3.10 Natalie's Reign Ends
Back to: 3.9 Natalie's Tragedy Next: 4.1 Victoria Takes Over

(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
Deliver us.

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
Deliver us
My heart is broken
Sweet sleep, my dark angel
Deliver us
My heart is broken
Sweet sleep, my dark angel
Deliver us from sorrow's hold.

Click Next: 4.1 Victoria Takes Over to continue...

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