Bella tries Kaiser’s phone again and it goes to voicemail. She’d spent the morning at the office shutting it down, the night before she took her team out to one last dinner. She will miss them, they worked incredibly hard for her over the years and gave it their all, won awards and are all very well respected in the industry. She made sure they all had jobs to go to afterward, by reaching out to her contacts in the industry, it was the least she could do. It was sad to see the end but it had to happen. She called Sloane afterwards and had a good cry, and her little sister let her, before going over her strategy for the next phase. That’s Sloane, the fixer, she already had people lined up for Bella to talk to and interview, and a million other things in the line up.
She drops her shopping bags in the foyer, after giving the landlord back the keys to her old office, and saying goodbye to her old life, she decided to stop by Harvey Nichols for a spot of shopping. She stopped by the local market on her way home and got a Christmas tree, since Christmas is her favourite time of year she needs to give her home some festive cheer. It will be hers and Kaiser’s first Christmas together, talk about a mile stone. She turns the kettle on for tea and rum cake, specially made by Anas, before checking the mail- nothing of consequence there. She is just about to call Serena, they are having dinner tonight, when the doorbell goes…
That lump in Kaiser’s throat cannot go down, he is not sure how Bella will react to this, she could lose it entirely or be so shocked her reaction will be delayed. She already told him she hates surprises. Will this qualify as one? Who knows? Before he could reach for his keys, Dr. Rhodes pressed the bell.
‘Hello Bella Bun-Bun.’ That was his nickname for her as a kid, Bella loved having her hair in buns, topped with pretty ribbons so he called her Bella Bun-Bun growing up.
‘Daddy!’ Bella cannot tell what shocked her more; her father on her doorstep or Kaiser standing there with her father. ‘Holy fuck.’ No wonder he was not answering her calls.
‘Sailor’s tongue still.’
‘Am I at least going to be invited in and receive a hug?’
Bella hugs her father before he sets foot in the house; it was a long time coming.
‘Hello my darling.’
‘Hi daddy.’ Father and daughter hug a little while longer.
Kaiser cannot help the smile at seeing this show of emotion between father and daughter. From what little he’s seen and knows about her sisters, the Rhodes family are very close knit.
‘I take it you’ve met Kaiser.’
‘Indeed I have, he survived an encounter with your mother… well unfortunate, but we always knew that would happen.’ Stephen hands his daughter his coat and hat upon entering the house.
Kaiser looked apologetic standing there.
‘Would you like some tea and rum cake?’
‘Of course I would. You know I can never say no to Anas’ rum cake.’ Stephen looks around the house, it is still as lovely as it was when he viewed it with Bella ten years ago. She’d been head over heels in love with it, the fire place was the cincher, and she has kept it as beautiful ever since. He doesn’t get to come to London often to see his daughters. Beatrix he sees quite a bit because she is not far from the house, but Serena and Bella he doesn’t see as often as he’d love to. Sloane he sees even less. Everyone in the family teases Sloane as a daddy’s girl, he has a rare fondness for his youngest daughter; strong willed and sassy as she can be, she is the most loving and kindest person anyone can hope to meet.
‘What the fuck!’ Bella mouths to Kaiser, they are in the kitchen and out of earshot. ‘Is this where you have been all day?’ she continues in hushed tones.
‘Yes, it was something I had to do. Sorry I didn’t tell you, I didn’t want you to stress about this as well and your company.’
‘You don’t get to tell me what I stress or don’t stress about you know.’
‘I know, but Bella I had to do this.’
Kaiser and Bella serve tea and cake and all three sit in the living room, apprehensive.
‘First of all, how are you?’ Stephen only wants to know his daughter is happy, and at peace with her life. It would be terrible of her to enter into a union with someone as a distraction, it would be unfair to him if that is what this is.
‘I’m well daddy.’ Bella smiles, she loves her parents, they have been there for all of their lives, even when they were away conquering the world, the girls never doubted their parents love for them. ‘How are you?’
‘Better now that I see you. The house still looks lovely.’
Father and daughter share a moment of affection. Stephen often worries about his third daughter mostly because at times it felt like she was a little girl lost, she did things she was directed to do or expected to do, never strayed the lines, never showed a wild streak. Bella is the straight line walker, or was until she met Kaiser.
‘Can you give us a minute?’ Bella says to Kaiser.
‘Sure.’ He squeezes her arm affectionately, before getting up to leave. ‘Dr Rhodes, thank you for meeting with me.’
Stephen shakes his son-in-law’s hands, he found his reflexes.
Alone, Bella and her dad exchange another knowing smile, he came all this way to see her and to know that she is not losing her marbles.
‘I’m happy daddy.’
‘I see that. How did the shutdown go?’ He pats the seat beside him, wanting her to join him.
Bella does as her father asks. ‘It was painful, I gave eight years of my life to the paper, so it was hard, but the staff took it well. I think they suspected that something was afoot a while but they hung around because they believed in the work we were doing, that gives me some comfort.’
‘What’s your next step?’
‘Taking things one day at a time, I worked a strategy with Sloane, and it is a good one, a brilliant one. The roll out starts in the New Year, I outlined all of that in my editor’s letter for the shutdown.’
‘I read that, it was so beautifully written.’
‘I know you don’t feel it but you must know that you did incredible work with the paper, and your mother and I would have supported you to keep it open.’
‘I know, but I needed to face up to this on my own, take on the failures and learn from it. I wanted to not run to you and mom to save me like you always do.’
‘Is this what Kaiser is? Proving to yourself that you can do things on your own?’
‘No Daddy, he’s not.’
‘Then tell me. What’s going on? Talk to me Bella.’
Whilst their father tackles Bella, Beatrix shows up at the family home for an overdue visit.
‘There she is, my lovely girl.’ Anas greets Bea fondly when she walks in through the kitchen door.
‘Anas…’ Bea hugs the woman who’d been instrumental in their lives growing up, they all love Anas, she is a part of their family, a very important part. ‘How are you?’
‘Better for seeing you. How is my Bells?’
‘She’s fine. She’s happy.’ Bea shrugs.
‘Come, let’s go to my office.’ She takes Bea by the hand and leads her away from the rest of the staff. Bella’s wedding and Kaiser’s showing up here, has made for much talk amongst them. ‘He was here.’ Anas says to Bella behind closed doors.
‘Shit! What did mom do?’
‘She lost it with him but your dad came to his rescue.’
‘How did Dad take it?’
‘He was kind. Shortly after they left for London.’
‘No. She’s in the attic, rummaging around per usual when she is feeling some type of way.’
Phew! ‘I’ll go see her now. Thank you for telling me Anas.’
‘How are the two Sweets?’ She enquires about Sloane and Serena.
‘Both well. Saw Sloane recently, she’s fabulous as always.’
‘That’s my girl. Go see your mama and try to put her mind at ease then come down and tell me all about my lovely Sweet Bees.’
‘I’ll try.’ She hugs Anas before leaving.
Briar has been going up to the attic since Bella broke her news, here is where she keeps memories of her family, everything about the girls lives growing up is stored up here and it gives her comfort. She has no idea how to handle this news of Bella’s so she came up here for comfort, to remind herself of their childhood when they were mommy’s little girls who reached for her at every turn, even when she was not there they knew she was. And now…
Briar turns to see Bea standing by the door. ‘Well if it isn’t a fourth of the secret keeping quartet.’
Beatrix makes her way in and gives her mom a big hug, rocking her gently. ‘I love you mommy. We all do. So that hug is from all of us.’
‘All three of you.’ Because she knows Sloane did not send a hug, especially after their last phone call.
‘Mommy, you have to stop.’
‘Mom. Stop. Please stop. This isn’t fair on Sloane, she had nothing to do with this.’
For some time since they got back Bea cannot shake the things Sloane said about their mom, it bothers her a lot. ‘Mom do you like Sloane?’
‘Do you like her?’
‘I love her she is my daughter.’
‘Yes mom I know you love her, but do you like her?’
‘What is that supposed to mean?’ Briar is thrown by this question. Why would Bea ask her that?
‘Mommy, you love the people you do because you cannot help it, but you choose the people you like because you can. You know why she doesn’t like coming home?’
‘Because she thinks you’d rather she didn’t.’
‘Sloane is strong headed, and rebellious and wild, but she is also my daughter and I love her. I like her.’
‘It’s hard to tell when you blame her for everything we all do.’
‘Because she is the most influential one and I don’t know if it’s because she went away soon after graduation or you all feel like you have to protect her, but you cannot deny Sloane has some sway over you all.’
‘We all have sway over each other, you know that. We are close, very close as sisters and that’s what it boils down to. One would think you would at least be happy about that.’
Briar shrugs, the issue of her liking Sloane has rattled her some.
‘Anyway I came here to talk to you about Bella.’
‘Yes she got married. I heard.’
‘Mom…please sit down. We need to talk about this.’
‘Now you all want to talk. Why didn’t anyone want to talk about this when it happened?’
‘Because it just happened and we are trying to wrap our heads around this just like you are. We don’t have a choice because we have to. And no, Sloane did not put Bella up to anything this was all Bella.’
‘I am not blaming her.’
‘You did when you called her to yell at her and called her selfish.’
Briar regretted that call as soon as her daughter hung up the phone. ‘That was poor judgement.’
‘Mom Bella is married now, they seem happy, at least that’s what Sloane says and we have to get on board with it. It is not for us to judge because everyone has a different trajectory to love. You and dad met at Uni, I and Serena dated a while, the two young ones were in short span, and by all accounts we are all happy.’
‘So what are you saying?’
‘I’m saying we are having a ceremony for Bella and it would be good of you to be part of the day. You’re her mother, we are her family she has made this decision and we ought to support her for it because we show up for each other.’
‘Regardless of all that, I am her mother and am entitled to how I feel about this.’
‘You are. She’s your daughter and she did something out of character; it’s not just some random thing it’s a huge decision to make without your family’s involvement but she has and there we have it. You can call her and rage at her but leave Sloane out of it. She has no hand in it, yet she was the one who flew out there to see Bella to get to the bottom of it. You ought to start liking her a little bit more.’
‘I like her fine.’
‘So you say but not how you act. I love you mommy. We all do. In our own particular way we love you to pieces, if you believe anything, please believe that.’ Beatrix hugs her mother before making to leave.
‘I love you too.’ Briar says, ‘I love you all. And I like you all.’ She adds stubbornly.
That elicits a little laugh from Beatrix as she walks out.
Briar sits a while after Bea’s departure, the words she said resonating with her, she’d been unfair to Sloane but their relationship can take a tense turn sometimes, but she loves her daughter, has a huge amount of respect for her. Bella’s news set her on a trail of memories of them as children, needing to remember when they needed her, when she was their entire world. Is it selfish of her to still want to be that to them? Of course it is but she cannot help it.
‘So you love him.’ Father and daughter spent the afternoon catching up with each other, mostly Bella telling of her and Kaiser, with Stephen observing them inconspicuously. His father often said to judge one by deeds not words and he wanted to be assured that this is what Bella wants.
‘I do, daddy.’
He’d seen more of Bella’s self in the time he walked in, than he had at any other time, his gentle and loving daughter; Bella really was a fairy in a former life.
‘Know that I love you Bella, I love you so much and I could never part with you to someone less worthy. If this is what you want then know that you have my support, mine and your mothers’ and I look forward to getting to know him.’
Bella hugs her father tightly. She couldn’t deal if he said otherwise. ‘Thank you daddy.’
‘I love you sweet girl.’
‘I love you too.’