who was in the kitchen heard the noise and the last thing I remember was her rushing to my side and dialing 911.
Four hours later, after a whole bunch of tests, ultrasounds and questions, the doctors finally had news for us.
Clifford walked in right after the doctor did, looking beyond worried. He ran over and gave me a hug and then sat down next to me on the hospital bed.
"I'm sorry, love," he murmured, "I couldn't get off until about fifteen minutes ago, we had to close a business deal and I couldn't get anyone to cover for me, but I'm here now. Are you okay? Is the baby okay? Tabby said you fell down the stairs...?"
"Mr. Stephens?" The doctor questioned as he cleared his throat, trying to get my husband's attention.
"Yes?" Clifford replied.
"I'm Dr. Timothy Jason and I'm the doctor that has been providing the care for your wife."
"Okay, good," Clifford paused, "Now what can you tell me about my wife and the baby?"
"Yeah, is the baby okay?" I asked with tears in my eyes and my voice cracking.
Dr. Jason gave us a mournful look and spoke in a hushed tone. "Mrs. Stephens, Mr. Stephens, I'm very sorry. The tests we have done show that the baby is no longer alive. I had hoped if she was still alive we could have possibly done an emergency C-section, but it's too late. I'm sorry. Mrs. Stephens, your body will take care of the disposal process itself but I'd like it if you'd stay here for the week to make sure everything runs smoothly and that there's no internal bleeding or busing that we may need to keep a look out for."
"I'm sorry, Dr. but, did you say she?" I asked, more tears threatening to fall.
"Yes ma'am. I'm sorry we couldn't do anything to help her." Dr. Jason sighed.
I began to sob and Clifford pulled me into his arms and just let me cry, and he began to cry too.
Dr. Jason looked over at us and out of the corner of my eye, I saw worry cross his features.
"I'll leave you two alone to mourn, but if you need anything, just let one of the nurses know, I'll be back to check on you in a little while, Mrs. Stephens."
Without another word, he closed the door, and left Clifford and I alone.
I cried, and I cried hard, harder than I think I've ever cried in my life. I lost my baby, my baby that I had tried to get for nearly four and a half years, and she's just now gone. The little baby that I had brought all the toys out for and set up the crib for and was already trying to decide on names for was simply never going to be born now, and that thought hurt.
"Please, just call me Natalie." I smiled half-heartedly.
"Okay, Natalie," the woman said in a very respectful tone, "I'm Dr. Maria Rodriguez, and I'm taking over for Dr. Jason."
"Taking over?" I asked.
"Yes ma'am. Dr. Jason thought that I would be of more help to you, given your current condition."
"I see. So, what do you have to tell me, doc?"
"Well, you see Mrs Steph-I mean Natalie, the fall you took down the stairs was very severe, and you said that you fell due to nausea, correct?" Dr. Rodriguez asked sharply.
"Um, yes. That is correct." I said looking down at my stomach. I had been here for a few days now, and the baby's loss was still fresh in my mind and the pain was still very sharp. It hurt to be here, I just wanted to go home, but by the look on the doctors face, I didn't think that was going to happen.
"Natalie, I know it hurts. The reason I was assigned to be your doctor is because ten years ago, something very similar happened to me. I also know you're frustrated with being here, I was too. However, it is necessary that we ask you all of these questions and keep you here. In my case, and in many others, there is some internal injury when a baby is lost in an accident."
I sat up a little, obviously shocked that she had undergone something similar. I really couldn't say anything, so I just nodded at her.
"Now, it looks like the worst injury you have is a bruised rib, so just take it easy for a little while and give it some time to heal. I would also suggest that you stop trying to have another child. How old are you now, Natalie?"
"I've just turned 40." I said with a long sigh.
"Yes, I see now that I'm looking at your file. Mrs. Stephens, getting pregnant again would be incredibly risky, not only for the baby's health, but for yours. I would suggest that you enjoy the children you have. I'm sure your daughter wont have a problem upholding the family's name when she comes of age."
I smiled over at her and let out another sigh, "I understand."
"Alright, Natalie, I'm going to leave you to rest now, but here," she paused as she reached into her pocket and pulled out her card, "Here's my number. If you have any questions, or if you just wish to talk about your loss, it may be helpful to talk to someone who also went through it."
"Thank you Dr. Rodriguez."
"Call me Maria." She said with a smile.
"Thank you, Maria." I laughed.
I ended up being in the hospital for a total of three weeks, and Maria and I ended up becoming great friends. The night I left she gave me a hug and wished me the best and made me promise to call her soon.
My mother and Victoria wanted to celebrate me getting out of the hospital so we had a girls day of going to the spa and then going out to dinner and hanging out in the park. I had to explain to my mom and daughter, that essentially, I could no longer have any kids.
"I'm sorry, Tori, it looks like you're stuck with being the heiress." I said, trying to hide the shame in my voice for forcing it upon her.
"It's okay, mommy!" She smiled as she hugged me, "I wanna be just like you, and in order to be JUST like you I would have had to be the heiress anyway."
I laughed a bit and kissed my beautiful daughters hair, "Alright, if you're sure, sweetheart."
"It is momma, it is."
Feeling much better about the entire situation, we went home and picked up the boys, and we all went to see a game at the stadium, and every Saturday since, my mom, daughter and I would have a girls day and the boys would go see a game and then we'd meet up for dinner.
It's surprising how fast time flies. Before I knew it, another two years flew by and Layton was graduating. I was so beyond proud for my son. He graduated with all honors at the top of his class.
"I'm so proud of you, Layton!" I said with happy tears in my eyes.
"Aw, momma," he smiled, "Don't cry!"
"I can't help it! I'm just so happy for you! You got that scholarship to go to Simmarian University out by Bridgeport a few months ago, but now that you're graduated, you're actually gonna go soon! I'm excited for you honey but I also don't want you to leave home!" I exclaimed, more happy tears coming now.
"Don't worry, momma," he smiled, "I'll be sure to call, and write and come visit."
I gave him a warm smile and one last hug before letting my mom come and give her congratulations.
Clifford walked over and wrapped one of his arms around my waist as we watched Layton go about and speak to everyone.
"Things have gotten a lot better over the past few years, eh?" Clifford asked with a smile on his face.
"Yeah, a lot better. I mean look at us! We're all here, and healthy. Layton is going off to school and you're now at the complete top of your career, mom's doing great, Todd's happy, and Tori, well, she's Tori."
"She's almost as bad as you were when you were her age," Clifford chuckled.
"Hey!" I laughed as I nudged him in the side with my elbow.
"Ow!" He laughed, "Okay! Okay! Maybe you weren't that bad."
"Thank you." I giggled.
Clifford laughed a little and then kissed my hair, "You know Natalie, when Victoria graduates highschool, I'm gonna retire, and then you and me, we can take it easy, and maybe do a little bit of traveling. Maybe go visit Champs Le Sims? Or Shang Simla?"
"I think we could do that." I sighed happily, leaning over and kissing my husband tenderly.
Although the past few years had been very hard, things were most certainly getting better, and I was starting to get excited for the future.
The next year, Victoria turned 13. That was the day I started feeling a little less optimistic. What if she turns 18 and then hates me for not giving her the option to decline...?
However, my fears were settled a bit as she exclaimed how happy she was to be 13, because she didn't have that much longer until she got to be the one in my place. She may not be a little kid anymore, but she was just as spoiled as she was when she was 5. Her father overhauled her room and promised to buy her a car when she turned 16, I let her go on a shopping spree and my grandmother gave her her very own lap top, much to my surprise.
Since Layton left for school, Todd and Tori and become very close, and so it wasn't too much of a surprise to see them talking intently in the corner during her party, it was surprising though when she called everyone's attention and let him speak.
"Uh, so guys," Todd said nervously, "I really didn't expect to bring this up now, but Tori seems to think that now is the best time to bring it up, as it's just us here as a family."
"Yeah," Victoria smiled, "right now seems like a really good time to tell everyone the good news that you're finally over Carrie, or whatever her name was and on to someone much better!"
Todd blushed and gave his younger sister a pleading look to which she completely ignored.
"So, you have a new girlfriend?" I asked.
"Well, see, n-not a girlfriend." He stuttered.
"What?" Clifford asked, confused before saying in a half serious, half joking tone, "Did you get someone pregnant?"
"Dad!" Victoria squealed.
"Clifford!" My mother and I both said sternly at the same time while Todd face palmed.
"What?" Clifford shouted, "It's a legitimate question! He might have, I mean come on, all of us Stephen men have dashing good looks, the ladies can probably hardly keep their hands off him."
"Dad." Victoria sighed with an annoyed edge, "It's not the girls who can't keep their hands off him."
"Victoria!" Todd fumed, blushing uncontrollably.
"What!" She squealed, "You're not telling them!"
"Okay! Okay!" Todd shouted, "Momma, Dad, Nana, I have a boyfriend. I'm very attracted to him, and I think he really has a wonderful personality. I'd really like it if you guys would meet him sometime soon."
"How long have you two been together?" Clifford asked.
"A few months..." Todd answered sheepishly.
"Well, I'd love to meet him." Clifford smiled.
"I would too." I grinned.
"I gotta make sure this boy is good enough for you, Todd, so yes, I'd love to meet him." My mother said with a smile tugging at her lips.
The wide grin that Todd gave us was priceless and then he ran around the room and gave everyone a hug, obviously happy that we accepted him still.
Even though I was surprised at my sons announcement that he had a boyfriend, it was a happy kind of surprise, and from watching how supportive she was of her brother, I knew that Victoria was going to be wonderful in the place of Heiress, and that for right now, life was good.
I woke up instantly in the middle of the night, Clifford already getting out of bed.
"Cliff?" I asked sleepily, "What's going on?"
"I heard something downstairs shatter. It sounded like the front window. I think someone is in the house." Clifford said sternly as he put on his robe and began to head toward the room's exit.
"Cliff! Don't go down there! If there is a robber in here, the cops will be here shortly. We have a security system." I said nervously, also standing up and walking over to Clifford and putting my hand on his shoulder.
"I'm going to go down stairs and get your mom. You go get the kids, get them all here in our room and do not under any circumstances leave this room after you get the kids, do you understand?" Clifford asked in a low, harsh, and somehow protective voice.
"Clifford, I-" I was trying to speak, but I couldn't and tears were already pricking behind my eyelids. I did hear noises downstairs of items being moved around and I started to panic.
"Natalie, please. It's my job as the father and the man of this household to protect you, the kids, and even your mother. She's down there, Natalie, it's not safe for her."
I couldn't argue with him, but I still didn't want him to go. I couldn't speak, so he quietly ran out of the room and downstairs.
As quickly and quietly as I could, I woke up each one of the kids and we quietly hurried back into my room.
"Momma," Victoria whispered, "It's too quiet down there."
"Maybe the robber is gone?" Todd offered.
"It's been five minutes since we first heard the robber, three since your father went downstairs, he's probably helping grandma-" I was cut off by a gunshot.
It's difficult to describe the feeling of absolute horror, dread and terror you get when you know two of your loved ones are in danger, and may have just been shot or killed. Victoria let out a cry and I had to close my hand over her mouth so she wouldn't make another noise, but that didn't stop the tears coming from my eyes.
Then, suddenly, time stopped going by so slowly and I heard the noises of a fight and struggle, and then someone else running up the stairs. My mother ran into the room, and she had been shot in the leg, and was bleeding everywhere. She collapsed in front of me and gave me a pleading look.
That was the moment I decided to hell with waiting for the police to get here and my emergency system, and I called 911.
"Hello, you've reached 911, what is your emergency?" A young woman asked.
"Hello, Ma'am," I said shakily, trying to keep my calm but failing at doing so completely, "I'm Natalie Stephens, and my house has just been broken in to, and I have a secruity system, but it's been nearly 10 minutes and no cops are on the scene yet, and my mom has just been shot and my husband and the robber are downstairs and you need to send someone over here immediately!" I started talking as smoothly as I could, but as I told the operator what was happening, I just became more and more hysterical.
"Well Mrs. Stephens, we haven't gotten a distress call from your security provider telling us to send anyone out. However, upon hearing what you've just told me, I've just sent an ambulance and police team to your house, they should be here soon. Would you like me to stay on the phone with you until they arrive?
"Yes please," I whispered weakly.
"Who all is in your house, ma'am?"
"Well, there's me, obviously, there's my daughter Victoria, my son Todd, my husband who is downstairs and my mother, who has been-" I was cut off by another loud gunshot and my husband screaming. I gulped out the last word, "shot."
I heard sirens in the distance and I threw my phone down, stood up and bolted downstairs, hoping that Clifford wasn't really hurt, that this was all a nightmare and I'd be able to wake up, but then I saw him, laying in a steadily-growing pool of blood.
"Clifford!" I screamed at the top of my lungs and dashed over to him, "Oh my god! Clifford! Clifford! Speak to me, love!" I cried, trying to use my hand to stop the bleeding. He was shot in the middle of his chest and there was blood everywhere, but I didn't care about how I was getting all bloody too, this was my soulmate, my one true love, my life partner and he was bleeding out on the living room floor.
"Nat?" Clifford coughed, "Natalie!"
"I'm right here, babe, I'm right here," I cried as I grabbed his hand and put it next to my heart, "I'm right here."
"Is he gone? Are the police on the way? Are the kids safe? What about your mom?" Clifford could hardly speak and with each word I could see him straining.
"Yes baby, he's gone. As soon as he heard the sirens, he bolted, I don't know where he went. I called the police, love. Our alarm system didn't send out a distress signal apparently. I called 911. An ambulance is coming for you, Cliff, hold on for me, alright? Everyone is fine, every one is safe." I sobbed. He was loosing a lot of blood, and as hard as I tried to stop the bleeding, I was unable to do so. I knew he was fading fast and the more the thought sunk in that I was probably going to be losing him, the harder and harder I cried.
"Everyone is safe..." he smiled through the obvious amounts of pain he was in and then he opened his eyes and he locked his beautiful, loving, compassionate baby blue eyes with my green ones and he leaned up and kissed me softly, "Tell the kids I love them for me, will you Natalie? Please?"
"Tell them your self, Cliff, you'll see them soon..."I assured, but Clifford just gave me a sad smile.
"We both know that I'm not going to be seeing them for a long time, Natalie...I don't regret what I did, either. He was gonna light the place on fire, I stopped him, but I didn't know he had a gun, and honestly, even if I could do it again, I'd do the same exact thing. I protected what was most precious to me, and if protecting my loved ones means I die but they stay safe, then so be it."
"Clifford, don't talk like that! You can't leave me! I need you! I've always needed you! Please stay with me! Please!" I sobbed, leaning over him and crying into his body.
"Natalie, look at me," he paused, making sure I did what he requested, "I love you, Natalie, I've loved you since we were little kids and I still love you now and I'll be loving you forever, and for all eternity. Don't worry, you don't need me physically here, and you know I'm never going to really leave you, Nat, I'll always be with you. Always."
I cried even harder than before, "But I need you to stay here with me. I love you, please don't leave me!"
"I love you, Natalie. More than words can describe..." Clifford smiled and kissed me one last time before he closed his eyes and he stopped breathing.
"Clifford?" I cried, "CLIFFORD!" I screamed at the top of my lungs and let out massive heart-wrenching sobs, "Come back to me! Please, baby, come back to me! CLIFFORD!"
I clutched onto him as tightly as I could and sobbed uncontrollably into his chest. I only vaguely remember the EMT's dragging me off of his body and placing me, my mother and my husbands body in the back of a few different ambulances. Someone called Julia and got her to come and watch Todd and Victoria.
I sat in the back of the ambulance with a blanket wrapped around me. My very soul had just been completely shattered, and I didn't know if I could ever go on.
(A/N: I suggest that when you get to the black and white pictures, you listen to this song and read the lyrics as the song plays).
The night I spent at the hospital was miserable. The EMT's who picked us up declared Clifford dead on the scene, and police officers came in to question me right around sunrise. I told them everything that happened, from the moment I woke up, to the moment I realized that I was in an uncomfortable, stiff hospital bed. The officers said that there was someone running away from the house, dressed in all dark clothes as they turned down our street, and had teams out looking for him now. Around 9 AM they told me that there were no more questions, that they were sorry, and to call them if I needed anything. A representative from my security company came to speak to me as well, saying that their service went out last night at 3:35 AM for an update, and was back on at 3:40 AM, so in that five minute span, the intruder must have come into the house. The ambulance arrived at 3:49 AM, and I was in my hospital room by 4:00 AM, according to the records. The representative apologized for my loss, and said that this incident would make sure that company policy changed to make sure that this never happened again, and that the company would pay all funeral and hospital costs. I simply shrugged and asked to be left alone. I didn't want their money, I didn't want anything except for Clifford to be alive. I needed him to be alive.
They released my mother and I two days later. Mom had been shot in her knee and it was essentially shattered completely, and she could no longer walk unless she wanted surgery. Mom, now being close to 90 years old simply said that she was old enough now where she shouldn't be walking anymore anyway, so now, she was in a wheelchair, but she honestly didn't mind.
I don't remember much after I got home. With no one coming in and talking to me every forty five minutes, I started losing track of time. I sat in my room for hours in silence with the blinds drawn closed. The world went on, Todd and Victoria still went to school, mom's garden still grew, the sun still rose and set, but it seems as if my life was over. My world had completely shattered.
When Clifford died, I died. Not in a physical way, but in a spiritual, emotional, and mental way, I was dead. My soul had been shattered. There had never, ever been a point in my life where Clifford wasn't there. My entire 45 years here on this earth, there was Clifford standing right beside me. Now that he wasn't there anymore, I simply didn't know what to do, I shut down completely. I didn't understand how the world could just go on, while my life went in to ruin.
Clifford (and the family that was previously buried on the Stephens property), was buried in a brand-new beautifully designed cemetery, paid for by the security company. It was a beautiful place, and the gesture was kind, but it didn't make me feel any better, and it most certainly did not bring Clifford back to me.
Clifford's funeral was about a week after his death, which gave Layton enough time to come back home from school to visit and mourn his father with us. When Layton came out of the car, and walked up to his fathers burial spot, I had to take another look. Layton looked exactly like his father did when Clifford was Layton's age, and it took me a moment to realize that it was my son standing in front of me.
"Momma?" Layton asked me, "Momma, I'm so sorry. If I was home, I would have been there to help Dad. I'm so sorry I wasn't home, Momma, I'm sorry." He cried as he hugged me, blaming himself for what happened.
"Oh, Layton, baby," I cried back, "don't blame yourself, please. You weren't here, you were off going to school,you were where you were supposed to be. God, Lay, please don't blame yourself."
It seemed as if the entire town came to Clifford's funeral. He was well known, all throughout the world, actually, and a number of reporters covered the story of his passing, and were following the police investigation closely. Thankfully, however, no news reporters or paparazzi were anywhere around the funeral site.
Every member of the family went up and spoke, including me, even though I could only muster out a few words between sobs each time I tried to say something. Eventually, however, I got the point across.
"I know that everyone here was somehow touched by Clifford in their life. He was a really great man, and he was a genuinely good person, and I knew him my entire life, so I can also say that he was always a good person. He was much more than just a great man, amazing father, and a fantastic husband, though. No, Clifford was breathtaking in his work, both in his business, and in the community. He kept his good naturedness with him, even after becoming essentially, one of the most powerful people in the business world. Even though he had to work a lot, he never missed one birthday, recital, or ceremony of honor. He was always there for his family, and his dedication to us, his loved ones, is exactly why he put himself in danger." I sighed, trying to hold back tears.
"He was my very best friend, and he always was. My first memory, ever was of him. I was running around on the playground and fell and scraped my knee. I couldn't have possibly been older than 3 years old. Clifford ran over to me and got me to stop crying and he told me that whenever he got hurt, his mom would just kiss it better, so little Clifford gently kissed the little scrape on my knee and made it all better, but then continued on to take me to my mom." I paused for a moment, the tears forming in my eyes once again, "I loved him, I always loved him, even before I even knew what love was, I loved him. He was everything to me. I loved him more with every day that passed by, and living without him here is hard, but it's my love for him, and our beautiful children that will keep me going."
Time. It's a strange concept. Since Clifford died, I really didn't even pay attention to the world around me. I simply got up, did whatever had to be done, and then went back to bed, day in and day out. Time really meant nothing to me anymore. It just hurt too badly to go out and do anything. I was lost without Clifford, completely and totally lost. I was weak, and I knew it, but I didn't know what else to do with myself other than what was strictly necessary.
I lived like this for over a year. I had my good days, and I had my bad days, but the bad days were much more in number and the good days were incredibly few and far between.
One day, upon her request, I went into my mothers room to speak with her.
"Natalie?" My mom asked as I walked into the room.
"Yeah, it's me." I half-smiled as I walked in with two cups of steaming tea.
"Hey, sweetie. How're you doing today?"
"I don't know..." I sighed and took a sip of tea, "I don't know."
My mom nodded and we sat in silence for a moment, "Natalie. It's been over a year since Clifford died, it's already planting season again. I know it hurts baby, but you still have a son and a daughter to finish raising. He wouldn't have wanted you to stop living your life, honey. You need to go back to being Victoria and Todd's mom, and to being yourself. Tell me, hun, when was the last time you painted?"
"Over a year ago. I finished my last one a few days before Cliff..." I gulped and took a sip of tea, causing my mother to nod.
"Natalie, please. Be strong, live your life. It's what Clifford would have wanted."
I nodded and gave her a sad smile, "Okay, momma."
I did my best to get up and do something productive each day. Mom couldn't really do too much house work or gardening anymore so I took up those responsibilities and started to spend more time with my kids.
Time didn't drag on as much and before I knew it, the months flew by and I was starting to feel better, however, it seemed as if fate was out to make me as miserable as possible. A year and a half after the robbery, I walked in to my mothers room to see that she had passed away in her sleep at 92 years old.
We buried her right next to my father, who she hadn't been with in close to 15 years. Most of the town attended and paid their respects to her, saying that she was as great as a woman as my grandmother was, and I was as strong and great as well.
Loosing my mother set me back very far back in my healing prosses, and that essentially made me go back in my little world of self-pity and tears. I still did the things I did when I was getting better, but slowly, Victoria took over, with Todd there helping her. When Layton came out for his grandmothers funeral, he insisted on staying here, and started doing his classes online.
I slowly started to settle into a routine, but one night, I was sitting down on my computer, checking e-mails and essentially trying to keep myself distracted when I suddenly realized the date. It had been two years. Two years since...
It was then I had to get out of the house. I had to go visit my husband.
I rolled out of bed and headed downstairs and grabbed the keys to my truck.
"Momma?" Victoria asked, "where are you going?"
"I'm going to go visit your father," I said simply.
"It's 12:30 AM, mom. Can't you go in the morning?"
I simply shook my head at her.
"Alright, momma." Victoria said as she gave me a hug. "Stay safe."
I smiled and hugged her back.
"Oh," I paused, realizing I was no longer wearing the necklace, "here, honey. I know you're not 18 yet, but I want you to have this now. Consider me giving you this as a start of your heiress training."
I gave an actually geniune smile at her when I saw her face light up, "Oh, Momma!" she squealed, "I'm so excited! I'll wear it every day, just like I do with Daddy's watch! Thank you, Momma, I can't wait to start!"
I kissed her forehead and walked out the door.
I drove along the dark and winding roads that lead up to Clifford's gravesite, and I was letting my mind wander to thoughts of him, and of us, and with the song that came on the radio, it all simply became too much.
I will wander 'til the end of time, torn away from you.
I pulled away to face the pain.
I close my eyes and drift away.
Over the fear that I will never find
A way to heal my soul.
And I will wander 'til the end of time
Torn away from you.
My heart is broken
Sweet sleep, my dark angel
Deliver us from sorrow's hold
(Over my heart).
I can't go on living this way
But I can't go back the way I came
Chained to this fear that I will never find
A way to heal my soul
And I will wander 'til the end of time
Half alive without you
My heart is broken
Sweet sleep, my dark angel
Change - open your eyes to the light
I denied it all so long, oh so long
Say goodbye, goodbye
My heart is broken
Release me, I can't hold on
My heart is broken
Sweet sleep, my dark angel
My heart is broken
Sweet sleep, my dark angel
Deliver us from sorrow's hold.
"Victoria?" Layton asked as he poked his head in to my room.
"Lay?" I yawned, "Why are you trying to talk to me now? It's almost four in the morning, and I have school tomorrow. I need to get some sleep." I angrily sighed as I rolled over and tried to ignore my oldest brother.
"Tori, it's about mom," he said simply.
"What?" I gasped.
"She was in a car accident, Tori. The hospital just called. She's dead." Layton said in a low, pained voice.
"What?" I cried, "No, Layton, she's not dead! She just went to go visit dad's grave! She's probably on her way back, just, let me call her!"
I reached for my phone and called my mother's number. She didn't answer. Tears started to form in my eyes and I tried my best to keep them from falling. I tried calling again, but Layton sat down on the bed next to me and took my phone away and wrapped his arms around me. That's when I lost it. I started sobbing into my oldest brothers chest as he held me and started to cry as well.
"Lay, she just gave me the legacy before she left. She said she was gonna come back and then after school today she was going to start teaching me all those things I have to learn before I can become the heiress. I'm not ready for this, Lay! I need her! She can't be...she can't!"
"Victoria," Layton whispered, "You can do this. Mom wouldn't have done that if she didn't think you were ready."
"But I need her...she's not even going to be around to paint my heiress portrait..."
"Todd can do that for you, Tors."
"I know he can, but it wont be the same!" I cried. It's true that it was tradition to have the mother paint the heiress's portrait when she came of age. Great Grandma Harmony started it, and mom was planning to do mine on my birthday, but now she wont be able to.
"It'll be fine, Tori, everything will be fine." Layton whispered as he held me, "it'll all be fine."
Three days after I found out she was dead, we buried my mother right next to my father.
The ceremony was simple, just my family was there as we had requested that my moms funeral be a small affair.
It still hurt though. I'm not even 18 yet and I've already lost both of my parents. It hurt, it hurt a lot. Even though my two brothers were standing next to me, I felt utterly alone, and I didn't know when, or if, that feeling would ever go away.
When my 18th birthday finally rolled around, I decided that rather than throwing a party, I was going to go out to a party. At first, Layton and Todd were worried, I mean I was their baby sister after all, but after I promised to be home at a reasonable hour and to always have my phone on me, they calmed down a little.
As I got ready to go to the club downtown, I started to feel a little bad for my brothers. Layton left Simmarian University and transferred to some online classes so he could stay at home. I felt so bad for him though, because when he left he gave up one of the best opportunities he had. Todd refused to even try and go out of Riverview, he stayed in-town and also did online art classes rather than going to the art academy. They didn't stay because they loved this town, they didn't stay because they couldn't go to those schools either. They had full scholarships and we had more than enough money to send them out there, yet they still stayed, and they stayed because of me.
I let my mind wander for a little while longer as I put the finishing touches on my make up and once I decided that I was ready to go, I skipped outside and got into my car.
I could hear the music halfway down the block from the club and I got excited as I drove closer and closer.
When I parked and stepped outside a smile crept up my lips and when I got inside the building, I knew I was going to have a fun night.
I went over to the bar and got myself a drink before I started dancing. I was having a blast and more than a few guys came up to me and started dancing with me. I throughout enjoyed the attention and I felt incredibly sexy as I danced.
After about an hour or so of dancing I went over to the bar and got something to snack on, all that dancing had seriously made me work up an appetite.
I was sort of lost in my own little world when one, rather attractive guy came up beside me.
"Hey sexy," he smiled, "mind if I buy you a drink?"
I rolled my eyes at him and laughed a little, "It'd be a waste,"
"Oh? Why do you say that?" He chuckled.
"Well, maybe I say that because I'm not interested, and maybe because you wreak of juice and maybe I don't let just any mildly attractive guy buy me a drink." I laughed, hardly paying any attention to him at all now.
"Oh, well someone is a little feisty, aren't you?" He chuckled, "It's hot, I must say."
"Eh, if you say so. The flattery wont make me any more interested in you, I hope you understand that."
"Oh? Well damn," he chuckled, "I was hoping it would make you at least slightly more interested."
"Keep dreaming." I scoffed.
"I will. I can promise you that." He smiled.
I gave him an annoyed look and then went back to eating my nachos.
"Hey, do I get to at least know your name?"
"Victoria." I smiled as I looked over at him.
"Hello, Victoria, I'm Mark. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, now someone's going to be all gentlemanly?" I giggled.
"Indeed, actually." Mark winked, "Now, lovely Victoria, may I please buy you a drink?"
I smiled at him, "You're not gonna give up on this, are you?"
"That assumption would be correct." Mark grinned.
"Well then, okay, one drink."
One drink became three, which then became dancing, if you could even really call it that.
All I was focused on was Mark and how his body felt as he ground against me. We had a good rhythm and before long I got lost in the sensation and in the loud, pounding music.
I danced with him for hours, even though it seemed like only minutes and I could have stayed with him all night if I didn't have to go home to my brothers.
We were seriously getting into it when I suddenly heard the music get turned down and the bartender yelled out last call. I pulled myself away from Mark and looked at my phone. It was nearly three in the morning.
"Shit!" I gasped as I turned and looked at Mark, "I gotta go. I was due home over an hour ago."
"Wait! Victoria, before you go, can I at least get your number?" He asked.
"Sure. Text me sometime." I smiled at him and typed my number into his phone and then ran out to my car and hurried home.
When I finally got home, Todd and Layton were sitting in the living room.
"Victoria! It's almost four in the morning! You had us worried sick! Where were you?" Layton yelled.
"I was at the club, sorry. I just kinda lost track of time. Plus, you guys, I'm not exactly a baby anymore. I can take care of myself, alright?
Todd piped up, "Yeah, I know, but you should have called us, Tori."
I scoffed, "Whatever you two. I'm tired, I'm going to bed. See you guys in the morning."
I sometimes seriously hated how over protective those two could be. I mean seriously! I'm not some helpless little baby anymore. They didn't need to stay here with me, I didn't ask them to, and honestly, I really didn't even want them to. There were times when I wished that Layton went back out to Bridgeport and took Todd with him so he could go to school like he wanted to, just so I didn't have to deal with them anymore. I didn't need them, I didn't need anyone.