Authors: Christine Bush
Her head started to ache, so she pushed the thoughts away. She was always better off focusing on her job when the emotions threatened to take over. Opening her knapsack, she took out the file on Alexandra that Ben had offered her. It wasn’t a very thick file, she found, as she opened the cover, just a few typed sheets, so it only took a few moments to read.
It took hours to digest the words that had been printed there, though. The sun was creeping up over the horizon outside her apartment window by the time she finally fell asleep. Her wake up alarm clamored only an hour later.
Daisy was still thinking about Alexandra when she climbed on the bus in the morning. “Good morning!” she called cheerfully to the now familiar driver, and she greeted several routine bus riders as she moved down the aisle to an open seat.
’s file had told the brief, tragic story. Her life had been more or less normal until she had been thirteen, about two years before. She had lived with her parents, Sheila and Don Baker, in a suburban town right north of Philadelphia. There had been no extended family on record.
There had been a terrible accident on the turnpike, where the car that small family had been traveling in had been smashed by an o
ut of control 18 wheeler truck. Unbelievable.
Daisy sucked in her breath as she read. Another truck accident. Her hands shook as she read.
Alexandra’s parents had been killed instantly, as well as the truck driver in the other vehicle. Alexandra had been found unconscious, with two broken legs. She had spent months hospitalized, with several surgeries to repair the damage to her legs. That part of her recuperation had gone well. But emotionally, Alexandra had not done as well. She hadn’t spoken a word since that day.
After an investigation to find any potential relatives failed, she had been put into the foster care system. Interviews with former teachers had described her as a well adjusted, intelligent, social, and talented young girl. Her hobbies included playing basketball, singing, and reading.
She had spent more than a year in her first foster home, still with legs in casts, and with home tutoring. Alexandra Baker showed no interest in anything, or anyone. And though there was no medical reason for her lack of speech, Alexandra would not talk.
Finally, the initial foster mom, along with her social work
er, decided to have her reassigned to another home, where she might have more socialization available. It was recommended that she return to school.
So here she was at New Horizons, where her new and supportive foster mom hoped that exposure to peers, and small and personalized school environment might help.
Had it helped? Alexandra still didn’t talk. But Daisy knew she paid attention to everything that went on around her. She knew she was a great reader and learner, and had done well on her tests.
The girls in the class had taken her under their wing, especially Maria, and for the most part, she seemed to have a pretty normal day. Normal enough that Daisy hadn’t taken the file until now.
What would help? Daisy felt a lump the size of a golf ball in her own throat at the thought of the pain Alexandra felt. She knew the mind scrambling effect of such a loss. She had been a few years older when she lost her own parents. But by the grace of God, she sure could have been just like Alexandra, but the opportunity of teaching had taken her another direction.
Could she help this girl? She let out a deep sigh as the bus arrived at her corner. She’d try. That’s all she could do. But most of all, she understood. Maybe that would be enough for a start.
And it would keep her from thinking about her own unsettling ghosts and memories.
Ben sensed the moment Daisy arrived at school that morning. Another chilly and cloudy day, so he had come in early and had made another king sized pot of hot chocolate for everybody. It would give a good start for the day, plus it gave him something to do with his very nervous hands as he awaited her arrival. To see her. To talk to her.
He had this fear the wall would be back up, that she would act as if nothing had happened between them the night before. And he didn’t think he could stand it if that happened.
From the moment he had met her, he had been attracted to her. That feeling had grown exponentially, with each thing her learned about her, each conversation they had, each time he witnessed her care and respect for students, each time he heard her tinkling laugh echoing through the halls of New Horizons. She had gotten under his skin. No, worse than that. She had gotten into his heart.
This was a new occur
rence. His entire life had been one of being a “friendly loner”. He had made friends and cohorts at every stage and place in his life. He knew it was a natural reaction to the childhood he had experienced. He had been an orphan, and had lived in a series of foster homes as a child. Ben had learned the hard way it was best to stay emotionally independent. He knew the heart break of change and loss in those early years. Then, in high school, he was sent to a religiously based boarding school, receiving a scholarship for his grades and abilities. College and grad school had followed. Hard work and job commitment had been his substitution for close personal relationships.
His commitment to New Horizons had a lot to do with his own past. His students came from a variety of family settings, and some from no family at all. New Horizons School was a place of second chances for those kids. And nothing had mattered as much as that. But last night, he’d had the dramatic realization he had changed. Ben Wilson, independent man, had let that wall down.
He wanted his own second chance.
Last night, holding her in his arms, feeling the heartfelt sobs wracking her slight body, his fall h
ad become complete. He loved Daisy Donovan. There was no denying it. Listening to her story, that love just kept growing. He had never been in this position before. What if she turned around and walked away? What would he do? How would he live?
He’d heard her enter the building, and had stayed in the kitchen stirring the hot chocolate. His pulse was hammering, his hands maybe even shaking a little as he heard her footsteps travel down the long hall toward him. And toward the smell of chocolate.
“Yippee!” she exclaimed, brandishing an empty mug. “Hot chocolate day! Just what I was dreaming about.” Her smile was wide, and her eyes were twinkling. Did she sense his fear? Did she have some herself, well hidden behind her joviality? He smiled back.
“Bribery,” he said , presenting a ladle of steamy hot chocolate.
She filled her cup. “Bribery not necessary,” she said, the cup already up to her lips. “Ouch, hot!” She pulled the cup away. “I’m fine. I’ll do whatever I can for the pageant, even though it will be tough. I have costume ideas. Just know I’m a half baked potato about this. But I’ll try.”
The hammering in his chest slowed to a more manageable pace. It was going to be all right. She wasn’t standing there confessing her love for him, but she was taking a giant step forward with her decision to face her Christmas issues. She wasn’t pulling back after their emotional intimacy as he feared.
And she wasn’t leaving. He took a deep breath, as she put down her backpack, and assisted with pouring hot cups of hot chocolate for the students, who were beginning to arrive. He was shocked at his thoughts, at the relief he felt. Had he really thought she’d run away?
But she was laughing, talking to the students as she greeted them, handing them a steaming mug, tossing in the required marsh
mellows. He could breathe again.
Normal. Happy. He’d take it one step at a time, and manage his unruly heart.
The whole school had their first rehearsal for the pageant at eleven that morning. Roles were easily assigned. The teens were teamed up with their little buddies in the younger grades. That meant for a mix of giant shepherds and little shepherds, tall wise
men and tiny ones. Big angels and little ones.
nominated himself to play Joseph, and nobody complained. Maria was assigned the role of Mary, and little Sasha from the primary class had brought in her Raggedy Andy doll to be the Baby Jesus. No one seemed to object to the idea that the baby Jesus was wearing a sailor suit and red striped tights, they just swaddled him temporarily in a New Horizons sweat shirt and put him in the cardboard box they were using for a temporary manger for the first rehearsal.
Everything fell into place. Almost. As the roles we
re accepted, Daisy noticed Alexandra, who was sitting alone to the side. Daisy had been busying herself making lists and plans for costumes for the many shepherds and angels. She crossed the room to Alexandra, sitting casually beside her. The girls face was taut and tense.
“Pageants are tough for you too?”
Daisy asked almost in a whisper.
looked up at her, eyes wide. She stared for a minute, then slowly nodded.
Daisy took a deep breath, pulling her feet up under her on the chair, wrapping her arms protectively around her legs.
“Sometimes things happen that make us very sad. That happened to me. My mom and my dad were killed in a car accident,” she said. She watched Alexandra’s eyes grow wide as saucers at the news. She felt her own pulse hammer as she dared to talk about her own personal pain out loud.
“I know,” Daisy went on. “I know you lost your mom and dad too. I’m very sorry. Maybe we can help each other this Christmas.”
Alexandra stared at her intently. Daisy saw the emotions, even though no word was spoken. Apprehension, sadness, and then curiosity.
“You know what Dr. Ben always says. “Together we can do what we can’t do alone.””
“Well, maybe you could help me here. I’m going to make angel costumes. Want to help?”
Alexandra nodded again, with a little smile, and Daisy felt her heart soar. Even her own burden of the holiday seemed lessened by the thought that Alexandra might be willingly involved.
They made a great team. During the next week, they used every spare minute for the costumes. Ben helped as much as he could, cherishing the moments spent wit
h Daisy and Alexandra, watching her simple, caring way with the overly shy, traumatized girl. With gentleness and understanding, she pulled the child in, made her feel important and worthwhile. His heart fell more in love with Daisy every minute. And though not a word had passed Alexandra’s lips, he saw the light grow in Alexandra’s troubled eyes as she bonded with Daisy.
Daisy was cordial and professional, spending a lot of time in Ben’s presence as she did her work. She watched him, aware of the strong feelings that lurked. He had certainly found a place in her heart since that day when he had offered his care and comfort. But she pushed the feelings away, they were just too overwhelming. It was best when she was diving back into the work at hand, knowing that the rules that had been established years ago when she had lost her parents were her safest bet. Love the people around you in a special way, a helping way, but never let another person all the way into her shaky and unpredictable heart.
With Ben’s help, they gathered bathrobes for the many multi
-sized shepherds, towels and headbands to complete their look. With piles of donated white sheets, they styled simple robes for the many angels, using pieces of shiny gold curtain rope for belts. Alexandra showed herself to be both creative and hard working. Together they made sets of wings to be attached to each angel robe. As she set aside each simply made costume, designed on a budget, and using used and convenient materials, she thought back to the early days in her life, and her involvement in the church her father had pastored .
She thought of the voluminous angel robes
they had at their affluent church in California, the beaded cloaks and glitzy headpieces of the three kings. The same Christmas story, a different set of circumstances. How she had loved Christmas. And how she had cut herself off from any emotion or enjoyment of the holiday since then. As she worked on angel wings, she faced the realization she had cut herself off from much more than Christmas. She had cut herself off from any personal involvement of the heart.
Was she healing?
Could she heal? Daisy could work with the angel robes now, without her eyes tearing up. In the distance, she could hear the staff running through scenes from the pageant. The carols, she still knew , the words echoing through the halls as the children rehearsed. Hearing the songs still felt like being poked with a hot poker. She sighed. It was going to be a long process.
worked silently beside her, sewing each piece of the project with attention and responsibility. Daisy watched her, feeling proud of the young woman. And happy she had dared to face her fears and offer to help Alexandra. And that Alexandra had been willing to try. Not only was Alexandra happier as she got involved and felt a part of things, but Daisy realized that helping Alexandra, had in fact, helped herself. Was that the key to healing? To offer a hand of help to someone else in dire straits? The thought gave her a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach.
She had been a little absorbed in her own thoughts, when she was suddenly startled to find Ben standing by her elbow, watching her attach elastic to her last pair of angel wings.
“Nice work,” he said in a low voice. When she looked up into his eyes, she felt an intimacy that was almost painful. But for once, she tried hard not to push it away. He smiled, almost as if he knew and understood the emotional struggle she was experiencing.
“Thanks,” she said shyly
. “It’s going ok. Alexandra’s doing ok. I’m doing ok.”
a big deep smile that even lit up his eyes. The warmth of it seeped into her, all the way to her toes.
“Christmas is the time of miracles, you know,” he said softly, reaching out and gently touching her hand. “You are my miracle, you know.”
Then, he turned and went back across the room to the gang of children getting ready to rehearse. Daisy had to blink back the tears in her eyes.
The next day, a new student came to the school. Hannah was seven years old, and joined Miss Gracie
’s class. At lunchtime, Ben told the staff of the circumstances of her arrival. Hannah had been orphaned a few months before, and had been struggling with her emotions in the local school where she had been placed by her foster mother. Her grief and sadness were affecting her in every way. New Horizons had been recommended for the small environment and personalized care given the students.
afternoon pageant practice, little Hannah stood next Miss Gracie, who was playing the piano. As each Christmas carol was sung, Daisy noticed the way Hannah’s face lit up, and how her mouth moved to the words of each song. In between each song, the sad somber, withdrawn look reappeared.
“Will she be able to be in the show?” Daisy asked Miss Gracie in between songs. “
I know it’s late, but I think Hannah really likes to sing. Maybe she could be an angel. It wouldn’t be difficult to make up another costume.”
“Well, earlier she told me she was too scared,” said Miss Gracie, looking quickly around the stage at the angels in placed, little ones teamed up with their bigger buddies. “Maybe it would work if we could find a buddy. She needs a buddy.
But everyone’s already buddied up. Hard to make changes at this point.”
Looking at Hannah’s hopeful little face, Daisy found herself spouting words she had never meant to say, words once spoken, she could never take back.
ned to Alexandra, standing silently beside her.
“We could be
angels, too, you know. With Hannah. You and me and Hannah. We could join the angel choir. So Hannah could be in it, and she wouldn’t be scared.”
Join the choir? What was she thinking?
Just as the horror of what she had said settled over her, Alexandra gave a gentle nod. And then a hesitant smile spread over her pale little face. She crossed the room and took Hannah silently by the hand. And just like that, Daisy Donovan, Alexandra and Hannah had joined the angel choir in the Christmas pageant.