"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.