3.1 Natalie Takes Over
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"It's been a little over a year, hasn't it?" Clifford asked one morning just a few days before our wedding.

"A year since what?" I questioned, grinning as I let my arms wrap around him.

"A year since we got the house renovated, and a year your mom started your housewife training," he paused, giving me one of his sexy smirks and laughing at my slightly offended stare.

"Okay, you buthole," I started, "Just because my mom has been teaching me how to cook and garden does not equal housewife training! She's not gonna live forever, and I need to make sure I can make things that are edible. Plus, that garden was started by my grandma, and weren't you the one that came over on Saturdays when we were small children to help her with it?"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever, Nat." He laughed, giving me a deep, but very quick kiss and then looking me in my eyes, making me blush ever-so-slightly. "You know I was just playing with you, sweets."

I giggled a little, "Yeah, I know."

He grinned and swept my hair back from my face and gave me a soft, loving kiss, that took my breath away.

I laughed softly and stared back at him. He's been my best friend for my entire life. I don't ever remember him not being in my life. Ever. In one way or another, he was there. We've always been best friends, and honestly, we've probably loved each other before we even thought we had an idea of what love could be. It took me the first fifteen years of my life to realize that he and I should be together. I remember the first time he kissed me. It wasn't my first kiss, but it was the only one worth remembering. It had been nothing but a soft, sweet peck, and it sent a jolt of electricity through my body, making me weak in the knees. Even now, nearly ten years after we started dating, every single time he kisses me, it's electric.

"Let me guess," he began, letting out a low chuckle "You're thinking about our first actual date, aren't you?"

"What?" I gasped.

"You're thinking about our first date." He smirked.

"Yeah, well, it's one of my favorite memories." I blushed.

He chuckled, "Yeah, it's one of mine too. Although I think my favorite memory of you was when we raced down to the lake near my old house and you attempted to jump in the water via the rope swing, but instead you flung off and hit your face against the bank." He laughed loudly when he noticed me glaring at him, "Or maybe it might have been when you and Julia were about 8 and you found had found a frog right next to the lake, and you went to go show her after you showed me, but she thought it was gross and she ran away. I remember watching you chase Julia around my yard for a good 30 minuets until you tackled her and shoved the frog down the front of her dress."

I laughed, recalling the memory, "I got in so much trouble for that! I thought it was seriously the most hysterical thing. Mom didn't think so." I giggled.

Cliff smiled at me and then wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me closer to him and then whispered into my ear, "Or it may have been the first night we made love," he paused, giving me a soft kiss on my neck, "It brought us so much closer together, in a few different ways. I remember you were so nervous before hand, but once we got going, mmm. I never knew you could be so....creative." he chuckled suggestively.

I scoffed a little and shook my head, and seeing this reaction, he chuckled.

"Fine," he smiled, cupping my face in his other hand, "My favorite memory of you is when you said yes to my proposal. Your eyes lit up, and you jumped into my arms, and in that moment, I could see the happiness in your eyes, and I knew that despite all the bull we've been through, you'd be mine forever, and in three days, you will be. Finally." he paused, kissing my forehead. I let my head down to rest on his shoulder as I felt his strong arms surround me completely. He then smiled and continued on, "But, in three days, when I see you walking down the isle toward me, and we exchange vows, rings, and kiss, sealing the deal that you're mine and I'm yours, forever...that will be the happiest moment of my life."

"How do you do that?" I asked, my heart pounding in my chest.

"Do what?" he questioned, smoothing down my hair.

"Make me feel so incredibly unbelievably happy?"

He chuckled at me and shrugged, "I don't know, maybe the same way you do it to me."

I laughed a little and let my eyes fall closed.

"You know," I began, talking softly " when you first picked me up for our very first date, it wasn't very different than when we would simply go out to the park to hang out, but it was because we called it a date. When you picked me up that night, you gave me my favorite purple flowers. Then, when we went to the park after dinner, you pushed me on the swing set, just like when we were little kids-"

He cut me off, "And when you stopped swinging, I took your hand. I new I had to get you home soon, and that I had my chance, so I led you over to the kids play building. You leaned up against it and smiled at me. I stood in front of you and I was-"

"Shaking like a leaf? I'd say so," I giggled.

He ignored my side comment and continued on, "But you didn't go anywhere, so when I leaned in, and you leaned in, we kissed."

"And it was amazing, and every kiss has been just as, if not more so than that one."

He blushed softly and led me over to our bed and nodded.

"Indeed."




We laid down together and I smiled widely when I snuggled up next to him. I felt so at home in his arms. It had been a year since he officially moved in, and that meant the legacy was officially "mine" now, as I learned from my mom for the past year about all the ins and outs and how-to's of being a Stephens heiress.

It had also been over a year since Paige moved out. A few months ago, she and Jordan had their first baby, Devon Adien Stephens. It was awesome to have a new baby in the family so soon, and Paige had called me a few weeks ago, and we joked about how she knew I was going to be the next one with a baby on the way. I laughed it off. I didn't think I was going to be the next, especially since Kristen, Jordan's sister had gotten married just three months after Paige did, and since Norman, Clifford's younger brother had just announced that he would also soon be getting married, I honestly doubted that I would be the next in our family to have a baby. Plus, I know I didn't want to get pregnant too soon, but I knew that that kind of came with being the Stephens heiress.

The day mom put the legacy necklace on me, the weight of being the matriarch of the family hit me. The cool metal of the necklace brushed my skin, suddenly making me feel a surge of power, and responsibility. It tingled on my skin, and at first it felt heavier that it really was. In that moment when mom smiled at me and clasped the necklace I knew that I had to step it up. The house was mine, the family that will eventually grow up here is mine. Everything that is within the walls of this house, and most of the things that happen in this family is my responsibility to take care of.

That's partly why the very first thing I did after becoming heiress was having the house re-built, hoping that we'd never have to do another addition.

It now also just set in that in a few days, I would be getting married, I would be the new official "Mrs. Stephens". I was thrilled and terrified all at the same time, as I wasn't sure what exactly I was going to end up getting myself into.

However, those thoughts could wait, as I was much more excited about Clifford's and my honeymoon trip to Egypt, and so I let my thoughts drift to that, and I wondered what I would want to tour first once I got there.



The day of the wedding came in an instant, and when I was getting ready, my mom came up to talk to me for a bit.

"So, how are you feeling, sweetie?" she asked.

"Oh momma," I sighed, "I'm nervous, but in the best way possible. I mean, I can't believe it! I'm marrying my highschool sweetheart. Actually, my childhood sweetheart, and I don't know, it almost seems too good to be true! But I'm so happy, mom, and I know my wedding is going to be a blast."

She gave me a hug and brushed my hair back.

"From now on, darling, you're the one who makes all the decisions. I basically monitored them for the last year or so, but I won't be doing that anymore. The moment you go from Miss to Mrs Stephens is the moment the family becomes completely your responsibility. Do you understand, sweetie? After today, I wont be able to help you as much anymore. I'll still be here, but I wont be able to make decisions for you, do you understand?"

I nodded and sighed a little, "Yes momma, I understand."

She smiled a little at me, "Good. I'm so happy for you my dear. Oh, by the way do you have everything you need packed up for your trip to Al Simhara? Your flight is about an hour and a half after the wedding ends."

"Yeah momma, I know, and yes, everything is all packed up." I sighed.

"Alright Natalie," she smiled and gave me a hug and whispered, "I'm so proud of you, I know you two are going to last just like your father and I have."

I smiled a little and hugged her back, "Thank you for that, mom."

"Anytime Nat, anytime." She whispered.



I knew there was going to be nothing like walking down the isle toward the man of my dreams, my best friend, my one true love, or whatever you want to call him, but even still, I don't think I can describe what it was like. It seemed as though it took me forever to walk down the isle, but when I finally reached Clifford, I don't think there's any word to use to explain how I felt.

Clifford smiled and took my ring, and placed it onto my finger, and as he did so, he said, "Natalie Jessica Stephens, I have known you my entire life. When we were kids, I told you that one day, I was going to marry you. You laughed, and as per usual, didn't think I was serious, but it was at that moment, when you were ten and I was thirteen, on the old playground as I pushed you on the swing watching your hair blow in the wind and seeing that smile you gave me that I meant it, and now, here we are. Natalie, this ring I give you is a small physical symbol of my love for you. Natalie, I Clifford Allen Gaines, take you as my wife, for now, forever, and for always."

With happy tears in my eyes, I placed the ring on his finger, and said, "Clifford Allen Gaines, there has never been a time when I did not know you, you've always been there for me. Through everything that has happened, you've been there to help me get through it. You're everything to me, and to not have you in my life would be like not having air to breathe. Clifford, I give you this ring as a small physical symbol of my love for you. Clifford, I Natalie Jessica Stephens, take you as my husband, for now, forever, and for always."

And then, of course, we kissed, and everyone who had come to watch the wedding cheered.




When we cut the wedding cake later on that evening, everyone rushed to get some of it as mom had made it for the wedding, and everyone knew that my moms cooking was the best in town, especially when it came to making cakes. However, my mom always insisted that she wasn't anywhere near as good as my grandmother when it came to cooking.

Dad came over and gave both Clifford and I hug. He said that he was happy for us, and knew that we had nothing to really worry about, as he knew that we could make it through anything. He didn't admit that he had cried, I mean after all, he was Kendrick Stephens, one of the biggest sports stars in Riverview history, and even though he'd been retired for a few years now did not mean it had turned him into some "sissy", as he said. However, I knew my father and when Clifford and I turned around to walk back down the isle, I saw him with a few tears in his eyes.

We stayed and we danced and had our fun for the rest of the night. However, the moment the wedding was over, Cliff and I ran upstairs, changed our clothes, and went to the airport and off to Al Simhara.



After an incredibly long flight, it was mid-evening the next day, so the very first thing we did was grab a bite to eat at one of the local resturaunts. It was a very interesting meal that I honestly don't think I can spell properly, so I wont even try, but either way, it was really good.

We spent the rest of the first day in the marketplace and we got a few things we could bring back home. I also got a camera at the general store, as well as a few books to take back home for my mom.



After dinner, we went to go find our campsite. It took a bit of driving, and when Cliff just stopped at the end of a road and got out of the car, I gave him a quizzical look, to which he just smiled and bolted off, shouting "Come on!" over his shoulder, to which I just sighed and darted after him.

"You buthole!" I yelled after him.

All I heard him do was laugh as he ran quickly down the hill, telling me to hurry up.



He got down to the campsite a few moments before I did, and he started a fire. I was out of breath by the time I got down to the campsite. He set up a few chairs and I plopped down in one of them and attepmpted to catch my breath. He smiled at me widely and chuckled a little. We looked up at the sky and he asked me proudly, "So, what do you think? We're camping right on the SimNile!"

I looked at him and smiled, "This is beautiful."
I wasn't just saying that either, the lush ground around us, the deep blue of the river that flowed right next to us, and the sandy mountains in the distance under the light of a full moon really was beautiful.



He smiled and looked over at me, "Yeah, but you're much more beautiful."

I laughed and blushed a little, "You're so corny."

He chuckled, "Yeah! But that's why you love me!"

I giggled and we sat there and talked for a good few more hours before he and I realized that we had to get some rest, the next day we were going to go tour the pyramids and the Sphinx.



The next few days were filled with tours, wonder, and lots of um...extra curricular activities. The entire trip was a blast, and by the time we realized we had to go home, we sighed. We had a lot of fun while in Al Simhara, and it was certainly a trip neither of us is going to forget.



About a week or two after we got home, I noticed I wasn't feeling too well, and I was ever-grateful when my mother walked into the room with one of her soothing teas.

"Drink this sweetie. It might help settle your stomach," she said while she handed me the steaming cup.

"Thanks mom." I sighed, leaning back into my chair and taking a sip.

She just smiled and patted my hair, "Just remember sweetie, sip on it slowly, okay?"

I nodded and sipped on the tea for a good 20 minuets, my mom sitting there and keeping a close eye on me, worrying that I may have gotten some horrid foreign disease. I sighed and told her not to worry and I stood up. On my way to wash the cup out, I got the dire need to vomit and I rushed to the bathroom.



I sat there at the toilet and groaned, feeling like utter crap. From what I heard from my sister and my mother, this could mean one of two things, and I was hoping that I had just eaten something bad and that it was not the other possibility. I was too young to have the other possibility.

I guess we'll just have to wait to find out.

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