Chapter 34: Joe and Rose Come Home

Connor snuck in Daisy’s front door without knocking. He knew she was in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies because she’d already told him so over the phone. He tip-toed in and leaned against the kitchen door frame watching her quietly.

She was wearing her favorite Christmas sweat suit. It was solid red with a picture of Alvin and the Chipmunk’s on the front. He used to think it was the stupidest looking outfit he’d ever seen in his life. But now, everything about her was completely adorable, even her dorky Chipmunk sweat suit. He resisted the urge to run up behind her and give her a big hug simply because he found it amusing to watch her buzz around the kitchen in her own little world.

She leaned over the open oven door, looking at the cookies that she was baking, happily humming a little Christmas tune to herself. The kitchen table was covered with wax paper and cooling cookies. She took out a hot tray of cookies from the oven and turned around. “Aaaaa!” She jumped sky high. “You scared me! How long have you been standing there?!”

“Just a minute or two.” He smiled and walked over to help her. He put an oven mitt on his hand and took the tray from her. “You’re not wearing your sling.”

“I couldn’t do this one handed. My shoulder isn’t hurting anyway.” She took the spatula and began sliding the cookies off the tray onto the wax paper.

“You’re supposed to be wearing the sling.” He grabbed the second tray for her.

“I need my hands.” She took the cookies one at a time from the tray Connor was holding and placed them on the wax paper.

He put both trays in the sink, turned around and pulled her gently into his arms for the hug he’d been waiting for. “You smell like cookies,” he whispered into her hair.

Daisy cuddled up in his arms and shut her eyes. “Mmmm, are you going to help me decorate them?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Just sprinkle different colors on them, some red and some green, while I wash the cookie sheets.”

“How about you sprinkle and I wash.” He looked down at her and kissed her nose. “Sprinkling is less work on your shoulder.” He smiled a teasing smile and added, “You do know, that you are positively irresistible in this red get-up of yours, don’t you?”

“Are you making fun of my favorite Christmas outfit?”

“Oh no, not me. I think you are absolutely the most adorable girl in Florida, red get-up and all.”

She punched him in the stomach with her good arm. “You are making fun of me.”

“Ow… no I’m not!” He grabbed her around the waist and tickled her until she screamed.

“The neighbors will hear us. Cut it out!” she scolded playfully.

Connor put both his hands up in the air. “Okay, okay, I’ll stop. Don’t kick me out! I’ll stop!” He leaned back against the kitchen counter to give her some space and changed the subject. “What time do your Grandparents need to be picked up from the airport? Dad doesn’t know what time to get them.”

“They arrive at eight o’clock. Will you stay here and help me get ready?”

“I can stay. Dad is taking Coach Peggy to the airport anyway. They want a chance to explain your shoulder and the City Hall court appearance to your Grandparents before they hear it from someone else. Dad thinks the long drive back from the airport will be enough time to fill them in on everything.” He came close and wrapped his arms around her again, placing his forehead against hers. “Personally, I’d rather stay here and make cookies with you.” He smiled affectionately. “Plus, I love this outfit of yours so much I don’t want you to have to change out of it to go to the airport.” Connor laughed heartily when he saw her scolding eyes reappear at the mention of her Christmas get-up.

She was going to punch him again for making fun of her outfit but the beeper went off for the cookies in the oven. They both jumped and then laughed at the noise. Daisy opened the oven door and inspected the cookies carefully.

“They look done to me, girl. Let me get ’em.” He pulled the trays out of the oven and held them for her while she slid the cookies off onto the wax paper with her spatula. Connor washed the trays off while Daisy sprinkled Christmas colors over them.

The phone rang.

“That’s Dad. I’ll get it.” Connor grabbed the phone. “Hey Dad, they come in at eight. We are going to stay here and pick up the house, okay?” Connor rubbed his stomach hungrily. “We’re make ‘in cookies too… sure thing… bye.”

Daisy found two large rectangular Tupper Ware containers in the cupboard. She carefully filled them with the Christmas sugar cookies she’d made.

“Do you want to try one?”

“Sure.” He grabbed a few off the top. “Do you have any milk?”

“Yep, in the refrigerator.”

Connor opened the refrigerator and took the milk out. Daisy found two glasses in the cabinet and Connor filled them up. They sat at the table sampling cookies for a while.

“Have you got anything else to eat?” Connor grinned after a few handfuls of cookies, still hungry.

“I made spaghetti. It is on the stove up there. There was nobody but me here to eat it so there’s a ton left over.” She pointed up to the stove top where two pots sat. “Help yourself. I already ate,” Daisy continued talking as she walked out of the kitchen into the dining room. “Bring your plate out here to the dining table. I pulled out the Christmas decorations earlier, and I need to get them organized before Grandma gets here.”

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In the dining room, Daisy began rummaging in the boxes full of decorations.

“Wow, look at all that stuff,” Connor said as he sat down with a huge plate of spaghetti and another glass of milk.

“You know how Grandma is. She saves everything.” Daisy’s face glowed as she carefully unwrapped the Nativity scene and set the delicate pieces up in the order that they should be in. She leaned over and took a closer look at the tiny painted faces. “I love this set.”

Connor’s full mouth hindered him from words so he just gave a simple grunt in response.

Daisy moved on in her activity and laid out what seemed like hundreds of ornaments from all around the world. Rose had an impressive collection because she’d been a traveling Army wife in her younger days. Grandma Rose also saved all the handmade ornaments that Daisy and Connor had made with loving, glue-covered hands down through the years. Lastly, there was a good sized pile of photographs of various relatives in little handmade frames.

Connor looked at the photos of Daisy. In some of them she had no teeth, some she had pig tails and some were of her sitting in Connor’s lap as a baby. He reflected on all those times. He had an excellent memory. He could remember each photo well.

There were photos of him too. Some were of him riding his first bike and others were of him with braces on his teeth. His favorite photo was of him making a really cool jump on his skate board. He stared at that one for a while, remembering the day.

Then the tougher photos came. They were the childhood photos of his Mom and Dad and Daisy’s Mom and Dad.

“Daisy, come over here and look at these.” He waved her over to sit with him. Daisy sat in his lap and looked at the photos as he handed them to her, one at a time.

The last photo was of them when she was a baby and he was a toddler. He was holding her in his lap giving her a bottle. “You can’t be more than six or seven months there,” Connor pointed out quietly. He leaned his head against Daisy as troubling memories floated through his brain. She scooted back further into his lap, looking at the photo, letting wispy, unclear images drift by them.

Finally, she snatched the photo from Connor’s hand and threw it on the table. “Connor, what do you see when you look at that photo?”

“I see a baby girl with no parents,” he said sadly.

“That’s not what I see. Do you know what I see?”

“No, what?”

“When I look at that photo I see a very fat and happy baby being held by a very loving little boy who evidently gives her way too much milk.” She rested her hands on the sides of his face. “Connor, many things that trip us up in life wouldn’t trip us up if we changed our perspective. We have each other. We are not alone.”

“Yea.” He held her there comforted by her view of life and her friendship. “We have each other,” he repeated her words, truly thankful that he had them to say.

Daisy knew that he remembered things that she didn’t remember. She wasn’t sure why, maybe because of the age difference or maybe she just somehow blocked out things that he didn’t. The “whys” in life are often hard to answer. All she knew was that memories stung him sometimes in a way that they did not sting her and she felt compassion for him. She leaned over and gently touched his lips with hers. She lingered in her kiss, giving whatever comfort she was able to give. Her kindness touched his heart and the anger that sometimes seeped into his mind about their losses slunk away, leaving them a peaceful moment to kiss in their private world.

He looked into her eyes. “Thank you Daisy girl for your perspective,” he whispered.

“I love you Connor Bailey.”

“I love you too.” He kissed her again, smiling this time.

Connor’s cell phone suddenly rang. It bounced all over the table next to his plate of half finished spaghetti until it fell to the floor, still blaring loudly. Connor did not want to move, as was his usual feeling when in the middle of a kiss. But Daisy began to squirm and wiggle trying to reach the phone and this brought him back into the present world. He reached to the floor and picked it up slowly, hoping that if he took a long time the caller would give up, but he didn’t. It was Andy.

“It’s Andy, you talk to him.” Connor handed her his phone.

“Why me?”

“Because you have a kinder perspective when you’re kiss ’in has been interrupted.” He laid his head back against her again still trying to soak in her perspective.

“Hello. Hey, Andy. Yea, Connor’s busy. He’s helping me with my Christmas boxes. Now?  Well uh, Andy, maybe right now is not such a good time. We are getting ready for my Grandparents to get home. What? You’re outside my door? Why are you calling on the phone if you are right outside? Ha ha. Andy, you’re very funny.” Daisy covered the end of the phone and mouthed Andy’s words to Connor, “He thinks we’re kiss ’in. That’s why he called first.” She grinned and returned to the phone conversation with Andy. “No, Andy, not now. Go find somewhere else to eat we’re busy.” Daisy rolled her eyes and mouthed to Connor again, “He wants to come in. They don’t have money to eat out.”

Connor rolled his eyes and stuck his hand out for the phone. “Go eat at Maria’s house. What? She’s out there too… and Mark… and Susan! What the heck Andy, why are all of you coming over here to eat?!” He moaned at Andy’s lame reason and handed the phone back to Daisy. “The whole gang is out there and they’re all hungry.”

Daisy started laughing. “You make it sound like the end of the world.”

“It’s the end of us being alone in the house.”

“Well, we can continue later…okay?” She smiled hoping that would cheer him up.

“Do you promise?” He leaned in for another kiss.

“Yes.” She giggled at his drama.

He moved his mouth over to her ear whispering, “Say, I promise to continue later.”

She whispered in his ear, “I promise to continue later.” They kissed again, attempting to go back into their private world but Andy and the gang were now pounding impatiently on the front door. “We know you are in there, Connor! Let us in! We’re hungry!”

Daisy opened the front door and the starving bunch piled in. “There’s spaghetti on the stove and cookies on the table. Clean up your mess when you’re finished. My Grandparents are coming home soon,” Daisy directed.

“Cool outfit there, Dumbo,” Andy teased as he passed her on his way into the kitchen.

“Shut up, Andy! I told you on the phone we weren’t ready for visitors. Any more comments about my Christmas outfit and you’re out of here!” Daisy growled.

Connor laughed hilariously. “That’s right, no comments about the Christmas outfit or you are all out of here!” He pointed to the door dramatically with a big grin. He secretly hoped that one of them would blow it and Daisy would kick them all out.

Daisy sent a fiery gaze in Connor’s direction. “That goes for you too!”

“What did I do, babe?” he held his hands out in helpless bewilderment.

“Oh brother,” Daisy shook her head. “Let’s just get back to the boxes.”

“Whatever, you say babe.” He obediently sat back down to his plate of spaghetti and resumed watching her unpack boxes.

She dug out all the Christmas lights and proceeded to plug them into the wall socket one at a time to see if they worked, while all her friends banged around in the kitchen eating up everything they could find that was edible.

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Joe, Rose, Coach Peggy and Davis stumbled in the front door with arms loaded with packages and luggage. “We’re home!”

“Grandma, Grandpa!” Daisy grabbed them in a sudden, one-armed hug that caused them to drop all their packages to the floor.

Connor stooped down to pick up the discarded bags. “Hey Grandpa Joe, how was your flight?”

“They damn near stripped me all the way to my under shorts at the last gate we were at!” Grandpa huffed.

“Really, what were they after?”

“The button popped off my jeans during my first flight so when we landed I pinned ’em with a safety pin. Then Rose and I ran to the next gate for our connecting flight. How was I supposed to know that stupid little pin would set off every beeper and buzzer the gate possessed! Scared me to death!” Joe rubbed his forehead like he was still in need of recovery time.

“That’s crazy.” Connor patted Grandpa on the back in sympathy.

“Look at you! You get taller every time I take a trip,” Rose jumped into the conversation. She admired Connor a moment, like grandma’s often do, then kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you for taking care of Daisy while we were away.”

“Davis filled us in on the whole Adam’s family ordeal on the drive back.” Joe pulled his luggage through the room and parked the bags in the center of the living room. “Sounds like you guys had a crazier time than we did.”

“I’m feeling much better now. I didn’t even wear my sling when I made cookies tonight,” Daisy answered encouragingly.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better darling, but that Adam’s family and that McNeil girl need to be hung up by their toenails!” Joe growled.

“They got in pretty big trouble, Grandpa. I don’t think they will be bothering us anymore.” Daisy smiled.

“Oh yes, I have some gifts around here somewhere.” Rose glanced at her bags excitedly, trying to remember which bag had the gifts in it.

The gang came out of the kitchen to greet Rose and Joe.

“Well, hello!” Joe boomed, surprised that so many had filled his house. He shook hands with all the kids, happy to see each of them. “What are you kids doing, hiding in my kitchen?”

Daisy and Connor both looked at each other then back to Grandpa Joe, “Food,” they said in unison.

Everybody laughed.

“Of course, of course, I should have known that.” Joe chuckled. “Well, since you’re here you should make yourselves useful. We picked up two Christmas trees on the way home and they are in the trunk of our car. Can you guys go down and bring them both up? The small one is for the Bailey house and the big one is mine.” Joe slapped his chest proudly when he said the word “mine”. “I picked the best tree on the lot.”

The teens left noisily to retrieve the trees from the car. Connor and Daisy took the smaller tree over to his apartment and set it up. Well, Connor set it up. Daisy couldn’t help much because of her bum shoulder. She just went along with Connor because he insisted that he needed her opinion on how straight the tree looked when he was done.

Mark and Andy carried the larger tree into the Greene apartment. “Where should we put it, Grandma?” Andy asked.

“Right in that corner, over there.” She pointed.

Mark and Andy set the tree up carefully. It was so huge that it filled the entire corner.

Then Connor and Daisy returned. “Our tree is up over there! Hey, this one looks great!” Connor admired the huge tree in the Greene’s corner. Everyone stood looking at it for a moment, approvingly.

“Here are your gifts! Now, these are not your Christmas gifts. These are just little things I picked up on my trip just because I missed you.” Rose found them in her bag and passed them around to everybody.

“Wow! Thanks, Grandma!” each one said when he or she received a gift.

Grandpa Joe cleared his throat, “When I was in the airport I saw something I thought you would like Daisy.” He pulled out one little package from his carry on. It was a red velvet head band with dainty mistletoe leaves and red berries all over it.

“It’s beautiful!” Daisy exclaimed as she put it on her head.

Everyone looked at Connor to see what he would do about that. He boldly kissed her straight away and everyone cheered and clapped at his eagerness.

Davis’s eyes enlarged. Watching his son kiss in that way stirred his heart somehow. He looked down at Peggy. She was grinning at the cute couple. Deep in Davis’s heart, a desire to move on in life was growing. He slowly reached for Peggy’s hand and found it. She looked up and smiled at him. He wondered what she would say if he were to admit his feelings for her openly. She touched his shoulder with the side of her head. He felt warm inside. Yes, he would look for a moment to tell her his feelings. He had to find a way he decided.

“Hey everybody, I made Christmas cookies and eggnog. Does anyone want some?” Daisy cheerfully offered.

“Yea, let’s have some of that,” Joe responded to Daisy’s offer then turned to Davis, “I have a little something for myself that I got from the airport that will go perfect with eggnog. Want some happy juice in your eggnog, Davis?” Joe gave Davis a wink.

“Well, maybe just a tad.” Davis smiled.

Joe and Davis followed Daisy into the kitchen to fix their drinks properly. They both knew Daisy wouldn’t have a clue about the proper use of happy juice. They spruced up their drinks while Daisy prepared everyone else’s. She set everything out on a Christmas tray and walked around the living room like a hostess at a party.

Connor watched her as she moved around the room in her red get up, fluffy slippers and mistletoe head band. “Man, she’s cute,” he smiled to himself. Her Christmas mood warmed his heart. He was a tiny bit concerned that his buddies might try to kiss her because of the headband. But thankfully they were occupied with their own gals and left Daisy to the serving.

Grandma Rose noticed the Christmas decorations and ornaments spread out all over the dining room table. She began placing things carefully on the tree. “Here Davis, put the lights on.” She handed him a strings of lights.

“Sure, Rose.”

Others came over one at a time and began selecting ornaments from the dining room table and placing them on the tree. Of course, Grandma had a story to tell about each item selected and she went on and on for hours talking about her travels and all the circumstances surrounding each ornament. She reminisced over each photo as well. She could explain the photos in even greater detail than Connor’s own excellent memory could do. Everyone listened respectfully as she shared the photos of Deborah Bailey and also Daisy’s parents, Daisy and Raymond Greene.

“Here Connor, can you place these photos on the tree for me? Up top there, near the angel?” Rose placed them carefully in his hands.

Daisy came to Connor’s side, wondering if it would be a hard task for him. “Need some help?” she offered quietly.

He turned to her and placed the photos in her hands. “I’ll go get a chair.” He quickly disappeared into the kitchen. She went to the tree and looked at the spot that Grandma had suggested. Connor returned, chair in hand. He stood on it and Daisy passed the photos up to him, one at a time, and he carefully placed them on the tree. He got down and returned the chair to the kitchen.

Daisy remained in her spot looking at the photos. Deborah Bailey was really the only one she’d known. All she knew about her own parents were just the stories others told her. “It’s hard to really know someone like that,” Daisy thought to herself.

Connor came back to stand at her side. He placed his hand warmly on her neck and looked at the photos of their parents up there on the tree next to the angel.

“Daisy,” Connor finally said after a while. “I need to take a run. Do you think your Grandparents will let you go with me?”

“It can’t hurt to ask.” She went to ask Grandpa Joe because he was the one drinking the “happy juice” as he called it.

“Sure, sure, Daisy girl. You can go just as long as you take this whole bunch of kids with you. Nobody will mess with you if you stay together with this bunch,” he chuckled. “At least you could out run anybody who tried.” He chuckled again.

Daisy turned to everyone, “Okay you guys,” she hollered over the hubbub of Christmas chatter, “Connor and I are taking a run and you need to go with us so get changed and let’s go.”

Connor threw his fist in the air, “Yes!” He turned towards the front door. “We’ll meet you ladies downstairs in five minutes,” he hollered over his shoulder as he left to get changed.

The guys went with Connor to his place to find running clothes and the girls went to Daisy’s room to find running clothes.

 

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