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.