Authors: Christine Bush
headed up to her classroom, suspecting Daisy might find solace there. But the room was deserted, almost dark, the only light coming in through the classroom windows from the street lights outside. Slight rays angled down to make a pattern on the floor, casting shadows among the desks and the kids’ hanging mobiles. She was not there, and he saw in a flash that her woolen poncho, which usually hung from the back of her chair, was gone. Ben’s heart lurched. Had she felt so bad she actually left school in her desolate state? His mouth felt dry. Poor Daisy. Sad and alone in the cold night. He felt sadness creep into his own bones, chilling him to the core. He wanted to help her. He wanted to ease her pain, even to share her pain. Though he strongly suspected she would not want it. She kept so much to herself.
With a deep sigh, a mind blowing realization washed over him
again as he stood helplessly in the empty classroom, staring at the hazy light patterns on the wooden floor. He really loved her. Deeper than ever. Daisy Donovan, the energetic little ball of fire brought joy and laughter to all she touched, despite her own pain. But like that ball of fire that she was, she was untouchable. Unreachable. Where was she? In her heart, she was used to being alone. And the thought left him feeling very, very alone too.
Within minutes, after the end of rehearsal, the school had emptied out as fast as a fire drill. Clattering up and down the steps with their daily belongings, they all trooped out into the cold night air to be met by their various busses and car pools. A few who lived close enough slugged their way up the street, walking toward home. Night came early in December, along with the cold air.
Ben walked slowly back down to his office, where lights still burned brightly. The school was silent around him. He stood in the front hallway at the bottom of the steps, and sucked in a deep breath. Even in the quiet, he loved this school. Filled with students, he loved it even more. And now, daring to acknowledge the burgeoning feelings in his heart, he loved it even more with Daisy Donovan at his side. But would she ever really be by his side? Or was she gone?
build New Horizons by himself, though he had the support of strong and caring individuals like Hugh Highfield. It had been his dream, his goal, his mission in his life. And though people had had his back, especially financially, he had never had anyone he felt was so totally by his side. His staff had been great, and he was enormously thankful for each of them.
But it had been different with Daisy. Maybe it was because of her pain that she could identify so strongly with these kids who had experienced differing pains in their lives. He reached up and ran a hand through his hair, trying to think, to understand.
Christmas. He had always felt it was such an important time of year. An d it was. But obviously not always in a good way. It had been a catalyst to unhinge it all. It had increased that pain that resided so deep in Daisy Donovan, until that pain was so acute she had had to leave. What if she was gone for good?
Humiliated she had no way to stop the tears that had cascaded down her face,
Daisy had wiped her eyes as subtly as she could, and had fled from the stage the split second she felt she could get away. Her throat felt raw, and her hands were shaking. Her emotions were rolling over her, creating havoc in every part of her. She was so tired of her errant feelings.
Had it been noticeable? Hard to believe, by how bad she felt, that the whole world hadn’t experienced her pain. Little Hannah, next to her, had been clinging to her hand during her song. The tremors she felt would have been noticeable, but the little girl had been steeped in her own feelings, most probably, and might not have picked up on Daisy’s overwrought reaction. At least she hoped so. Creating more upset or anxiety for a student was sure not on her intention list. And yet she probably had.
When she reached her classroom, she felt no relief from her emotions. Desperately, she grabbed her poncho from the back of her desk chair, flinging it around her shoulders. She quickly and silently moved back down the steps to the front lobby, her feet padding softly on the wooden steps. She was aching for escape. But where would she go?
She got to the front door without seeing anyone at all, though she heard student’s voices echoing up the stairway from the cafeteria as they made their way to the door. She slipped out into the darkness, feeling like an animal darting for its life on the African grasslands. Her breath was coming in short bursts, her head was aching. How had she gotten herself into this vulnerable position? She knew better. She had gotten by for years without making a fool of herself with her overwhelming emotions. She had avoided Christmas and anything that was connected to it. It had been safer, saner.
But like a moth to a flame, she had fallen into this trap. Helping with the costumes. Hearing the constant Christmas music. Seeing the joy of the students. Seeing, believing in Ben Wilson’s dream for New Horizons School. It had finally gotten to her. Maybe it had been inevitable.
The night air hit her like a frigid wall
the moment she stepped outside. It was cold. A deep breath sucked in a lung full of cold air, shocking her system, and diverting her rapid thoughts. She was instantly grateful for it. Her instincts guided her to run away, to rush down the porch steps, and disappear into the night, leaving New Horizons behind. And her students. And Ben. The thought squeezed her heart. She thought of his face as he stood directing their final song. His pride. His delight. And he had been watching her, too. She had sensed it. She had seen it. And when her emotions had rolled out of control, she had seen his reaction too. Sadness. She felt guilt just realizing it. Her emotional trials had taken away his joy.
So she couldn’t just run away, no matter the urge. She would have to get herself in control, and dare to face him and talk it out. No matter how disappointed he was.
The big front porch of the school was dark and empty. She looked from left to right. On purpose, she neglected to turn on the giant brass porch light that sat beside the door. There was enough light from the street lights to illuminate the steps and the sideway for safety. The dark wouldn’t hurt anyone. And it would sure give her a place to hide. And think. She moved to the far right side of the porch, back to a corner where the street lights had no effect. It was dark. She pulled one of the old wooden rockers with her, then tucked her feet under her as she curled up in it, wrapping her poncho tight around herself. It was cold, to be sure. But she’d bear it. The cold was preferable to the wild feelings of grief and loss coursing through her. She longed for the cold to numb her. She closed her eyes, and there in the silence and quiet of the front porch, unseen by anyone, she let the silent tears fall.
That’s where Ben found her. He had grabbed his jacket from his office when he hadn’t found Daisy in her classroom, and headed out the door. What was he going to do? Chase her down the street? Follow her in a bus to her house? He had no logical idea. He was just pulled to the door, and once on the porch, peering into the darkness, he had seen her blond hair peeking out from her poncho as she was curled up in the rocking chair in the far dark corner of the porch.
He wasted no time
, gratitude flowing hot through his veins , so relieved Daisy wasn’t out roaming alone with her pain. He crossed the porch to her, squatting down in front of her rocking chair. She had her feet pulled up under her, her poncho wrapped tight around her to ward off the cold. He put his hands on her knees, and leaned close. He could smell the sweet flowery scent he had come to know as hers. Up close, even in the darkness of the porch, he could again see the tracks of her tears down her cheeks. Sorrow wracked his heart. He felt like he had caused this. He put his mouth close to her ear.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered, his words barely above a breath. “I really didn’t understand just how hard Christmas is for you. But I won’t forget.
Please forgive me, Daisy.”
She lifted her head and gazed at him, eyes
still troubled but now soft.
“I’m ok, Ben,” she said in a small voice. “There’s nothing to forgive. You sure didn’t cause this. I knew this would be hard. But it’s for the kids. I just thought I could handle it better.”
He put out a hand, and stroked her hair. “Well, no more. You don’t have to do a thing more. We’ll figure out a way. You don’t have to do this.”
She was silent for a long moment. He could see her thinking, see her furrowed brow, the way she bit her bottom lip when deep in concentration. He knew her, he marveled, even after knowing her only a few short months. But he hadn’t fully realized the depth of her pain and grief.
“It’s funny,” she said, “I have dealt with these awful feelings for so many years. And I guess I always found ways to deny them, to avoid any exposure that would bring out those old Christmas memories.
The good and the bad.”
He wanted to take Daisy into his arms, to hold her and shelter her from any pain. But he knew it would not be right. He stayed beside her, silently, listening to her talk.
“It’s like hearing the Christmas music, seeing the kids in costume, it’s shaking something loose deep inside me..like a crack in the earth’s surface when the magma has built up. Tonight felt like a volcano letting loose. “ She sighed deeply., and pulled her poncho closer. “Ahh, so much crying. I’m ok, really. It took me by surprise. But I can handle it. For the kids.”
His heart swelled with empathy
, hearing her try to process her feelings. She was strong. She was beautiful. “Just so you know you have a choice, and whatever you decide about this pageant, it’s fine with me. You mean more to me than all this.”
She smiled up at him then, and his heart melted. His throat felt tight. She slowly unwrapped herself from the chair, standing tall, at least as tall
as her tiny frame could stand.
He stood too, and she gazed up at him. “Thanks for looking for me, Ben.
For finding me. For caring. “ She squared her shoulders. “But I’m ok. And the show will go on just like practiced tomorrow. This angel isn’t backing down.”
His arms ached to hold her but her bo
dy language clearly said she needed to stand on her own strong feet.
“Ok, Daisy.” He ran his hands through his hair, both relieved and frustrated.
So many feelings. And suddenly, he was feeling every degree of the cold night air. “Let’s get back inside before we both get pneumonia. And then, I’ll drive you home. “
She rewarded him with a small smile, and they left the dark porch and returned to the warmth inside.
The air was buzzed with excitement as the minutes ticked by awaiting the start of the pageant the next night. The audience was packed. Families, neighbors, and supporters of New Horizons filled every chair, and the show was already a success, judging from the affirming turnout for the kids.
was frantically busy back stage, tucking shepherds into their robes, attaching angel wings, helping Maria wrap the Raggedy Andy Baby Jesus into his burlap swaddling clothes. The kids were in high gear, noisy and enthusiastic. Some were raring to go, a few were showing their nervousness and anxiety.
Daisy was feeling both of those extremes. The overwhelming feelings of the night before had receded
, though she still had frayed nerves and a lot of self doubts. But she was moving forward.
The cast assembled backstage before the curtain went up, and Ben stood before them, giving them some last minute direction. Then, as they got ready to begin, he
drew them together with a soft voice. His eyes scanned his excited students, and then Daisy could feel the minute his gaze met hers. It made her feel warm inside.
“I’m so proud of you all,” he said, his voice showing his emotion.
“Every one of you. And I want you to be proud of yourselves, both individually, and as our school family. All for one, and one for all. Together we can do what we cannot do alone.”
Tyrone and Jimmy high fived each other, and Maria bent down and hugged two little shepherds who stood next to her in the crowd. It made Daisy smile. They may all have their issues, but they were all works in progress, including
herself. She really cared for these kids. She had a lump in her throat.
“Now this is about the Christmas story, so let
’s keep that our focus. Let’s go show this great crowd just what Christmas is really all about!”
“Yeah,” the kids exclaimed.
“Ok,” said Ben, raising his arms high in an inclusive wave. “Group hug!”
And they all crushed together around him, big and little. Daisy stood on the outside of the giant circle of bodies, feeling in awe of the camaraderie and warmth he had encouraged.
But her emotions were still ragged and unsettled, and she felt on the outside, apart.
But then, from the center of the tight circle, a tall man
with black curly hair stuck out his right arm in her direction, reaching out to her from over the rows of bobbing heads, over the melee of happy students. And she reached back. Their fingers entwined, his warmth pulling her in like a magnet. And something happened deep in her heart. This time, it wasn’t like the dramatic volcano eruption of the day before, it was more like a strong wave of warmth and joy. A wave of hope. But it was overwhelming, just the same. She swallowed hard.
Everyone got ready to take their
places. Out in front, Miss Gracie hit the first chord on the piano, and the soft chatter of the waiting audience came to a halt. Anticipation ran high.
The songs and pageantry began. The whole cast sang
“Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.”
The children cast as narrators began telling the amazing Christmas story. The angel choir raised their voices in “
Hark, the Herald, Angels Sing
Daisy stood on the
outside edge of the angel choir, with Hannah’s little hand squeezing hers in excitement as she looked out over the giant crowd. Daisy could feel the little girl’s hand shake. And silently, Alexandra stood on Hannah’s other side. Her face was drained white, the color of paste, her eyes round and wide. She had the look of a rabbit who was tensed and ready to run. Not only didn’t she sing, she didn’t even have the where with all to move her lips and mouth the words. She clung to Hannah’s other little hand, and stared out at the crowd, looking stricken. They were a strange trio, along side the exuberant and musical angel who filled the rest of the stage.
Both Hannah and Alexandra
looked over to Daisy every few seconds, and she gave them affirming and encouraging smiles each time. With her own emotions in such upheaval, she had nothing but empathy for the struggles of her two dear students. So she stood strongly beside them, warring with her own feelings, and determined to do what she had committed to do. Which was to get through this show.
The heartfelt narration continued.
The baby was born, four of the older girls sang and beautiful and haunting version of “
What Child is This?”
The little drummer boy arrived and was a crowd favorite, as he pounded his little bongo, singing “
The Little Drummer Boy
” while a bunch of shepherds in assorted sizes chanted “
Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum
” in the background.
And then three of the boys in colorful robes and crowns entered the stage in their “kingly attire” and sang “
We Three Kings
” with a slightly rap beat. The crowd loved it.
The songs and action continued, with Miss Gracie banging out each song on the old piano.
Miss Esmerelda stood in the back of the hall, helping to seat latecomers in the crowded auditorium. Ben enthusiastically kept up his directing, Andy kept the kids and props in order, standing off stage and keeping order as the cast came and went on stage, and Daisy stood on the other side of the platform, when the angels weren’t on stage, keeping the little ones calm and in order, and holding tightly to both Hannah and Alexandra, whose nervousness was apparent and growing.
n’t want to sing “
””, announced Hannah quietly in a shaky voice, a few minutes before the song was scheduled. “There’s too many people out there. It’s too scary.” She was rocking back and forth from one foot to the other. “And besides, I have to go to the bathroom. Really bad.”
Daisy sighed in dismay. History had taught her the little girl was dead serious when she said she had to go. And time was short.
“Come,” she said quickly, guiding the little girl from the backstage area toward a little rest room in the hallway. “Stay right there, Alexandra” she said quietly. “We’ll be right back.”
But when the mission was accomplished, and they returned to their spot, Alexandra was gone. Daisy gazed frantically around the back stage area. Where had she gone? The other angels mingled all around her, getting ready to go on stage. But no errant angel could be seen as she looked across the room.
Daisy had a knot in her stomach.
still scared, Miss Daisy,” whined little Hannah by her side. “I changed my mind. I can’t sing by myself.” Her eyes were wide, and filled with tears.
Daisy went down on one knee by her side, taking the little girl’s chin in her hand, and looking into her eyes. “There’s nothing to be too scared about, Hannah. A little scared is ok. We’ll go on, and start the song, and you just do what you can. Whatever you do will be ok.
If you can’t sing alone, I’ll sing with you.”
The little girl nodded, still looking nervous.
“You’ll be with me? You’ll hold my hand? You won’t go away like Alexandra?”
Daisy nodded, trying to look reassuring. The truth was,
her own anxiety level was sky high. So she sure couldn’t judge a seven year old who was too shy to perform. She was a grown adult and felt like she was ready to faint. And where was Alexandra? Again she looked around the stage area. No tall angel in sight. And the Wise Men had finished their song. Joseph, aka Tyrone, was presenting his last lines.
“Thank you for coming, everybody, to celebrate the birth of Jesus with us. Let’s remember Christmas is a time of miracles, and we think that is really cool.” Tyrone bowed and moved back into place and the angel chorus
moved on stage for their final song of
“Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Daisy squeezed Hannah’s hand and whispered, “Here we go,” into the little girl’s ear. They started to move onto the stage. Suddenly there was a flurry behind her, and a silent but quick moving angel slipped through the crowd and into place on the other side of Hannah. It was Alexandra, breathing hard. With contrite eyes, she made the sign language motion for “bathroom” to Daisy. Daisy felt a moment of guilt. Concerned with all the emotions, she had taken
Hannah to the bathroom without inquiring about Alexandra, forgetting that the older child didn’t speak and wouldn’t easily state her needs. She gave a sigh of relief the girl had solved the problem herself, probably running to a more distant bathroom, and still getting back on time.
All the confusion; the feelings, the dash to the bathroom, the worrying about Alexandra, had kept Daisy’s mind occupied. But when the angel choir was finally in place, and the first chords of “
Angels We Have Heard on High
” rang out, Daisy looked out at the happy, smiling Christmas audience. She saw the expectant faces, the hall decked with greenery and red bows, the beautifully costumed children on the pageant stage. She could smell the distinctive evergreen scent from the Christmas trees and decorative branches. She could hear the tinkling piano playing one of her all time favorite Christmas carols, and could even imagine her mother and father standing by her side, belting out the familiar words. Her heart squeezed in pain. It was hard to breathe.
She looked around in panic. Alexandra was looking at her strangely. She had somehow clued in on Daisy’s anxiety,
and watched her with worried eyes. She could sense Ben watching her with concern. Little Hannah held tightly to her hand, her grip getting tighter as they choir finished the first verse and came to the chorus.
Two beats before the chorus arrived, the little girl looked up at her, fear all over her face. “I can’t!” she whispered. Daisy
tried to smile, and squeezed her hand back tightly, trying to signal to her that it was all right.
But it wasn’t all right. Before the song had begun, when Hannah had admitted her fear, Daisy’s plan had been to begin the chorus with
her. She had planned to give the little girl courage, and to continue singing with her if needed, so the little child didn’t need to feel unnecessary pressure. But she was having her own crisis. When she opened her mouth, with her throat still tight with emotion, not a single sound would come out. She was horrified, and her own heart was hammering in her chest.
She looked down at Hannah, who was staring
at the audience in paralyzed panic. Daisy looked at Ben, his arms extended as he directed, seeing his awareness come in a flash that all was not well with his little angel choir and its smallest soloist. And with Daisy.
There was a single
instant of dead air, which felt like an hour to Daisy. She opened her mouth and tried again to sing, but not a single sound would come out. What was she supposed to do?
Ben raised his hands again,
ready to signal to the angel choir to join in, but in the flash before his hands could come down to lead them, a most surprising sound greeted all their ears.
Like a single angel appearing from heaven, a lone, tinkling voice rang out from the center of the choir.
Gloorrrr – orrrr- orrr- I – a, in Excelcius Deo
It was Alexandra.
Daisy looked at her in amazement. She stood, head high, eyes tightly closed, and she sang.
An absolute hush came over the crowd, the entire cast turned toward her, listening to the first sounds the girl had made in years. Ben froze with his arms in the air, and even Miss Gracie at the piano lifted her hands from the keys in shock.
Then Alexandra opened her eyes, and looked down at the little girl by her side. Quickly, she raised their hands, tightly linked together. The little girl smiled at her and joined in as the next line began.
Gloorrr – oorrr- oorrr- i-a…”
As little Hannah sang, she raised her other hand, lifting Daisy’s arm, and looking up into her eyes, almost daring her.
Daisy joined in. The three angels sang together.
In Excelcius Deo!”
The choir joined in for the second verse, singing with all their might. At the second chorus, the whole cast turned toward the trio of angels, surrounding them in a tight circle,
doing a group hug, as if the audience were no longer present. Ben leaped up onto the stage, moving to Daisy’s side, grabbing her hand. All together, they sang at the top of their lungs, finishing the song with a deafening, joyous clamor.
The audience, even those who didn’t necessarily understand the drama that had happened on the stage,
were captured by their enthusiasm. They arose to their feet, applauding wildly, whistles and hoots and hollers filling the crowd.
When things settled a little, the cast lined up for their final bow. Then Miss Gracie played a soft chord on the piano, inviting the audience to sing along. Andy dimmed the lights, and two students stood on either sides of the stage holding candles.
Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm.. All is bright….”