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Authors: Christine Bush

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BOOK: Christmas Daisy
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Could it have been any better?  The ink had hardly dried on his return letter before it was on its way special delivery.   And today, Mr. Davey Donovan would arrive to begin a trial stint, a favor for Hugh Highfield, bu
t an even greater favor for Dr. Benjamin Wilson.

Ben was whistling while he poured his first cup of coffee into his familiar Eagle’s mug, leaving the kitchen behind, and making his way to his office, which was right off the front foyer.

He had loaded up a pile of relevant text books, student files, teacher information, and a brand new, bright green extra large sweatshirt with the school logo and mascot name in bright yellow letters,  “New Horizon Angels”.  When Ben had first opened the school, he had chosen the mascot as a positive example. It was a sign that the kids who entered their doors, many with a less than distinguished behavior record, would find a new beginning. He had built New Horizons with the strong belief that some kids simply needed a “do-over”, a second chance to change their behavior and outlook on life.

Today, he felt an even deeper meaning.  Waiting for the new teacher to arrive, and feeling his stress level lessening at the very thought, he realized how concerned he had been through the past many weeks. 
They had limped along from September until now, with December approaching within days.  It couldn’t have gone on much longer.  And now it didn’t have to, since the miraculous Mr. Donovan would be arriving momentarily.  The angels had truly been looking out for New Horizons.

He sipped his coffee with a grateful sigh, as he heard the front door open, announcing
that Miss Esmerelda, the school secretary, had arrived.

“Good morning, Dr
. Ben,” she called in her slightly- too- loud-melodious voice.  “The sun is shining, and it’s a beautiful cold day God’s given us!”

“Yes, it is, dear lady,” he replied with a laugh.  “Good Morning.  Now keep your eye out for our new teach Davey Donovan, and let me know the minute he arrives.”

“You better believe it, Dr. Ben.  I shall hog tie him when he gets here so he can’t escape. And if that fails, I have a stun gun in my bag.”

His deep laugh almost shook the building.  “
Let’s hope we don’t have to go that far. Let’s keep things calm and pretend we’re normal around here, Esmerelda.  We don’t want him running away before he gets to see how charming and loveable we are. And by the way, I made hot chocolate for the kids as well as our coffee.”

“Ah, yes, I can smell it”, said the tiny elderly lady.
“So domestic.  You will make someone a good wife some day.”  She giggled.  “I am going to go start pouring cups for the kids.  You guard the door so the new victim doesn’t get away.”

The kids started to arrive,
the smell of hot chocolate pulling them immediately to the kitchen.  Each eagerly took their cup of hot chocolate (with marsh mellows!) and bounded up the stairs to their classrooms.  Miss Gracie and Mr. Andy arrived, and took their places in their classrooms.  Esmerelda was back at her desk.

  The minutes had ticked by, and the new teacher had not arrived.  Ben gave a sigh, and picked up his stack of classroom ma
terials, ready to head up to the teen room.  He’d  get the morning started, and if  the teacher had not arrived in a few more minutes, he’d have Esmerelda get on the phone and hire another frustrating emergency substitute from the service that supplied them. It had been too good to be true.

But then,
when Ben was ready to give up hope, he heard the outside door open and close quietly, a hush of voices, then Esmerelda’s big melodious laugh.

‘Is he here?
Did the new teacher arrive?” he called from his office. Did he sound as desperate as he felt?

“Well, yes and no,” said
Esmerelda, coming to his doorway, her face scrunched up in confusion.  “The teacher is here, but it’s not exactly the dragon slayer you expected.  It’s not Davey Donovan.  It’s Daisy Donovan. I’m going to introduce you two, then I’m going upstairs to keep the cherubs from burning down the building while you two sort this out. This ought to be good.”

With a dramatic flourish, she swept her arms through the air. “Dr. Benjamin Wilson, may I present Ms. Daisy Donovan.” 

Then she stepped aside, allowing Daisy to enter, all 5’2”, 110 pounds of her.

A myriad of feelings swirled over him.  This little slip of a girl looked like a teen ager herself.  He thought of the large,
often angry teen boys and girls who sat in the room upstairs.  He was disappointed, confused, and curious. But strangely, very attracted.  A long blond braid flowed over her shoulder, her woolen cap was pulled low on her forehead, and her cheeks were pink from the brisk air.  She looked cold.  She stared back at him, bright green eyes, staring directly into his.  It set off something like an explosion in his head.

“Is that hot chocolate I smell, Dr. Wilson?” she said, her voice soft and lilting.
“Hot, hot chocolate?” She had dropped her bag to the floor, and was rubbing her hands together.

He nodded.  “
Call me Ben. I’ll get you a cup.”

“Thanks.

Ben began  to walk past her in the doorway, but she stopped him, putting  a ha
nd on his arm, meeting his gaze head on.


It sounds like you thought I was – what? Older? Male? Bigger? All of the above?”

Was he that transparent?

“Yes.  It’s a teen class. They are big.  Some with issues.  I’m not sure..”

She frowned.

“Whatever. They are kids. They need a teacher. I’m here.  Sorry I’m late, I had a little trouble finding you.”

From upstairs, he heard a burst of “God Bles
s America,” being sung by the two older classes, with Esmerelda’s voice leading them, slightly off key.  He saw Daisy Donovan smile. It felt like someone had turned on a beacon.  It brought a smile to his own lips, despite the myriad of concerns swirling around in his brain.

“It sounds like the day has begun, so maybe we should put off any reservations until later? I’m game to give it a try, and I don’t thi
nk I can do any worse than that at this late date.” She pointed her thumb up the stairs, with another grin that made his heart  leap.  He took a deep breath.

His mind began to function again.  She was funny, bright.  And she was right. The day had begun. Whatever his dreams had been, he needed to realign them.
And he would be an awful person to count her out just because of her tiny size, wouldn’t he?  He remembered the last sub, who had been amazingly large, but who had also reeked of marijuana. He sniffed.  Daisy-the- diminutive smelled like spring flowers and strawberries. He gulped.

“Fine. We’ll talk at lunchtime. Here are some materials I had gathered for you.”

He looked at the size of the giant pile, which was almost as big as she was. How was she ever going to carry the load upstairs?
 

“Here, I’ll help you carry these materials,” he said, feeling chivalrous.

She saw him look at the pile, and grinned.  “Don’t worry. I’ve got it.”  She pulled off her shawl, flung it quickly over the pile, and with a giant jerk,  expertly twisted the shawl around it like a rodeo star, flinging the whole thing over her shoulder like a giant sack. We learned to carry as much as a pack mule in Africa,” she said with a laugh.   “I like the sweatshirt in the pile,” she said simply, heading for the door.

“U
m, I think it’s going to be a bit too large,” Ben said, picking up another pile of books.

“Well, it’ll be fine as it’ll keep me warm . I’m freezing.  And I’ll look forward to hearing about your school at lunchtime.
Right now, I’d better find the way to my class. “

“What do you know about New Horizons?” he asked quietly, feeling a bit like he was abandoning a baby rabbit to a pack of giant dogs.  She was so calm. Would she be okay?

“I don’t know a thing,” Daisy said, “Except that Hugh Highfield thinks you are awesome, that you respect your students, and that I’d like it here. So here I am.”  She started up the wide stairway, moving much more quickly than he could ever have imagined with her large bundle on her back.

“And please don’t forget my hot chocolate,” she said in that soft and lilting voice.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Daisy grinned as she lugged her load up the steps. Dr. Benjamin Wilson had looked totally baffled by her appearance.  It didn’t matter.  He’d expected a male, and she had been in that spot before.  She knew he was dedicated, and an excellent educator.  She had been given a long list of his many attributes by Hugh Highfield, when he had determined that she would be employed here.  So she had faith in HIM, even if it wasn’t reciprocated at the minute.  She had no doubt of her abilities. 

She’d be teaching a high school curriculum, and to a variety of students.   It didn’t matter to her what their issues were, specifically.  She’d need to get to know each one of them individually, anyway, to teach and guide them well. Com
pared to the variety of students she had in her African village, from different tribes, scattered over years of civil war, different languages, different ages, different religions, different cultural needs, she’d learned how each individual person mattered.

But Dr. Ben Wilson certainly was cute!  There was
an intensity in his eyes, a charm in the messy curly hair, a comfortable aura about him in his dark green corduroy pants and well worn multicolored cotton sweater. And most of all, she could FEEL the concern and care he had for his students. He was absolutely dedicated and invested in his school.

Excellent.  She sighed at the thought.  Just the kind of guy she would fall for, if she were the falling type.  Which she wasn’t.  She had learned long ago her life was smoother when she traveled her path alone, no baggage to speak of materially, and certainly no people she needed to depend on.

She pushed the errant thought of Ben Wilson’s appeal to the back of her mind, and focused o
n the task at hand.   There was a big wooden door with a square glass window at the top of the steps. She peered in.  Teenagers. She sucked in a large breath, pushed open the heavy door, and went in to meet her class.

****

Ben hastily made a nice mug of cocoa for his new teacher, DAISY Donovan, not Davey. How exactly had that happened?  Wishful thinking probably. And bad handwriting. His high school class could be more than a bit rough, a fact affirmed by the revolving door of substitute teachers he had gone through this term.

The
hot chocolate process took only a few minutes, and he was busy rehearsing the speech he had a feeling he might need when he entered her classroom.  Esmerelda was standing in the upstairs hallway, smiling.   She flashed him the OK sign, with a grin from ear to ear.

“You picked just fine this time,
” she whispered , “Even if it happened by mistake. I’ve been eavesdropping. I’m going to get a kick out of this!”

Instead of the havoc he was expecting, there was nothing but silence coming from the room Daisy had entered. Could a miracle have happened?

With a deep breath, and a hopeful prayer, he tapped on the high school door and gently opened it, having NO idea of what he would find going on.

Eyes widened in surprise, he saw Daisy seated cross legged on the top of her desk, with
nine students in their chairs, seated in a kind of semi circle around her.  They were still, mesmerized, and absolutely listening. She was wearing the ridiculously large school sweatshirt.

“Ah, Dr. Dan!” she broke off her speech, and addressed him with a broad smile. 
“Hot chocolate! Just what I was wishing for.”  She turned back to her students.  “Did all of you get yours on the way in? I think so.”

A grumble of assent and several nods were noted.

“Well, fine,” he heard himself stammering.  “Looks like you are getting settled just fine here, so I guess I’ll get back to my office.”  He glanced at her chair, pushed over against the wall, which now held the giant bundle she had toted up the stairs. “Is your chair adequate? Do you need a different one?”

“It’s perfectly fine, thanks.  I’ll
probably get to it sooner or later. Have a nice morning!”  Her lips were curled into a sassy smile, as if to say, “I’m happy sitting here on this desk, and that’s that.”

“Very good,”
he stammered again, and closed the door behind him, shaking his head.  He didn’t know what puzzled him more, the subdued and obedient behavior of his oldest challenging students, or his own flustered reaction to the perky tiny woman with the long blonde braid who had just invaded his world.  But he stepped into his office with a heart that was lighter than it had been in months.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Daisy’s first morning at New Horizons was a fun one.  She had faced the group of slightly hostile and extremely cynical teens with a smile.  Many were twice her size, and she could sense the attitudes that lurked behind their questioning eyes.  But she could also sense their curiosity. 

So she had curled herself into the lotus position atop the desk, and started telling stories.  She told them tales of Africa, of people struggling with the after
effects of tribal civil war, of building a school out of rolled tin and wire, and attaching giant leaves to the rafters for a roof to protect the students from the hot midday sun, or from the occasional harsh rains during the rainy season.  She told of students who had walked over fifty miles when they had heard there was a school in the territory, arriving in town with nothing but a pack on their back.  Other families in the village took those stragglers in, trading a bed and meals for the willingness to help with chores, planting and harvesting.


Why did you go there? Did you like it there? Why did you leave?” One student, giant, his dark arms folded tightly across his well muscled chest, was the first to talk.

She sighed.  “I loved it there.  But I had to leave.  I had been there for a while, as a volunteer.  It was time to come home I guess.  And then I got sick, so that was that. I got sent home.”

One of the girls, a tall, extremely thin girl with pale skin, and long red hair, began to speak in a voice that was only a little above a whisper.  “Do you miss it?  Do you miss those students? Are you sad?”

Daisy closed her eyes for a minute, head tilted toward the ceiling.  Talking about the village had made the memories swirl again. 

“Yes,” she answered honestly, looking the girl in the eye.  “I miss them very much. And yes, I am sad.”

The room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

“But what I’ve learned about life is this… It goes in stages.  There are good things and bad things. There are things we can’t control. There are things we CAN control.  But each new thing that comes has its good points, so I’m not going to miss it by being too sad about the past.  I’m glad I was there.  But now, I think maybe I’ll be glad I’m here too.  How about you?  Tell me about New Horizons. Are you glad you are here?  Or are you sad?”

So the stories began, and she sat mesmerized, listening to them.  Some lived in foster care. Some lived in group homes, a few lived with relatives.  Some admitted to hating school, to not being able to learn.
Most had grown up in the Philadelphia area, though one had come over the summer from Atlanta, Georgia, to live with his grandmother when his mother hadn’t been able to keep him with her.  One had moved to the area a year ago from Los Angeles, because his parents had wanted to get him away from the gang influence in his neighborhood there. 

“It’s embarrassing to go to this school.
It’s for messed up kids. It’s so small and all.  And there are little kids, not like a regular high school,” said a dark haired boy named Jim.  “I feel like a baby having to go here.”

“I guess it beats jail,” a boy named Carlos offered when there was a lull in the conversation.  That w
as my choice, go to this school, or go to jail.”

“Well, last year it was a lot
like jail, “said the largest boy, whose name was Tyrone, who had been the first to speak.  “I’ve been here since I was 13, right after this school opened.  The Colonel was our teacher then, and man, he was tough.  Like we were in the army or something.”  He shook his head.  “I was sure scared of him. So I did what he said. But he got sick or something, so this year, we haven’t had a regular teacher.  Just a bunch of people who didn’t really want to be here.”

“Are you going to be tough like the Colonel?” asked Carlos, with a snicker.  “You’re kind of small.”

Daisy laughed out loud.  “Size has nothing to do with power.  Don’t you know that yet?  I guess I have to think about that, whether I’m going to be tough or not.  I guess it depends on you.  Do you need me to be tough?  Or maybe you have grown up enough to be able to be trustworthy.”

“What’s trustworthy?” asked several at once.

“It means are you worthy of trust.  Can people trust you to be a man or woman of your word?”

There was a silence in the room.

“Nobody ever tried,” said Ty in a quiet voice. “I don’t trust nobody, and nobody ever trusted me.”

“Well, then,”
Daisy said in a lilting voice, her face wide in a smile. “This will be a new adventure. Because I am going to trust you, I’m going to believe you are trustworthy. At least until you show me you aren’t.  And I want you to trust me the same.  Like a dare.  Like a challenge.  We might just have a really good time learning a lot of really good things this year.”

The look in the eyes staring back at her did not look like they were convinced, but Daisy didn’t care.  They would do just fine.

She uncurled herself from the desk, rummaged in her backpack for the things she had brought along, temporarily ignoring the pile of textbooks that had come from Ben’s office.  Later, she’d take the time to figure out what curriculum to follow.  Today, she would follow her instincts. 

She handed out maps of the world, blank pieces of tracing paper, and a variety of pens and pencils.  “Okay, here’s our first lesson, as I get to know you.  This is the world.  You have two jobs. One is to trace this map as we’re talking, so you have your own copy to mark up.  The second job is to point to a place in the world when it’s your turn, and we’ll label it and talk about it, what it’s like there, and who lives there, and put it on our maps.  The world is a giant, fascinating, wild place. Let’s learn about it.  I’ll go first.
Here’s the United States. Where’s Pennsylvania?  Who can find it?”

And so the morning went.  They discussed everything from New York City to villages in western Africa, to
Tasmanian devils off the coast of New Zeeland.  They learned about Iraq,  Puerto Rico, the pyramids in Egypt, and the desolateness of the South Pole.  And through it all, Daisy got to know her students, their social structure, their academic levels, and many of their personality quirks.

As the minutes ticked by, the sadness around her heart began to melt.  Like she had said to her students, life is full of phases, and her new one had beg
un.    They would do just fine within the walls of this classroom.  The memory of the doubtful look on Dr. Ben’s face flashed through her mind. If, that is, she was allowed to stay.

As the morning came to an end, and lunch time approached, she was facing the moment when she would have to interact with Dr
. Benjamin Wilson again.  The thought gave her stomach a little butterfly feeling. She was still aware she was not exactly what he had expected for the new staff member of his cherished school. And he was so handsome, which she didn’t want to think about. She would have to handle both issues.  She was not going to be distracted by the man with the adorable eyes and the wonderfully tousled curly hair.  And she was not going to be driven away because she didn’t fit his image of a “Colonel” type of teacher who would keep his students in line with a heavy hand.

At noon, the students were ready to line up to be escorted to the cafeteria
/auditorium which was located on the basement floor of the school building, where they would have lunch and a break under the watchful eyes of a small cafeteria staff. 

“Aren’t you going to threaten us?” asked Carlos, as he wiggled around in his too big pants when he stood up.  “What happens if we’re not good at lunch?”

She opened her eyes, shooting a look of shocked amazement. “Do I have to?  I thought we were going to try the trustworthy thing.”

Ty
rone poked him hard in the back.  “Settle down, dude.  We’re trustworthy, remember?  No tricks.”

The group grumbled in agreement, and got eagerly into line.  One very quiet girl, who hadn’t said a word all morning, stood at the end. 

“Can you tell me your name?” Daisy asked softly as the line went by.

“Oh, she
don’t talk,” said Maria, putting a protective arm around the girl.  “Never. But she’s ok.  I watch over her.  Her name’s Alexandra.”

“Well, that’s good, Maria.  A trustworthy thing, I’d say.”  

It was a topic to explore later, for sure.

They opened the heavy classroom door, and found Dr. Ben standing in the hallway, a slightly anxious look on his face.

“Did you need to know where to go?” he asked Daisy as she passed, braid flouncing.

“Well, I believe we’re fine. I can find my way through a jungle, Dr. Ben.  I’m pretty sure I could find the cafeteria on my own.” She gave him a wide smile. “And my trustworthy students have explained a lot of the drill to me this morning.   I’ll meet you in your office in a minute for two.”

“And you don’t need to have no worry about us, Dr. Ben.
” At the front of the line, Tyrone puffed out his chest.  “We’re going to be good.  That’s because we are doing the trustworthy thing.  You’ll see.”

The class marched past him on the steps, no pushing, no mocking,
no loud voices, following 110 pound Miss Daisy like she was the Pied Piper.

Daisy glanced over her shoulder as she rounded the corner of the steps, and saw him shaking his head in wonder.  She grinned.  He was in for more surprises than finding a teacher sitting atop her desk.

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