Daisy gained speed slowly as she moved through her school morning routine. Two glasses of water, breakfast, then a brief rundown of her afternoon activities with Grandma Rose, then a shower. Once her shower was done, she got lost in her closest searching for a blouse that suited her.
Her cell phone buzzed.
“Hey, Connor.” She smiled at the sound of his voice.
“Hey, babe. I’m just calling to remind you we’re going to my Dad’s work site today. After that we’re running at the boardwalk so make sure you tell your Grandparents you won’t be home until late, okay?”
“Yep, I remembered. I already told ’em.”
“Okay then, come on down. I’m already in the parking lot waiting for you.”
“What! I haven’t even found a shirt yet!” She hung up, grabbed the first shirt she saw from her closet and flew out the door to catch a ride with her friends downstairs.
Maria was just pulling up when Daisy banged the apartment staircase door open and ran wildly into the parking lot.
“Rushing again this morning?” Connor chuckled.
“Everything was perfect until I hit my closet,” Daisy panted, out of breath from the race down the staircase.
“Man, that closet of yours does it to ya every time.” Connor opened the back door of Maria’s car for her.
“Yea, the closet did it.” Daisy cracked a smile as she slid into the car quickly with Connor right behind her.
Inside the car, the music was blaring just the way everybody liked it. Andy was looking for his sunglasses the way he did every morning with Maria calmly reminding him they were in the glove box like always, and Mark was leaning back in the seat singing along to the music.
The only difference to this routine scene was that Susan had been added to the bunch. She sat happily on the other side of Mark singing along with him. Her face was glowing. Mark was leaning his head sideways towards her trying to harmonize with her.
“Hey, Daisy. Hey, Connor. How are you guys this morning?” Susan was so cheerful when she spoke that Daisy and Connor almost didn’t recognize her.
“Uuuh… hey, Susan. We’re great,” they returned in a slightly shocked tone. Connor then laced his fingers into Daisy’s fingers and held her hand snuggly on his leg for the duration of the ride to school, hoping Susan’s presence didn’t bug her too much.
Upon their arrival at school they all split up, each going in their own direction for home room.
Several class periods later…Mark, Andy, Jason, Jeremiah, Willie and Connor were in third period Woodshop together right before lunch. Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors were all mixed together when it came to Woodshop class. Therefore, Willie was included in this class right along with Connor and his gang.
Every student in the class had a partner that they were supposed to be working with. The assignment was for each pair to make a bookshelf blue print. Then follow the blue print and come up with a uniquely designed bookshelf.
After everyone greeted each other in their usual carefree manner, Willie said, “Connor and I might get finished with our bookshelves today, how about you guys?”
“No-can-do-man, we haven’t even gotten the wood cut yet,” Andy returned.
“That’s because your partner is the son of an architect. You guys made the most complicated bookshelf diagram I’ve ever seen, man.” Willie slapped Andy on the back as he moved to the storage cabinets along the wall.
“We put secret compartments into our bookshelves. It’ll get an A for sure.” Andy and Mark grinned proudly.
“Well, while you guys cut wood for your unnecessary secret compartments, Connor and I will finish and be done with it.”
Everyone followed Willie and started digging in the metal cabinets along the wall, searching for the gear and tools they needed to do their work. The carpentry teams chatted lightly as they prepared their workspace and entered the laborious activity of bookshelf constructing.
“Hey Mark, how’s ‘project Susan’ going?” Andy asked as he finished running a piece of wood through the circular skill saw.
“She’s not a project. Don’t call her that.” Mark measured and made pencil markings on the next piece of wood for Andy to cut.
“Okay, then. How is Susan doing?” Andy ran the second piece of wood through the saw.
“Cranky most of the time, but she liked church on Sunday, that went well,” Mark answered.
“She seemed in a good mood this morning in the car,” Andy pointed out.
“Yea, she’s better in the morning when nothing has pissed her off yet. Night time is a little tougher. Lots of things have made her mad by the end of the day. I guess you could say we’re working on, ‘anger management without alcohol’ right now,” Mark explained as he marked and passed a third piece of wood to Andy.
“What does she enjoy doing, besides, you know…partying, I mean?”
“She likes music.” Mark got a studied look on his face. He measured and marked off another board for Andy to cut and handed it to him. Andy ran the wood through the saw.
“If she can sing, why don’t you bring her to worship practice? We could always use more backup singers,” Andy suggested.
“That’s not a bad idea. I might just do that.” Mark handed Andy another board for cutting.
As Andy and Mark conversed, Jason slyly strolled over to the instructor’s table and swiped the nail gun. He quietly brought it back over to his work table where Jeremiah was laying out the wood that they’d cut.
“Jeremiah, hold this wood right here I want to try out this nail gun, man.” Jason positioned the wood pieces the way he wanted them as he spoke.
“Nail guns are so cool. Let me try.” Jeremiah grabbed the gun and attempted to pull it from Jason’s hand.
“Let go Jeremiah.. after me, man.” Jason yanked the gun back quickly and a nail accidentally flew out of the gun and landed in the wall behind them. Jason punched Jeremiah in the arm. “You’re going to get us all killed! Just hold the wood like I said.”
“Alright, alright,” Jeremiah moaned.
Everybody shook their heads at the reckless pair then resumed working with their partners.
Connor leaned over and whispered to Willie, “We ought to invest in some head gear, man. Things are flying left and right around here.”
“Not a bad idea,” Willie chuckled.
Thirty or so minutes later the bell rang. Everyone put their gear away and walked out of Woodshop together.
“Connor, go out to lunch with us, man,” Andy urged.
“Yea, we’re getting tacos,” Mark added in.
“No way.” Connor shook his head like a well trained dog. “Daisy isn’t a Senior, she can’t go off campus. I’m eating here with her.”
“Alright, suit yourself,” Andy agreed. “Let’s find Susan and Maria and get out of here.” The Senior bunch disappeared into the parking lot looking for Susan and Maria.
Willie and Connor walked though the double doors of the cafeteria and scanned the busy lunch room for Daisy and Grace. The two girls were chatting happily in the food line together.
A refreshing smile came across Connor’s face. “She’s always exactly where she’s supposed to be,” he thought to himself. He relaxed immediately at the sight of her and followed Willie through the crowd to the girl’s location.
Connor came up behind Daisy. Taking hold of her waist he buried his face in her hair and affectionately nuzzled her neck.
“That tickles,” she giggled.
“Does it?” he whispered as he snuck a quick kiss in her hair. “How’s my Daisy, babe do ‘in?”
“I’m having a good day so far. Do you want me to put something on my tray for you?”
“Yea, I’ll have whatever you’re having.” Connor was aiming for another kiss in Daisy hair as he spoke, but Willie suddenly jabbed him in the back with his elbow. “Crap, cut it out man,” Connor barked in Willie’s direction.
“Move it lover boy. You’re hold ‘in up the line.”
“Yea, lunch period is only an hour long,” Grace added in.
Daisy laughed and moved farther down the food line, doubling up on whatever she thought Connor would like. He followed her quietly.
They found an empty table and began their meal.
“Hey, Daisy, tell Connor what happened in English class,” Grace suggested as she squeezed the dressing packet on her salad.
“What happened, babe?” Connor looked over at her curiously.
“Well, remember that book report that I had to get done? The one you refused to help me with, I might add,” Daisy teased.
“Yea,” Connor chuckled as he ate.
“My teacher liked my report so much that he asked me to read it out loud to the class. I got an A on it.” Daisy smiled proudly.
“Good job, babe.” Connor stuck his knuckles out and she tapped them happily.
“Did you get your bookshelves done yet?” Grace asked Willie.
“Almost, we still have to stain them. Connor and I will be the first team finished I think,” Willie answered.
“I don’t know if Jeremiah and Jason will ever finish. They nearly killed each other with that stupid nail gun today,” Connor laughed.
“Yea, how did they get that thing? The instructor already took it from them last week and said they were never allowed to use it again.”
“How the heck should I know?” Connor wagged his head as he downed his tea.
They all laughed at their reckless buddies then finished eating.
Crystal approached the table shyly. “Daisy, umm… Susan is in the bathroom and she needs you, I think.”
“Me? Why me?” Daisy asked blankly.
“She’s umm.. crying. I don’t really know what to do with her, and I can’t find Maria.”
“Oh, well… which bathroom is she in?”
“The one near the Junior lockers.” Crystal led them out of the cafeteria into the hallway and pointed them in the right direction then split.
Connor put his hand on Daisy’s shoulder and walked her down the hallway with Grace and Willie at their side.
“I thought Susan went with Mark to the taco place,” Willie offered.
“He probably couldn’t find her and she got left behind,” Connor guessed.
When they arrived at the bathroom, Connor turned Daisy to face him. “While you’re in there, I’ll call Mark and ask him to hurry up and get back here. Okay, babe?”
“Kay.” Daisy disappeared into the restroom with Grace.
Sure enough Susan was in the last stall crying. Daisy peeked into her stall.
“Oh, God, not you,” Susan moaned.
Daisy and Grace both stuck their hands out sympathetically to pull Susan up off the floor, but she wouldn’t take their help. She set her jaw stubbornly and pulled herself up.
“What happened, Susan? Why are you crying?”
Susan shrugged her shoulders then looked at the ground like she didn’t want to talk.
“Please tell us what happened?” Daisy and Grace repeated as sincerely as possible.
“My life sucks for one thing,” Susan began her complaint “If I drink Mark will be disappointed, but I feel like F#$%#ing crap and get ‘in drunk is the only thing that makes me feel better!” Susan spat out her words fiercely, but her eyes were defeated and full of tears.
“You’ll get through this Susan, don’t give up. You’ve already gone how long now, two or three weeks?”
“It feels like it has been forever. Mark keeps saying it will get better. Sometimes for a brief moment it looks like he’s right, but it’s not getting better. It’s getting worse. Look at this…” Susan held out a crumpled up science test with a big red D at the top. “I hate school!”
Connor poked his head in, “Hey is it safe to come in?”
“Oh, that’s just great! You brought the whole gang,” Susan griped as she gave Connor the evil eye.
He smiled, more for Daisy sake than Susan’s. He didn’t like leaving Daisy alone with Susan so he, as pleasantly as possible, invited himself into the girl’s bathroom.
“It’s just Connor and Willie,” Daisy said softly.
“Yea, it’s safe,” Grace called back to Connor.
Connor and Willie tiptoed in to see what had happened. “Mark will be here in a minute. He’s just in the parking lot,” Connor announced hoping it would make Susan feel better, but it didn’t.
“Oh shit, I can’t see him like this,” Susan finally gave up and slumped down in Daisy’s arms, heavily.
“Mark will be okay. He needs to know you are having a hard time. He’ll know what to do,” Daisy attempted to encourage a sinking ship.
Maria poked her head in the bathroom and saw Connor and the others. She then turned to the rest of the gang in the hallway with her and said, “Yea, they’re in here.”
Maria, Mark, Andy, Jeremiah, and Jason, all piled in. Connor and Willie grinned when the guys awkwardly strolled into the girl’s bathroom.
“Huh, the girl’s bathroom looks just like the guys bathroom, except for the urinals,” Jeremiah brightly observed.
Jason just gave Jeremiah a look for his stupid comment.
Connor and Willie laughed quietly at their buddies then they returned their attention to Susan.
Everyone watched as Maria and Mark approached Susan and gently took her from Daisy.
“I can’t do this anymore, Mark. I failed another science test. I’m dead,” Susan said in a defeated tone.
“You’re not dead. You can come over to my house and do your homework with me after school.” He took the crumpled test from her hand and looked at it as he spoke, “D+ is one step ahead of failing. We can work this out.”
Susan rolled her eyes at his unrealistic optimism.
Mark continued, “Then we’re running at the boardwalk, and after that we can practice our music again. We’ll keep you so busy you’ll be through this day before ya know it. We’ll do it together one step at a time,” Mark assured her.
“We’re not together,” Susan snapped, “You left me.”
“Where were you?” Mark lifted her chin to see her eyes. “I couldn’t find you.”
Susan pulled her face away from him, irritated with his attempt to be affectionate. “Crap Mark, I was just a few minutes late, you guys can’t wait five minutes, a f*%$#ing five minutes was all I needed.”
Mark developed a small corner smile. “Susan, spit it out. Tell me where you were.”
“I… was…” she blew out a big gust of air. “Okay, okay, I was in the woods having a smoke.”
“Well, ya see there. I didn’t think of looking there because we quit that, remember?” Mark smiled sympathetically. It was Mark’s view, that when someone admitted their activities, it was like taking a step forward. He smiled his winning smile.
Susan rolled her eyes again at his optimism, “I’m do ’in a crappy job of it.”
“Crappy or not, that’s where we are. So from now on, you be in the parking lot, not the woods, deal?”
“Deal,” she grumbled.
Everybody gathered around Susan patting her back, giving words of hope and encouragement.
Susan crossed her arms across her chest and bit her lip in an effort to be nice even though she felt like dying.
“There are only two more periods before school lets out. Both those classes are with us. You just sit real quiet in class, and then we’ll go to my house, okay?” Maria encouraged softly.
“Kay,” Susan mumbled.
The bell rang. They all filed out of the girl’s bathroom as inconspicuously as possible. They received a few odd looks from other students in the hallway, but it wasn’t too bad. Stranger things had happened at Maxwell.
Susan followed Mark, Maria and Andy to their next class. She stuck to them like glue for the rest of the day.
Jason and Jeremiah stopped at the locker bay to pick up their books, discussing the possibility of reducing the amount of alcohol they normally consumed. Watching Susan go through the slow, torturous process of quitting alcohol was having a serious impact on the two, fun loving, party boys.
Grace and Willie followed Daisy as Connor walked her to her next class. Connor wrapped his arm around his girl as they walked down the hallway, feeling secretly thankful that she didn’t like drinking.
“Do you think Susan is like bipolar or something?” Grace wondered out loud.
“No, she thinks she’s failing school and her friends left her behind,” Daisy stated with understanding. Perhaps she and Susan were not so different after all. Things like that would make her cry too. The only difference was, when she cried people listened to her and helped her. Susan didn’t appear to have anyone who cared whether she cried or not, until now.
“Hey Willie, are you and Grace still running with us tonight?”
“Yea, what time?”
“In the bathroom, Mark moved the running time up to the afternoon to accommodate Susan, but Daisy and I won’t be out there till after work, maybe sevenish. If you’re at the boardwalk early, you can catch the gang and run with them. If you wait until evening you can run with Daisy and me.”
“Evening,” Grace answered the questioning look Willie gave her.
“Evening it is,” Willie said when he arrived at his class. “Catch ya later man.” Willie and Grace wandered into class.
Daisy hung back with Connor for a moment, “I’ll meet you at Maria’s car later.”
“Maria’s car. Bye, babe.” He smiled as he watched Daisy walk into her class and take her seat next to Grace. Then he had the race of his life up the stairs and down the long hallway, hoping to get to his own class before the tardy bell rang.
One step in the door, “Rrrrriiiiinnnnnngggggg,” blasted the unfriendly bell. Connor smiled triumphantly as he sauntered across the room to his seat.
“Cutting it pretty close there aren’t ya, Connor?” Jason smiled from his seat.
“I made it, didn’t I?”
“I thought you had to be ‘in your chair’ when the bell rings, not ‘one foot in the door’,” Jeremiah jumped in just for fun.
“Class, get out your books and turn to page 206…,” the teacher began.
Connor opened his book then flashed his two smart mouthed friends the bird from behind it.
Girls around the room giggled as they witnessed a silent fight stirring.
The teacher stopped her discourse. “Is there a problem, Mr. Bailey?”
“Zero problems here, ma’am.”
“Leave the girls alone then.”
“Yea, leave those girls alone,” Jeremiah echoed in a hushed voice.
Connor shut his eyes hoping that the teacher didn’t hear Jeremiah’s comment.
Thankfully, she continued speaking without a clue for the rest of the period.