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Authors: Christine Bush

Christmas Daisy

BOOK: Christmas Daisy
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Christmas Daisy

 

b
y

Christine Bush

 

Christmas Daisy

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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© Copyright 2013 by Christine Bush. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Cover design by EJR Digital Art   
Thank You.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to my beloved grandkids, one and all.

And to all the great teachers in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Daisy

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Daisy Donovan rested her cheek against the shower tile, letting the strong streams of hot water cascade over her body. The warmth felt good.  One point for life in the USA. Hot showers. And lots of shampoo.  Quickly she lathered up her long blond hair, the strawberry scent of the shampoo filling her nostrils. That was nice too. She let out a sigh as she finished her morning shower. 

It was time to face the day.
Time for another new beginning. 

She had been back in the United States for over three weeks, leaving her beloved village in western Africa behind. It hadn’t been her choice.  She had served there as a volunteer for almost
four years, since the week after she graduated from college.  Most assignments from her organization were for two years, but at the end of her first stint, she begged to remain, and had gotten her way.  This time, along with the hesitation of her supervisors to prolong her stay again, she had collapsed with a brutal case of pneumonia.  Case closed.  Her teaching days at the Mary Moses Missionary School were over.

Without discussion, she had been plopped onto an airplane and returned to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to recupe
rate.  And while she hadn’t wanted to go, she was too weak to argue.  She knew the doctor on site was right.  But that didn’t mean she didn’t miss those children she had come to love. She even missed the rough circumstances of life in the village, so far from the civilized world.

She dried herself off with a big fluffy towel,
then wrapped her hair in the towel. She pulled on clean clothes, her comfortable jeans, a white turtleneck, and a red and blue plaid flannel shirt. 

After she laced up her leather work
boots, she sat back in the chair in her little apartment bedroom and took a deep breath.  Relief. She was finally getting better.  A week ago, the whole process of showering and dressing had been enough to send her right back to bed.  While she was far from one hundred percent, she was okay.   Another positive point for life in the USA.  Good antibiotics and good medical care.

Gently she combed out her long blond hair, staring at her green eyes in the mirror. She still looked pretty washed out, but she was good enough.  Her stateside bosses had found her
another teaching assignment.  They were more than willing for her to take more time off to regain her strength, but she had refused. She wanted to start teaching right away.  While it wasn’t the exact place she really wanted to be, at least it was something. She needed to do something, to feel like she was contributing something to the world. She wanted to teach. Today she would begin.

For a brief moment, she closed her eyes, memory tak
ing her back to the Mary Moses School, and her typical mornings there.  She’d arrive at her tiny hut like classroom with the crack of dawn, long before the oppressive heat of the day.  She cleaned off the writing slates that had been missed the day before, selected copies of the cherished books to be used for the day.  She slipped to the village water tank and filled her buckets  for the one room schoolhouse. She’d take a few moments to sit on the little wooden bench outside the school room door, and greet the morning with joy. She’d close her eyes, hearing the sounds of the village, the awakening birds and their distinctive songs, the smell of cooking fires beginning in the cottages,  the drifting odor of breakfast marking the new day.

And then t
he children arrived.  Alone, or in small groups, varying ages, both boys and girls, wearing their simple multicolored shifts and pants and shirts. Bare brown feet  hopped along the village paths toward the classroom.  Their familiar voices, giggling, arguing, boasting, teasing, would bring a smile to Daisy’s lips.  When she had first arrived, the words of their dialect had been a mystery to her, but not the meaning behind them. Kids were kids.  And slowly, she learned their language, while she taught them hers.

Did they miss her there?  Her throat tightened at the thought.  A new teach
er had been on the way before Daisy’s plane had even left the tarmac. She knew they were okay.  But was she okay?

She
shook her head, trying to lose the memories.  No sense in living in the past.  Life had sure taught her that.  She was ready for a new stage. She had to be. Life was about change, ready or not.

But still, the tight grip o
n her throat remained, and traveled down her body to feel like a band was squeezing her chest.  She was leaving behind a stage of life she had loved, that had meant so much.  She felt like she made a difference.  Daily. 

Here in Philadelphia, she would do what she was sent to do.  She was a teacher, through and through.  Children here needed to learn
, too, even in this civilized, economically secure world.  She would teach at this city school, and be grateful for the opportunity to do so.  This job, though at an alternative school with an extremely low pay scale, would actually give her a little salary. It would be an adjustment, being back in the states, too close to her memories here she had fought hard to ignore, and especially so close to Christmas.  But she’d do it.

Daisy
locked the door of her little apartment, which was on the first floor of an old mansion that had seen better days. It had long ago been broken up into six living units. It was more than a little rough around the edges.   Immediately she was barraged by the sounds and smells of the busy city neighborhood, which had also seen better days. Walking briskly in the cold fall air, she listened to the traffic sounds and distant sirens. People’s voices could be heard as she passed, carried her way in the late fall air. She was amidst all the bustle, yet she felt very alone.  She had forgotten her wool hat, and her head was cold. 

Daisy
shivered as she walked the few steps to the bus stop.   The morning was frigid, especially for someone who had spent the last four years in a steamy hot African village. She clutched the woven poncho that covered her long jeans and layered shirts, wrapping it tightly around her shoulders.  It was going to take some time to get used to the seasons again.  It was going to take some time to get used to everything, to tell the truth.

With a deep sigh, s
he mounted the bus steps, plopped her tokens in the receptacle, and found a seat on the crowded bus as she traveled to her new adventure.

 

****

 

Benjamin Wilson finished lifting his last set of weights at McCarney’s Gym, shouted a hearty goodbye to his fellow early- morning- exercise- worshippers, and headed toward the showers, singing to himself even before the hot water had time to flow.

“Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going in my way!” he sang.  His exuberant if slightly off baritone voice echoed in the locker room.

“Put a cork in it, Wilson!” shouted an unseen man from behind the row of metal lockers.  “Too early for that happy junk, doncha think? I haven’t even had my coffee yet.”

Ben
laughed and repeated the chorus of his Broadway tune.  “Might as well face the day with a song, Bernie,” he chided his unseen friend.  “Coffee or not, it’s a good day, you gotta admit it!”

Bernie laughed, appearing around the corner as Ben stepped out of the shower in a towel.  “You have to be the sorriest piece of work in the city, Wilson, with your upbeat attitude, and ridiculous smile. But you
kinda grow on a person.  Kinda like a puppy.”

“I’ve been called worse,
Bernie,” he laughed, running a towel through his tousled, slightly long black hair.  “Give my love to the family.”

“Will do.
  And I AM going to have a good day. Though you won’t catch me singing about it.  You have a good day too at your weird school, Ben.  See you tomorrow.”

When Bernie left, it only took Ben a few minutes to pull on his clothes, run a comb through his hopeless
ly wavy black hair, and make the trek to his teaching job at the New Horizons School, a few blocks away.  The air was fall crisp, and felt good as he breathed it deeply into his lungs.  When he bounded up the steps, he felt his sudden sense of anticipation. He grinned. Overworked, underpaid, and facing the struggle daily of staff shortages, lack of supplies, and the general insanity of the world around him, there was still no place he preferred to be.  Which made him some kind of a nut, he knew.  But that was the truth.

He was the first one in the building, which was no surprise.  The kids, who ranged in age from six to sixteen, wouldn’t arrive before eight.  There were thirty kids in all, which sounded like a pretty small school, unless you took into consideration the special needs and personalities of his charges.  New Horizons was a special
private school, funded primarily by beneficent corporate sponsors, and a few grateful families.  Funds were always an issue, as the money they received from state funding was practically nonexistent, due to the fact that they simply didn’t fit the requirements  that regulated the funds.

But Ben didn’t grumble more than necessary about that.  He had a vision, a mission for his school, and the freedom to plan curriculums that fit his individual students was the most
important factor.  Though he did admit he prayed a lot about money at the times when their graceful but aged building sprung a need for a costly repair.

The building itself had been a gift, a bequest from his hardly known great uncle who had somehow heard of his plan to begin a school. 
Another miracle. The New Horizons building had once been a stately private home, and had been kept in relatively good repair, despite the troubled neighborhood that was falling apart around it.  From the cracked sidewalk along the street, there were five stone steps up to a gracious porch, where two brightly painted rockers sat beside a large potted plant.  The plant sat there through all four seasons, no matter what the weather.  This miracle occurred because it was artificial, it’s plastic leaves majestically spread whether the sun was shining or not.  Truth was, no one had ever asked how the plant survived through the ice and snow of January and February each year.  The thought made Ben smile. 

Beside the door was a neatly carved wooden sign, announcing, “New Horizons School”, the only outward sign that it was not a private residence.

But inside, inside it was a world of its own.

Ben plopped his backpack down beside the secretary’s desk that sat in the foyer, turning on lights as he traveled down a long
hall toward the kitchen. Within minutes, the aroma of coffee , mingled with the delicious scent of hot chocolate filled the air.  Coffee for the adults, a mug of hot chocolate (with marsh mellows) for the kids.  It was a good way to start a brisk fall day.  And today was a day to celebrate.  The new teacher would be arriving.

Ben opened and closed his fists in happy anticipation at the thought.  He really needed help.  The staff was small.  It consisted of one secretary, and three teachers. 
He was the school director.  The students were divided currently into three groups.  The youngest group contained children from age six to nine.  This class was taught by a delightful and dedicated woman named Gracie Van Pelt, with soft grey curls, a big smile, and many years of experience in teaching.  Ben knew they were blessed to have her, and that she was willing to work so hard for the meager nonprofit salary he could give her.

A dedicated, if slightly unimaginative teacher, Andy Adams,
taught the rambunctious middle schoolers, ages 10-13.  The teen class, ages 14-16, had been taught for the past few years  by a retired army Colonel named Jackson.  His no nonsense ways had sometimes been  a puzzle  to Ben, but the students had done okay. But Jackson had succumbed to a heart attack in early summer, and had put in for retirement.  This had made a real change.

  Ben had hired an experie
nced replacement teacher who  began in September, a man who recently moved to the city from the suburbs.  But the kids at New Horizon School had proved more than he could handle, with their variety of issues and attitudes.  He hadn’t even lasted three weeks before announcing one frantic afternoon he wouldn’t be coming back.

So they had made due with a series of substitute teachers while he had been searching heroically for the right person. Not an easy task.
  It had been weeks of confusion and stress, with Ben, as director and responsible for all of the workings of his little school, running back and forth between his office and the teen classroom, keeping his own work on track, and often putting out fires (though not literally, thank goodness) with the teen class.  It was truly a challenge, he had found, to locate the right type of dedicated person, knowledgeable, compassionate and yet strong enough to maintain the discipline necessary for the strong minded, multicultural, somewhat troubled young  people who were entrusted to his care. Especially with the ridiculously low salary which was all he could offer.

Until the miracle occurred.
  It had come in the form of a handwritten letter, scrawled on expensive linen paper in broad strokes.  The letter was from Hugh Highfield, the CEO of one of the giant corporate benefactors who played a large role in supporting New Horizons.  Mr. Highfield had wanted a favor.  He had inquired about finding a teaching position for a young, experienced educator named Davey Donovan, who was returning from working abroad.  A paragraph introducing the potential teacher had all the pertinent information that made Ben’s pulse roar.  Experienced with all ages, including teens.  Experience in a multicultural perspective.  Innovative.  Flexible and dedicated.  Available immediately.   And willing to work for the dismally low salary that was famous in nonprofit institutions  such as New Horizons.

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